The plant collections at Emporia State University began when Frank U.G. Agrelius started preserving and cataloging local plants around 1911. Mr. Agrelius was a popular teacher and botanist, who, because of his love for plants, was often called upon to identify specimens for his students and for the general public alike. Mr. Agrelius retired in 1956, however, the herbarium collection that he founded lived on. Those plants, dried and mounted and each accompanied by careful documentation, continued to be used to verify identifications and they became a record of regional flora, especially of the remaining tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills of Kansas.
Permanent housing of the collection was the work of Dr. James S. Wilson. Dr. Wilson, a faculty botanist, was a prolific collector. He and his students expanded the herbarium collection, adding to our botanical knowledge of the entire Great Plains region. Dr. Wilson remained at Emporia State from1959 until he retired in 1982. By this time he had established the herbarium in its present location, SH159 in Breukelman Hall. The herbarium collection was further expanded by H.A. Stephens, the most renown of our botanists, whose work on the flora of the Great Plains spanned a fifty year period. Steve Stephens, as he preferred to be called by students and friends, held degrees from ESU and Columbia University. He began as a young teacher under Mr. Agrelius and became a professional collector who worked from the Canadian border south to Texas. Steve joined the faculty at ESU in 1954 and was also affiliated with the McGregor Herbarium at the University of Kansas. He devoted a lifetime to collecting plants and educating students and he was the author of three books. For years Steve was a consultant and contributor to the herbarium and most of his valuable specimens are in the collections at ESU.
In more recent years faculty members have served as curators, in addition to their teaching and research. Dr. Don Ashapanek, a botanist, Dr. Gilbert A. Leisman, a paleobotanist, and Dr. R. Laurie Robbins, a plant systematist in turn, helped to organize and maintain the collections. Dr. Robbins, especially, instigated an active loan policy and frequently sent plant material to other herbaria for taxonomic review and annotation. The current curator is Dr. Thomas A. Eddy, who has been instrumental in applying the resources of the herbarium to class room instruction and cataloging the collections in an online database. Dr. Eddy is an expert on Great Plains flora and he has a special interest in plants of the tallgrass prairie. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The mission of the herbarium continues to be to document regional biodiversity. We maintain the tradition of providing knowledgeable identification of plant specimens for students, scientists, and the general public and all may visit by appointment. The herbarium houses over 43,000 cataloged plant specimens in the research collection. The specimens are available for students to use in terrestrial ecology, aquatic ecology, teaching, and our REU programs. We have 1200 teaching specimens that are regularly used in courses in General Biology, Botany Ethnobotany, Plant Kingdom, Plant Taxonomy, Trees and Shrubs, Grasses, and Aquatic Biology, plus and 400 that are reserved of testing in these classes. In addition, 508 specimens are available for student use at the Ross Natural History Reservation. We are currently entering the specimen data from our collections in an electronic database and we hope eventually to establish links to collections at other universities.
Illustration by Iralee Barnard
Photos by [left to right] Laurie Robbins, Greg Sievert, Greg Sievert, Laurie Robbins