Herbarium fourth largest in state

Mackenzie Seymour, Staff Writer

UW Oshkosh’s Neil A. Harriman Herbarium is a natural history museum that displays a wide variety of plants from all over the world.

The herbarium was founded in 1964 by Neil A. Harriman, a biology and microbiology professor at UWO from 1964 to 1998. According to the department of biology’s website, the herbarium grows at a rate of 2,000 specimens per year and is the fourth largest facility in Wisconsin.

Katie Pulvermacher / Advance-Titan
Student assistant Catriona Ellis (left) and assistant professor Ladwig (right) pose with specimens from the 1880s.

The herbarium, which is located in Room 9 of Halsey Science Center, contains around 125,000 specimens of exclusively vascular plants such as ferns, lycopods, conifers and other gymnosperms, and angiosperms or flowering plants.

Laura Ladwig, the new director of the herbarium and an assistant professor of biology at UWO, said herbariums are important to the scientific community because natural history collections are valuable resources that aid research projects. Herbariums allow scientists to classify and systematically organize large collections of plants.

“Having a physical, historic record of these organisms can help us with plant taxonomy, and helps answer questions related to ecology and evolution,” Ladwig said.

The herbarium provides UWO students with an opportunity to view examples of botanical diversity from across Wisconsin and major biomes around the world. Nearly every family of vascular plant is represented within the collection.

Some native vascular plants from Wisconsin preserved in the herbarium include poke milkweed, Eastern hop-hornbeam, and spotted snap-weed.

In describing the preservation process, Ladwig said that researchers begin by going out into the field to collect plants. After collecting the whole plant, it is then pressed, dried and glued onto a special archival paper.

“Every plant receives a unique label containing its scientific name, origin and general information about the plant. Then, the specimen gets organized and cataloged into the herbarium,” she said.

Ladwig said the most interesting plants preserved in the herbarium are the ones that date back to the 1800s and provide unique historical data and records.

“The oldest plants were collected around the time when the university was being established,” she said. “There is something magical about holding an actual plant from that time in your hand.”

Other interesting plants in the herbarium include a taxonomic group called lianas, which are woody vines that grow mainly in tropical forests. Species in the herbarium include Virginia creepers and honeysuckle.

To visit the herbarium, contact Ladwig at or call 920 424-1002 for more information.