Exsi-whatee?!: (Most) Everything You Wanted to Know about Exsiccati but were Afraid to Ask

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  Herbarium (NCU) has about 800,000 specimens, and some of these are components of exsiccati.  We curate specimens belonging to over 90 exsiccati… oh… right…. I suppose I should define “exsiccati”.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary provides the definition, “a collection or series of dried herbarium specimens,” and that source lists “exsiccatae” as the primary spelling and “exsiccati” as less common.1  In my opinion this is a fine start, but does not accurately describe how herbarium specimens belonging to exsiccati differ from herbarium specimens which do not.

I find it helpful to use an analogy.  Imagine that you are a member of a group of people who love folk tales; moreover your group is devoted to writing out these stories by hand.  Your group wants to give a set of 100 hand-written folk tales to 10 local schools.  This is too much work for one copyist.  Moreover it would be tedious for a single person to hand-write the same story over and over again.  So these folklorists decide that while each book will contain the same set of stories — with story #1 being “Snow White”– one school will receive a book in which Jane Doe copied out “Snow White” while another school will get “Snow White” copied out a few months later by John Public.  In each book story #2 will be “The ‘Nsasak Bird and the Odudu Bird” and this story will be copied by Kezzie Mwananchi or Santiago Cuididano or Jane Doe.

Extend this to herbarium specimens.  Curatrix Doe wants to send a set of 100 different species of algae to 10 herbaria.  In “Jane Doe’s Excellent Algae Exsiccati” specimen #1 is going to be Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera).  She may have 10 specimens of Giant Kelp, but each specimen may be from a different place or collected by a different person.  Species #2 in each set is Turkish Towel (Chondracanthus exasperatus), but again the collector or date or locality may differ between sets.

Why do botanists (or herbaria) produce exsiccati?  There are a variety of reasons.  An herbarium may have a surplus of specimens — enough to make sets and send to sister institutions lacking those species.  A collector may have documented plants from a specific area over a number of years, and amassed enough specimens to make several complete sets — one for her local university herbarium, one for the national herbarium of her country,  one for her phycologist friend in the herbarium of  University of Cape Town (ZA) in South Africa, and another for her colleagues in the herbarium in Chapel Hill (NCU).

A specimen of Ecklonia brevipes from the Algae Nova Zelandicae Exsiccatae.  It is specimen #7 and was collected in 1936 on Long Beach, Bay of Islands.

NCU curates 346 macroalgae specimens collected in New Zealand by Victor Wilhelm Lindauer (1888-1964).  “Victor Lindauer was born in Auckland [New Zealand] and grew up in the inland town of Woodville. His father was a well-known portrait painter, Gottfried Lindauer. Victor enjoyed a boyhood in bucolic surroundings full of native bush plants and was encouraged in his interest in botany by the printer and botanist William Colenso, a family friend. Lindauer trained as a primary school teacher and spent most of his career working in rural locations on the North Island, especially Northland and Taranaki. (His early career was interrupted by service in the United States in the First World War.) Marrying Elsie Lovell in 1927, Lindauer fathered four children and the family settled at Russell in the Bay of Islands in 1931. His interest in marine algae began a few years later after a meeting with a team of visiting phycologists [botanists who study algae] from the University of Minnesota, led by Prof. Josephine Tilden. Lindauer allowed them to use his school as a base camp, and joined them in their expedition. He went on to make large collections of algae and published papers on the taxonomy and morphology of New Zealand Phaeophyta and Rhodophyta, encouraged in his work by Prof. W.A. Setchell of the University of California. He enlisted the help of his family and pupils in collecting and mounting, and of Eileen Willa of Half Moon Bay, Stewart Island, to obtain specimens from the South Island. R. Gilpin, a headmaster resident on the Chatham Islands, also sent material to Lindauer. Between 1939 and 1953 Lindauer distributed about 60 sets of the Algae Nova Zelandicae Exsiccatae, in 14 fascicles [sets] of 25 sheets. The sets, including Cyanobacteria, Chlorophyta, Phaeophyta and Rhodophyta, have served as reference material for many subsequent taxonomic studies of New Zealand algae.”

NCU curates exsiccati collected from places closer to Chapel Hill. Thus far we have identified 320 specimens collected and distributed by the Biltmore Herbarium. Without doubt we have hundreds more in our collection and will find them as we continue to complete our catalog records for each specimen. “Biltmore, a Gilded Era mansion in Asheville, North Carolina, is America’s largest private home. The home and associated estate were commissioned by George Washington Vanderbilt II, grandson of the infamous railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. While his wealth lasted, Vanderbilt also used Biltmore as the nexus for the many botanical projects he sponsored,” writes McKenna Coyle of the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium. “Biltmore’s botanical activities were varied and ambitious, in many cases attracting experts from across the world. Gifford Pinchot, noted forester who would later serve as the first Chief of the US Forest Service, established the nation’s first school of forestry at Biltmore. Frederick Law Olmsted, celebrated landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York City, also designed the pleasure grounds and gardens at Biltmore. Finally, Chauncey Beadle, a Canadian azalea aficionado and trained agriculturalist, worked for decades as the director of Biltmore’s nursery and herbarium. The Biltmore Herbarium, established in 1895, made significant contributions to southeastern American botany. This was partly due to its large staff of five botanists, unusual for a private herbarium. The herbarium briefly published its own journal, Biltmore Botanical Studies, which included taxonomic studies describing hundreds of new species. Although established to document the flora of the estate, the Biltmore Herbarium eventually broadened its focus, commissioning expeditions to states as far off as Colorado. At its height the Biltmore Herbarium housed between 100,000 and 500,000 plant specimens. The herbarium was actively involved in trading specimens with many institutions… A lavish spender and poor investor, Vanderbilt quickly lost most of his fortune, and as a result stopped supporting the herbarium.  The final blow came in 1916, when two hurricanes flooded the herbarium, destroying most of its collections… Although the Biltmore Herbarium was destroyed after only 21 years, it left a significant impression on American botany. Luckily, due to their collections trading policy, many specimens collected for Biltmore still exist.”3

The Southern Appalachian Botanical Club (now called the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society) has distributed at least 30 exisiccati, beginning in ca. 1939 with “Southern Appalachian Botanical Club 1st Distribution of Southeastern Plants” and continuing through at least the “30th Distribution of Southeastern Plants” in the mid-1970s.  As the specimens belonging to these exsiccati are scattered throughout the Herbarium, it will take years of cataloging before we can definitively say just how many sets NCU received.  I suspect we will discover that we have all 100 specimens of all 30 exsiccati.

Cryptogames de l’Empire Colonial Francais was sent as a book held together with a cloth strap.


Inside the book cover of Cryptogames de l’Empire Colonial Francais are envelopes containing fungi. Each envelope contains a different species of fungus; the label on the outside provides the details on who collected the specimen, the locality, and the date of the collection.


Label of a fungal specimen belonging to the Cryptogames de l’Empire Colonial Francais.  This specimen was collected by Roger Heim on 15 July 1946 in Cameroon. Cameroon gained its independence from France on 1 January 1960.

Most frequently the sheets within an exsiccata are dispersed throughout an herbarium so that the Giant Kelp from Jane Doe’s Excellent Algae Exsiccati is in the same folder and case as Victor Lindauer’s Giant Kelp from New Zealand.  The advantage of this is that the specimens can be compared to each other.  The disadvantage is that it can be more difficult to recognize when a specimen is a component of an exsiccata.

As the staff and students of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium continue to catalog our nearly 800,000 botanical specimens, it is likely we will discover that we hold specimens of additional exsiccati from around the world.

Exiccati of Vascular Plants Curated at NCU:4
Biltmore Herbarium
Charleston Mountain Flora, Clark County, Nevada [Clokey, Charleston Mt. Fl.]
DAO – Plantae Exsiccatae
Dupla ex Herbario Instituti Botanici Academiae Scientiarum Polonae – Cracoviae
F. Karo: Plantae Amuricae et Zeaënsae curavit I. Dörfler [Dörfler, Karo Pl. Amur.]
Flora Dakotae Septentrionalis Exsiccati (Dr. J. Lunnell) Unkn
Flora Neerlandica exsiccata [Anonymous, Fl. Neerl. Exs.]
Flora Poloniae exsiccata ab Instituto Botanico Academiae Scientiarum Polonae edita [Jasiewicz, Tacik, Chwastowski & Pa?kowa, Fl. Polon. Exs.]
Flora Poloniae exsiccata ab Instituto Botanico Academiae Scientiarum Polonae edita [Tacik, Fl. Polon. Exs.]
Flora Polonica exsiccata [Rehmann & Wo?oszczak, Fl. Polon. Exs.]
Flora Polonica exsiccata. Ro?liny Polskie. [Raciborski, Fl. Polon. Exs.]
Flora Texana. (Supplementary to “Flora Texana exsiccata”) [Blankinship, Lindheimer Fl. Texana Suppl.]
Galliae mediae flora exsiccata, Catalogue des Collections botaniques du Massif Central
Josephine E. Tilden, South Pacific Plants, Second Series, 1934-1935
North American Plants [Curtiss, N. Am. Pl.]
Plantae Cechoslovacae Exsiccatae. Centuria II.
Plantae Cechoslovacae Exsiccatae. Centuria III.
Plantae Cechoslovacae Exsiccatae. Centuria IV. Museum Nationale, Praga.
Plantae exsiccatae Grayanae
Plantae Finlandiae exsiccatae e Museo botanico Universitatis Helsingforsiensis distributae [Lindberg, Pl. Finl. Exs.]
Plantae lignosae florae URSS indigenae ex herbario Horti botanici principalis Academiae Scientiarum URSS (MHA) [Anonymous, Pl. Lignosae Fl. URSS]
Plantae Mexicanae 1886 [Pringle, Pl. Mexic. 1886]
Plantae Mexicanae 1888 [Pringle, Pl. Mexic. 1888]
Plantae Mexicanae 1891 [Pringle, Pl. Mexic. 1891]
Plantae Mexicanae 1894 [Pringle, Pl. Mexic. 1894]
Plantae Mexicanae 1898 [Pringle, Pl. Mexic. 1898]
Plantae partis Europaeae URSS ex herbario horti botanici principalis Academiae Scientiarum URSS (MHA). Rastenija evropeiskoj casti SSSR iz gerbarija G [Anonymous, Pl. Part. Eur. URSS]
Plantae Sueciae exsiccatae [Samuelsson, Pl. Suec. Exs.]
Plantae vasculares Danicae exsiccatae a museo botanico Hauniensi distributae [Anonymous, Pl. Vasc. Dan. Exs.]
Plantae vasculares Groenlandicae exsiccatae. A museo Botanico Hauniensi distributae [Holmen, Pl. Vasc. Groenl. Exs.]
Plants of Florida. [Nash, Pl. Florida]
Second distribution of plants of the southern United States [Curtiss, 2nd Distr. Pl. S. US]
Société Dauphinoise [Anonymous, Soc. Dauph.]
Southern Appalachian Botanical Club  Distribution of North American Plants  (sets of 100; Distributions 1,2,3,6,7,8,10)
Southern Appalachian Botanical Club Distribution of Southeastern Plants   (sets of 100; Distributions 1-4, 6-26, 29-30)

Exsiccati of Macroalgae Curated at NCU:
Algae and Corallines of the bay and harbor of New York #1  Durant, Algae New York, Durant, C.F. [1 – 293]
Algae Nova Zelandicae exsiccatae [Lindauer, Algae Nov. Zeland. Exs.]
Algae Terrae Novae [123-150] [Hooper, Algae Terr. Nov.]
Algae Terrae Novae [83-102] [South & Hooper, Algae Terr. Nov.]
Algae Zeelandiae  DOG
Characeae Americanae exsiccatae distributae a T. F. Allen M.D. [Allen, Characeae Amer. Exs.]
Characeae Japonicae exsiccatae distributae a T. F. Allen M.D. [Allen, Characeae Japon. Exs.]
North American Algae [Collins, N. Amer. Algae]
Phycotheca Boreali-Americana, a collection of dried specimens of the Algae of North America [1 – 2300] [Collins, Holden & Setchell, Phycoth. Bor.-Amer.]
Plantae exsiccatae ab universitatae Britannico-Columbiana editae. Series Algae [Scagel, Pl. Exs. Univ. Brit.-Columb. Algae]

Exsiccati of Lichens Curated at NCU:6
Fungi Dakotensis [Brenckle, Fungi Dakot. [Kulm (South Dakota)]]
Exsiccati of Bryophytes Curated at NCU:7
Cryptogamae Germaniae, Austriae et Helvetiae exsiccatae [Migula, Krypt. Germ., Austr. Helv. Exs. [Moose]]
Hepaticae Americanae, Prepared by L. M. Underwood and O. F. Cook [Underwood & Cook, Hepat. Amer.]
Josephine E. Tilden. South Pacific Plants Second Series, 1934-35. Distributed by the Herbarium of the University of Minnesota
Reliquiae Farlowianae [Thaxter, Reliqu. Farlow.]
Exsiccati of Fungi Curated at NCU:
Ascomyceten [Rehm, Ascomyc.]
California Fungi. Berkeley, CA [Anonymous, Calif. Fungi]
Cryptogames de L’empire Colonial Francais, R. Heim [1-20]; Series A
Cryptogames de L’empire Colonial Francais, R. Heim [1-20]; Series B
Cryptogames de L’empire Colonial Francais, R. Heim [1-20]; Series C
Cryptogams Distributed by the Farlow Herbarium of Harvard University. Reliquiae Farlowianae.
Economic Fungi
Erbario Crittogamico Italiano [Series I & II] [Baglietto, Cesati & Notaris, Erb. Critt. Ital. Ser. [I-II].]
Flora exsiccata Austro-Hungarica, a museo botanico universitatis vindobonensis edita [1-2800] [Kerner von Marilaun, Fl. Exs. Austro-Hung.]
Flora exsiccata Austro-Hungarica, a museo botanico universitatis vindobonensis edita [2801-3600] [Fritsch, Fl. Exs. Austro-Hung.]
Fungi Americani Exsiccati
Fungi Britannici exsiccati a M. C. Cooke collecti, Series I [Cooke, Fungi Brit. Exs. Ser. I]
Fungi Caroliniani Exsiccati
Fungi Cubenses Wrightiani [Anonymous, Fungi Cub. Wrightiani]
Fungi Dakotenses [Brenckle, Fungi Dakot.]
Fungi Exsiccati Fennici
Fungi Exsiccati Praesertim Scandinavici
Fungi Helvetici Exsiccati [Cent. 1-2] [Winter, Fungi Helv. Exs.]
Fungi Longobardiae Exsiccati Sive Mycetum Specimina in Longobardia Collecta, et Speciebus Novis Vel Criticis, Iconibus Illustrata
Fungi Malayana
Fungi Nebraskenses
Fungi of Florida  (Harold Hume)
Fungi Rossiae Exsiccati  (Russia)
Fungi Selecti Exsiccati (Kunze)
Fungi Selecti Exsiccati (Torrend)
Indiana Flora, Parasitic Fungi  (L.M. Underwood?  weird story?)
Kansas Fungi [Kellerman & Swingle]
Micro-Fungi Britannici   J. E. Vize,  C. B. Plowright, Esq.
Mycological Exchange of 1921
North American Fungi. Series I. [Ellis, N. Amer. Fungi]
Plantae Lindheimerianae, Fascicle IV
Plantae Mexicanae, C.G. Pringle [Pringle, Pl. Mexic.]
Plants of Southern Colorado  (Fuller, Baker, Earle, Tracy)
Pringle’s Mexican Fungi
Rabenhorst, Fungi europaei [Fungi Europaei exsiccati, Klotzschii herbarii vivi mycologici continuatio. Editio nov. Series secunda] [Rabenhorst, Fungi Eur. Exs.]
Rabenhorst, Herb. mycologicum. Ed. I.
Rabenhorst, Herb. mycologicum. Ed. II.
Rabenhorst – Winter, Fungi Europaei
Reliquiae Farlowianae
The Lactariae of North America
West American Fungi
1.  MERRIAM-WEBSTER:  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exsiccatae
2.  “Lindauer, Victor Wilhelm”  Global Plants, JSTOR.  https://plants.jstor.org/stable/10.5555/al.ap.person.bm000333839
3.  Coyle, McKenna (2019)  The Biltmore Herbarium:  Botany and America’s Largest Home.  Steere Herbarium, New York Botanical Garden.  http://sweetgum.nybg.org/science/the-hand-lens/explore/narratives-details/?irn=7249  accessed on 29 August 2022.
4.  SERNEC Data Portal. 2022. http//:sernecportal.org/index.php. Accessed on August 29.
5.  Macroalgal Herbarium Consortium Data Portal. 2022.  https://macroalgae.org/portal/index.php.  Accessed on August 29.
6.  CNALH. 2022. http//:lichenportal.org/cnalh/index.php. Accessed on August 29.
7.  CNABH Portal. 2022. http//:bryophyteportal.org/portal/index.php. Accessed on August 29.
8.  MyCoPortal . 2022. http://www.mycoportal.org/portal/index.php. Accessed on August 29.