How It All Began

“As well as a flourishing library, the school by 1909 had a wood collection containing specimens of nearly all of Pennsylvania’s native trees and large shrubs. For each species, cross sections and radial and tangential sections had been prepared to show the gross appearance of the wood. The next step was the preservation of samples in alcohol and glycerin so that sections suitable for microscopic examination could be cut. These latter sections were to be especially useful in the study of timber physics (wood technology)." E.H. Thomas, “A History of the Pennsylvania State Forestry School, 1903 – 1929.” p. 67

Thursday, October 18, 2018


Yesterday was a big day for the Xylarium. After five short years, I've completed validaton/verification and data entry on the 10,753 wood specimens that have some form of original documentation, including about 1,000 that are fully vouchered with field collection sheets. About 90% of the specimens were collected between 1900 and 1960. There are an additional 3,000 - 4,000 undocumented specimens that await identification and data entry.

A quick review of the collection:

Specimens Documented to Date:
Total: 10753
Angiosperms: 9616
Gymnosperms: 1137
Unique Families: 193
Unique Accepted Genus/Species: 3872
Unique Unresolved Genus/Species: 63
Continent of Collection: Total (Unique Species)
Africa: 641 (237)
Asia: 1701 (867)
Australia: 1477 (630)
Central America: 1563 (538)
Europe: 280 (113)
North America: 3559 (880)
South America: 876 (430)

The reason I felt compelled to share this with you is that the database has at least two unique features that may occasionally be helpful to you.

The first is that all the assigned scientific names are "Accepted" in current online plant databases. In the process of building the database, I found that about 40-50% of the original names were either misspelled or had changed since original identification. So, the database is a quick check on Accepted names of practically any species you may have an interest in...without your needing to check against several online databases...which I've already done for each species. And I've noted which reference source I ultimately used for final determination of "Accepted" status.

The other is that most of the specimens were documented with at least one common name. Common names are a lot harder to find in one place for a specific species...Wikipedia and the Catalogue of Life have some of them if you know the scientific name, but if you're starting out with a common name, the process can be a lot tougher. This database gives you the option to either start out with a common name and work backwards, or start with a known Genus and scan possibilities. For instance, if someone asked you about "silver fir", a quick scan of the Abies entries or sort of the database tells you that Abies alba, Abies amabilis, Abies concolor, and Abies spectabilis all are at least occasionally called "silver fir" in their part of the world....which is also noted in the database.

The link to the database is in the right-hand column where you'll see a "Database" link. If I have the access set up correctly, you can sort as you like, but can't modifiy the database. Please let me know if you discover otherwise.

So, that's where the Penn State Xylarium is at, today. Now that the database is completed to this point, I can sort by Family and begin to reorganize and file all the specimens in a convenient way. So, if  someone asks me about the physical differences between different oak woods, for example, I can simply open one or two drawers and show them.

Most importantly, I can generate detailed stories derived from the collection specimens for research, teaching, or Extension proposals. So the drudgery is over, and the fun begins. Let me know if you have any ideas...