Botany and Paleobotany

The paleobotanical collection contains over 100,000 specimens, including more than 1,000 types, collected primarily in central North America from Texas to North Dakota, but also from as far west as Utah. It houses the largest known collection of Oligocene-Miocene grass fossils, a large assemblage of Cretaceous macrofossils, an important Paleocene flora (Scotty’s Palms), and smaller but significant collections from notable localities such as Florrisant Fossil Beds, Ruby Basin, and Mazon Creek.  The herbarium houses over 48,000 vascular plant specimens, mostly angiosperms, and more than 10,000 fungi specimens, including a large rust element and over100 types. More than 70% of the vascular plant specimens and 100% of the fungi specimens were collected between 1833 – 1940 and represent an invaluable scientific as well as a historical resource. From 1887 – 1926 Elam Bartholomew exchanged specimens with botanical and mycological colleagues worldwide (more than 4,000 letters documenting the exchanges are in state archives in Topeka, KS), and after his death, F. W. Albertson continued to exchange specimens until 1942 (more than 500 of his exchange letters are archived in the Bartholomew herbarium). Examples of botanists and mycologists represented in the collections by significant numbers of specimens include J. W. Blankinship, J. B. Ellis, R. C. Friesner, H. A. Gleason, A. S. Hitchcock, W. A. Kellerman, A. Nelson, H. W. Rickett, and many others.


Table 1. The status of fossil and extant plant collections in the Sternberg Museum – September 2011. The numbers of specimens listed are conservative because collections are not fully curated. 


Number of specimens

 and type

Paleocene Scotty’s Palms 1500+ slabs (475 on loan to DMNH)

Cretaceous Dakota &

Hoisington Clay Pit

3200+ slabs 

Tertiary “seed” A,

JRT sites 1-102

25,000+ in 2,600+ vials & matrix, 693 vertebrates

Tertiary “seed” B,

JRT sites 1-57, 80

32,000+ in 3,100+ vials and matrix

Tertiary “seed” C,

JRT sites 103-110

1,200+  in 150+ vials and matrix


710 brass disks with specimens, SEM types
SEM 2 250 brass disks with specimens, SEM types
SEM 3 500 brass disks with specimens, SEM types
H. C. Reynolds paleobotany materials Collection curation in progress; in excess of 1000 Cretaceous-Neogene fossils, mostly compression slabs
J. R. Thomasson & F. Potter Ph.D. and other research materials 2850+ pollen and cuticle slides, grass spikelet vouchers, coal balls, field notebooks& records, other

Vascular Plant

32,120 mounted

16,500 unmounted

Bartholomew Fungi 10,000+ in envelopes, including 100+ types
Tertiary “seed” D,

type specimens

1000+ holotypes, isotypes & paratypes
  1. Extant fungi: This collection houses more than 10,000 specimens collected by Elam Bartholomew and contemporaries between 1887-1934 and consists primarily of rust fungi on host vascular plants. Specimens are preserved in envelopes and include detailed locality, collector, and habitat data. Among these specimens are at least 100 primary types. We have recently demonstrated the feasibility of using scanning electron microscopy to study microfeatures of the fungal specimens (Pilger and Thomasson, 2005). A biography of Elam Bartholomew authored by his grandson (Barthholomew, 1998) reviews the historical and scientific importance of the Bartholomew specimens.

  2. Extant vascular plants: More than 48,000 specimens of primary angiosperms (60% curated and accessioned) are in this collection. The Plains region of central North American is especially well represented by specimens in the collection, although significant exchange programs conducted by Bartholomew from 1887 – 1932 and F. W. Albertson from 1934 -1942 incorporated important elements of other regions in the collection.

  3. Fossil plants: More than 100,000 fossil plant specimens are located in this collection, nearly all of which are vascular plants. Among especially well-represented groups are Tertiary Gramineae, Cyperaceae, Boraginaceae, Ulmaceae, and other flowering plants and various Paleocene and Cretaceous flowering and non-flowering plants.