Skip to main content

MBLWHOI Library Herbarium records

 Record Group
Identifier: AC-73

Scope and Content Note

The MBLWHOI Library Herbarium records consist of material documenting the history and collections of the MBLWHOI Library Herbarium, including articles, newsletters, brochures and publications, as well as several bound herbarium specimen books.


  • 1850-2015

Language of Materials

The records are in English.


Open: materials are available for research.


Copyright: Permission to publish material from the collection must be authorized by the Institution Archivist.

Historical Information

The MBLWHOI Library Herbarium, originally part of the George M. Gray Museum, documents the flora of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and associated coastal islands. The collection contains more than 2000 non-vascular and 7000 vascular plant specimens.

Dr. Richard H. Backus, past Herbarium Curator, led the 1999 Penikese Island Survey, which yielded about 400 new sheets. Other important accessions were gifts of more than 500 sheets of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard specimens from the New England Botanical Club Herbarium and a set of specimens from former Massachusetts State Botanist Bruce Sorrie that he had collected from this area.

The late Dr. Backus wrote that the botanical record contained within the MBLWHOI Library Herbarium plays a vital role "in helping to document floral and enviromental changes and in locating and protecting rare plants and their habitats". It has a critical mission given the global rarity of certain plant communities on Cape Cod and the Islands. The Herbarium is listed in the international Index Herbariorum as SPWH.

Herbarium holdings

The non-vascular collection consists primarily of marine algae from the east coast of the United States, though other marine locations are represented. Local mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi are also included.

The oldest sheets date back to the 1870's. Collectors include such eminent phycologists as W.R. Taylor, F.S. Collins and W.G. Farlow. David Starr Jordan collected many algal specimens during the 1873 Penikese Island Survey. More recent sheets are James Sears specimens collected between 1964 and 2001 in the Woods Hole region.

The vascular collection dates back to 1888 (with one specimen from 1850). Major contributions were made in the early 1900's by three Pennsylvania botanists. Francis Whittier Pennell came to the MBL in the summer of 1911, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He put hundreds of sheets into the collection. Pennell later became head of Botany at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. John Milton Fogg, Jr., who studied under Harvard botanist M.L. Fernald, wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the flora of the Elizabeth Islands (1930). Fogg contributed many beautifully made sheets from those islands and from Falmouth. Edwin T. Moul, Professor of Botany at Rutgers University and a specialist in the study of coastal wetlands plants, made contributions over several decades. Significant acquisitions resulted from the 1923 adn 1947 Penikese Island plant surveys by Fogg and Moul respectively. Recently received specimens from the Bentley University collection were collected on Cape Cod by M.L. Fernald, Bayard Long, C.F. Batchelder, J.R. Churchill and others.

Ongoing Activities

Herbarium staff, members of the Botanical Club of Cape Cod and the Islands (BCCCI), and others continue to search for and collect representative specimens from the Cape and Islands. They also monitor conservation areas, work with students, and host visitors.

The Digital Herbarium

The MBLWHOI Library Herbarium is staffed by volunteers who are cataloging and digitizing the entire collection. They enter specimen data into an online database, scan specimen sheets, and link the scanned images to the specimen records in the database.

The Digital Herbarium is a fully searchable database of specimen images and related data serving as an online compendium of the marine, freshwater, and terrestrial flora of Cape Cod and the Islands. The long term goal is to connect these data with the National Virtual Herbarium through the Consortium of Northeastern Herbaria internet portal.


4 boxes (5 lin. ft.)


The MBLWHOI Library Herbarium records consists of material documenting the history and collections of the MBLWHOI Library Herbarium. Also contained in the records is a series of bound herbarium specimen books.


Arranged in two series:

List of Series:

  1. Subject Files
  2. Herbarium Specimen Books

Custodial History

Materials in the Subject Files series, and several of the bound herbarium books were part of the Herbarium's holdings. Three of the bound herbarium books were held in the MBL Archives prior to their inclusion in the collection.

Acquisitions Information

Three books in the Herbarium Specimen Books series (L.A. Beebe's book, the undated Sea Mosses book and C.W. Johnson's hand-colored photographs) were added to the Herbarium collection in May 2016 by Diane Rielinger from the collections of the MBL Archives. Acquisition of the other material in the records is undocumented.

Related Material

See the library catalog for other books in the Herbarium collection. See also the webpage for the Herbarium, and the Digital Herbarium.

Processing Information

Processed in May 2016 by David Sherman.
A Guide to the MBLWHOI Library Herbarium records
David Sherman
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written inEnglish

Repository Details

Part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Data Library and Archives Repository