Floristic Projects at the Rocky Mountain Herbarium
Since 1978 students and staff at the Rocky Mountain Herbarium have conducted 56 intensive floristic inventories, most in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming (also AZ, ID, KS, MT, NE, OR, SD, UT, and WA), with the goal of critically documenting the flora of the Rocky Mountain Region.
The map below illustrates the many projects undertaken at RM. Detailed information for individual projects can be accessed by clicking on the relevant state on the map or from the accompanying state list.
Select a state from the map:
Inventory Rational & Methodology:
Traditional floristic surveys have focused almost entirely on the question "what occurs here?" frequently with but a single voucher specimen to document the occurrence of a taxon over a broad area. Floristic efforts at the RM aim at not only adding to our knowledge in terms of presence or absence (the what), but also in terms of the distribution of a taxon within a project area (the where does it occur?). Hence, a large number of specimens (6,000 to 10,000 or more) are collected in order to better document the geographical and ecological range of a taxon as well as its morphological variation.
In addition to providing a baseline survey of vascular plant diversity as a whole, an emphasis is placed on documenting species of conservation concern as well as noxious weeds and other invasive taxa. Often, many more sensitive taxa and populations are found in an area than were previously documented; these additional discoveries have frequently resulted in the removal of taxa from state sensitive plant lists. Another consequence of the many intensive inventories conducted at RM is the discovery of undescribed taxa such as the following: Antennaria aromatica, Carex luzulina var. atropurpurea, Cymopterus constancei, Cymopterus evertii, Cymopterus williamsii, Eriogonum aliquantum, Heuchera hallii var. novum, Ipomopsis spicata ssp. robruthii, Lomatium attenuatum, Penstemon absarokensis, and Shoshonea pulvinata.
Most floristic studies at RM are undertaken as M.S. Thesis projects by graduate students with assistance from RM staff (curator Ron Hartman and herbarium manager Ernie Nelson) and consist of two full summers of fieldwork. Other studies are conducted directly by RM staff, often over a period of more than two years. Inventory areas range from ca. 1,000 mi2 to 9,000 mi2 depending on the terrain and land ownership.
A typical collecting season run from mid May to late August or early September. During each day in the field a portion of the study area is visited, collecting sites are selected at regular intervals (typically spaced several miles apart or wherever new habitats are encountered as recognized in the field or through a-priori study of topo, aerial, and geology maps), and all taxa in flower and fruit are vouchered at each site. Thus, representative specimens of all vascular plants (ferns and allies, conifers, and flowering plants) are obtained at a frequency relative to their overall abundance within the area. Data collected at each site and for each specimen include collector name and number, date, locality, GPS coordinates, TRS, and habitat description. Specimens are collected and pressed using methods described in RM's Guide to the Collection, Preparation, and Preservation of Herbarium Specimens.
Following each field season the specimens are identified and specimen data are entered into the RM database. These data are available online through the RM web site within 1-2 years of the project completion date. Information in the database can also be used with GIS software for distribution mapping, predictive modeling, ground truthing of remotely-sensed areas, managing species of conservation concern, and documenting invasives and noxious weeds. One duplicate of each specimen is housed permanently at RM for future research use, while remaining duplicates are distributed to interested agencies and other herbaria. Final project reports including information on sensitive taxa are provided to the relevant agencies.
Information for Prospective Students:
Under the curatorship of Dr. Ron Hartman, the RM has developed one of the most aggressive floristic programs in North America. Nonetheless, further work remains in inventorying the flora of the Rockies. Typically, 1-2 new students are accepted into the floristics program at RM each year depending on the availability of projects. If you are interested in pursuing a M.S. in floristics, please see our information for prospective students.