History of the MSU Herbarium
Adapted from an unpublished manuscript by John H. (Jack) Rumely
The Montana State University Herbarium (MONT) houses approximately 92,000 herbarium specimens of vascular and lichens collected mostly in Montana and surrounding states. The herbarium was established during 1893 by Luther Foster and E. V. Wilcox soon with the formation of the Montana State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (as the University was then called). During the late 1890s and early 1900s, the herbarium was curated first H. S. Jennings and then J. W. Blankinship. All of these early curators saw to it that the plant collection was maintained as a research collection, and many of these original specimens exist today in very good condition. Blankinship was an especially active collector and encouraged regional botanists to contribute to the herbarium. He collected commonly with such notable early 20th century botanists as P. A. Rydberg in western Montana and many type specimens remain in the MONT Herbarium from these times. Under the direction of Blankinship, the herbarium grew to about 21,000 vascular plant specimens by 1905.
Blankinship left the College in 1906 as a private consultant, and was replaced by the able D. B. Swingle, author of the Textbook of Systematic Botany (first published in 1928). Swingle was assisted by H. E. Morris, a botanist with the Agricultural Experiment Station. During 1922, Dr. F. B. Cotner, a mycologist, was hired and brought with him a large collection of fungi. With help from Swingle and Morris, Cotner greatly increased the herbarium activity, and established an accession record book for the College Herbarium. One of the most significant additions to the herbarium during this time was 20,000 specimens from the Pliny Hawkins collection.
William Ed Booth was appointed as curator in 1948, and continued the strong development of the herbarium that was seen in all previous curators. As evidence of this, Booth produced a Flora of Montana Part I (conifers and monocots) by 1950. He collaborated with Dr. J. C. Wright in producing Part II, Dicotyledons, which first came out in 1959, thus completing the first State flora for Montana. He also authored a locally produced manual of Montana grasses. During his tenure as curator, Booth accessioned over 30,000 specimens to the herbarium, thus almost doubling the size of the vascular plant collection. This number represents not only collections by Booth, but also those of other individuals who Booth had encouraged to collect and contribute specimens.
In 1972, synchronous with the retirement of W. E. Booth, John H. Rumely was appointed as curator, who reorganized the research collection from the Dalle, Torre, and Harms classification system to one that arranged families alphabetically. Also with this move, the mycological section of approximately 9,000 specimens was turned over to the then Department of Plant Pathology in the College of Agriculture. When Rumely was first designated as curator, the MONT Herbarium was designated as one of the primary collections for the computer data base of the Plant Information Network, a cooperative effort among the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado State University at Fort Collins, and several regional herbaria. The MONT Herbarium benefited by having for the first time a listing of all holdings by County.
In 1981, Dr. Sharon Eversman was hired on as a faculty member in the Biology Department. Dr. Eversman brought with a research program that involved the study of bryophyte and lichen diversity in Montana and adjacent regions. Although Dr. Eversman has since retired, a collection of about 8,000 lichens resides in the MONT collection, and these have all been data based as part of the Consortium of North American Lichen Herbaria.
Matt Lavin was hired during 1989 as a faculty member and curator of MONT. Since that time, the collection has grown very modestly in size with the addition of specimens that represent mostly new state and county records, as well as general collections of grasses and legumes. MONT collections from Montana are now part of the image data base in the Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria.