Curating the NLU Collection

November 30, 2017

The R. Dale Thomas Collection (NLU) officially completed its journey to BRIT in August 2017. However, this was only the beginning! Follow the NLU rescue team for the next year as they work to make this priceless collection secure and accessible to researchers and the public.

Prior to its move to BRIT, the R. Dale Thomas Collection (NLU) was housed at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The herbarium acronym NLU comes from the University’s previous name—Northeast Louisiana University—when Dr. R. Dale Thomas took the collection from 250 specimens to over 400,000. Today, the NLU herbarium contains an estimated 472,000 specimens of vascular and nonvascular plants collected across the globe. The NLU collection has strengths in Louisiana flora and in the daisy family, Asteraceae.

herbarium before after
Left: The herbarium collection was last housed in the Brown Stadium at University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Right: The collection is now at its new home in the BRIT herbarium.

The 300+-mile journey from Monroe, LA, to Fort Worth, TX, took place over two trips. Cabinets were packed into moving trucks registering temperatures of -29 degrees Celsius. Brrr! Now the 336 cabinets are securely located on BRIT’s second floor herbarium, ready to be explored. 

Now that the collection (NLU) is at BRIT, herbarium staff and volunteers are charged with ensuring the security of the herbarium specimens and their accessibility. But what exactly is security? Herbarium specimens are vulnerable to a host of threats—water, insects, and light to name a few—so we must minimize their susceptibility through proper storage techniques. Herbarium specimens are kept in securely sealed metal cabinets at 64 degrees F and 50% relative humidity. Securing the collection from further damage is our first task.

herbarium seal
Herbarium seals border the inside perimeter of herbarium cabinets. They lock out potential pests, dust, or water that could enter the cabinets even after the door is closed. However, like anything else, the seals degrade over time. We are currently replacing around one-third of the seals in the NLU herbarium to maximize the security. Through trial and error, we have finally found techniques to remove the deteriorating foam and adhesive.
herbarium beetle
Herbarium beetle on NLU collection. They may be small, but these insects can pose a large problem! These tiny, light red-brown beetles are most damaging as larvae. Lasioderma sp. feed on dried plant material and paper products. Although the extremely cold moving conditions killed these beetles, we are recording any beetle evidence we find in the collection and keeping an eye out for any live insects.

Get involved!

NLU Collection Kickoff Week, October 30 through November 4. Fifteen volunteers mounted exchange specimens collected in the Southeastern US and Poland.
The November 1st Volunteer Day hosted 14 volunteers who cleaned cabinets, removed labels and tape, and re-spaced folders from the summer move. Our volunteers are the best!


NLU specimens
You never know what treasures you’ll find in the herbarium!
Left: Liatris elegans collected in Louisiana’s Bossier Parish by R. Dale Thomas and Vernon Leggett in 1975. This was Dr. Thomas’ 47,731st collection!
Right: The parasitic flowering plant Hydnora abyssinica, collected in the Sudanese province of Khartoum by Lytton J. Musselman in 1984.

If you’d like to learn more or be involved in saving this priceless scientific resource, contact the NLU Collections Assistants, Miranda ( or Ashley ( And stay tuned for more updates from the BRIT-NLU team!


April 05, 2020

Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide
credit and sources back to your blog? My website is in the exact same area of interest as yours and my visitors would definitely
benefit from a lot of the information you present here. Please let me know if this
ok with you. Many thanks!

Also visit my web blog; Reiners Tree Services Melbourne

Leave A Response

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Related Articles

The Living Herbarium: Instructions for Life

Article originally published in The Leaflet (April 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate (Disclaimer: The technical aspects of this article are dramatically simplified in the interests of communicating with an audience entirely unfamiliar with molecular biology. Send me an email ( ) if you would like a deeper explanation.) We like to repeat, loudly and often, that there are over 1 million plant specimens in the Philecology Herbarium at BRIT. It’s a nice, big, round number, and it sounds cool when tour groups come through. What if I told you that as imposing as that number sounds, the real number is closer to a thousand billion (1,000,000,000,000) plants*? The goal of a herbarium is to preserve plants. The ideal specimen, in many respects, has all the essential...
Read More >

The Living Herbarium: Many Hands Make Godzilla

Article originally published in The Leaflet (May 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate There is a stereotype of the scientist as a lone genius, laboring in obscurity until their “Eureka!” moment changes the world. If Hollywood is to be believed, this Eureka moment is usually followed by the destruction of Tokyo and/or New York by a giant robot/genetic mutant/superstorm. In reality, we have a tragic lack of giant robots, and nothing that we’ve done in the herbarium has (yet) threatened a major metropolitan area. We also rely heavily on collaboration, rather than solitary toil. In fact, I would venture to say that collaboration is the fundamental characteristic of science. NOT what we do…exactly. Nowhere is this more on display than in the herbarium at BRIT. Over the past month,...
Read More >

The Sweep of Time

Article originally submitted for The Leaflet (June 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate Most of us live in the moment. Paycheck-to-paycheck, living for the weekend, summer vacation, twitter updates. Updates now are measured in seconds. America, too, is a young nation. Few places west of the Appalachians boast buildings over 150 years old, and most of us live in suburbs built in the decades following World War II. So much around us is new…even our landscapes are new, transformed by mechanized farming, car culture, and introduced species. That’s not entirely news, and it’s not entirely new, either. Look, for example, at this sheet I recently encountered while tidying up a database of digitized herbarium specimens. Click to enlarge and read labels. This was one of the last colle...
Read More >

A 54-Year Celebration

The Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas ( JBRIT ) is celebrating its 54th year of continuous publication. It all started when Lloyd H. Shinners —a member of the Southern Methodist University (SMU) faculty and a prolific botanical researcher and writer who wanted to edit his work and the work of others—founded and published the first two issues of Sida, Contributions to Botany on November 23, 1962. He named the journal for a genus ( Sida ) of yellow-flowered plants of the mallow or cotton family (Malvaceae), distributed throughout the world and especially common in Texas. Shinners served as editor and publisher until his death in 1971, after which William F. Mahler, professor of botany at SMU, inherited the journal and continued to edit and privately publish it. Barney Lips...
Read More >