The vascular herbarium originated in the 1930's when the indefatigable collector Otto Geist began to bring back to the University all manner of specimens. Although he distinguished himself in the fields of archaeology and paleontology, he contributed significantly to the floristics of vascular plants, particularly on St. Lawrence Island where, with Froelich Rainey, he conducted a major archaeological dig. The names of early naturalists and eminent botanists can be seen on specimen labels of the collections obtained in the early stages of museum development here: Margaret Murie, George Gasser, L. J. Palmer, J. P. Anderson, Aven Nelson, A. E. Porsild, H. M. Raup, and Edith Scamman.
Intensive biological study began at the University in the 1950's as a cadre of scientists was assembled to develop research programs in biology and wildlife management. The collection of plant specimens then attained the "critical mass" that required its segregation as a separate department with a special curatorial effort. The activity of past curators--A. W. Johnson, L. A. Viereck, V. Harms--resulted in an herbarium of almost 40,000 specimens by 1970.
Events of the 1970's led to a marked acceleration of growth. The transfer to ALA of the herbarium of the Institute of Northern Forestry (U. S. Forest Service) added an important body of material, mainly the collection of L. A. Viereck, that is especially strong in Alaskan trees and shrubs. It also added a substantial number of cryptogams to the collection, bringing the total number of cryptogamic specimens to about 3,500. Later, we received the herbarium of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory at Barrow, Alaska, when that institution was forced to close. The development of the North Slope oil field at Prudhoe Bay stimulated botanical inventory as part of the total US-IBP tundra Biome program, and evaluation of d-2 lands by federal agencies clearly demonstrated the need for further inventory in which we have participated.
In 1969 the cryptogamic (mosses and lichens) herbarium consisted of only a few shoe boxes of specimens received as gifts and the specimens collected by A. W. Johnson and L. A. Viereck during their study of vegetation and flora for the Atomic Energy Commission at Ogotoruk Creek in northwestern Alaska. At the time, these could not be considered as curated, but merely protected. By 1970, with the herbarium contributed from the Institute of Northern Forestry, we had gathered about 3,500 specimens. Since then Barbara M. Murray has taken on the job of building this collection (as a volunteer), which now stands at 32,000 bryophytes and 16,000 lichens accessioned and the usual thousands awaiting determination and processing.
Through exchanges with other institutions we have obtained important collections of both vascular plants and cryptogams made by others in Alaska. For example we have the Hildur Krog lichen specimens that document her book, The Macrolichens of Alaska; W. C. Steere sent us a set of over 2500 of his extensive bryophyte collections from the Arctic Slope; A. E. Porsild put together exchange sets that included some of his early Alaskan collections as well as his important Canol Road material,. We have elements of the early H. M. Raup collection in the Canadian North that complement the Porsild collection, and recently, exchanges with National Museums of Canada and Agriculture Canada have improved our coverage of the Canadian Arctic.
Comparative material for the entire circumpolar area has been acquired through exchanges with several institutions. We have Plantae Sueciae Exsiccatae, a major collection of vascular plants from Sweden edited by Eric Hultén. Our collection of Finnish plants is good, and from the Danes we have received Plantae Vasculares Groenlandicae. We also have complete sets of plants distributed by other institutions as Bryophyta Arctica Exsiccata (new York Botanical Garden), Lichens Exsiccata (University of Colorado), and Lichenes Groenlandici Exsiccati (Botanical Museum, Copenhagen). Recently, a substantial number of Russian specimens have been acquired through ongoing exchanges and cooperative research with several Russian Herbaria.
Our role as a repository of collections documenting research began with the multidisciplinary project at Ogotoruk Creek in the late 1950's and early 1960's. We had responsibility for systematics and documentation in the US-IBP Tundra Biome Program and have also received a major collection from the National Science Foundation sponsored Research on Arctic Tundra Environments (RATE). Alaska Taskforce studies on d-2 lands sponsored by the National Park Service have added important material through our work in the central Brooks Range and from the work of S. B. Young on the Noatak basin, Charley River, and Lake Clark.
We are the only major research herbarium in the state, although small collections exist at the Tongass National Forest Herbarium in Sitka, the State Museum in Juneau, the Agricultural Experiment Station in Palmer, and the Department of Biology, UA Anchorage as well as state and federal agency offices throughout Alaska.