University of Vermont

College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences

Department of Plant and Soil Science

Torrey Hall to Become Natural History Museum

Thanks to Grant Including Plant Biology & Biology

The Pringle Herbarium collection of photos, documents and ephemera tells the history of the institution's acquisition and role as the third largest herbarium in New England. Ph.D. candidate Wes Testo, right explained the library holdings to the Vermont chapter of the Hardy Plant Club in February.

A $470,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to UVM will establish the University of Vermont Natural History Museum on campus, leaders learned in May.

The new museum will consolidate, improve and make more accessible three of the most important natural history collections in the state, already housed in Torrey Hall: the flora represented by the plants in the Pringle Herbarium and the fauna as documented in both the invertebrate and vertebrate animal collections in the Thompson Zoological Collections.

The combined size of the collections is about 660,000 specimens.

The award will be used to improve specimen storage conditions, reducing the chance of damage from fire, water and pests. It will also enable the university to significantly expand digital imaging efforts currently under way of both the animal and plant collections and of data retrieved from the specimen labels and collection archives. 

Promotes Research & Teaching of Vermont Natural History

“The concept for the museum is to be place that promotes the exploration of biodiversity especially as it relates to Vermont’s natural heritage, through both original research and the teaching of natural history, especially to young people,” said Dave Barrington, who is spearheading the project. Barrington is curator of the Pringle Herbarium and chair of plant biology. The museum will be a joint project of the plant biology and biology departments.

While the specimens are being secured, curators and students will systematically reorganize them to reflect contemporary taxonomic classification. The reorganization of the collections will expand their access to a wide array of people, Barrington said, including UVM undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, citizen scientists and local volunteers. Outreach efforts will attract K-12 groups interested in learning about biodiversity and conservation through hands-on use of the specimens. The digitization program will also significantly increase their reach to researchers and educators around the world.

By far the largest in the state, the collections serve as the State of Vermont’s official archive for documentation of its flora and fauna. Because of their worldwide geographic scope and long history, they are also a valuable resource for researchers worldwide

The Pringle Herbarium is the third largest herbarium in New England, exceeded only by those at Harvard and Yale. Physically, the collection is housed in 216 cabinets; currently more than half wooden, and some without functional doors. Barrington is assisted by Michael Sundue and Dorothy Allard and a number of scholars and volunteers.

The Thompson Zoological Collections, curated by Bill Kilpatrick and Ingi Agnarsson, are research and teaching resources administered through the Department of Biology. They include birds, mammals, amphibians, lizards, snakes, fish and mollusks, but the collections of mammals and arthropods constitute the most specimen-rich component. These collections are currently housed in 69 small substandard commercial wooden and handmade cabinets.