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The Austin Peay State University Herbarium (APSC*) is a state-supported institution used for undergraduate, graduate, and professional teaching, research, and public service. APSC is the second largest herbarium in Tennessee with ca. 50,000 vascular plant specimens as well as several hundred bryophyte and lichen specimens. APSC is also one of the largest herbaria in the Interior Low Plateaus Physiographic Province and is the primary repository for specimens from Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBLNRRA).

*APSC is used as the acronym following Index Herbariorum and was established when the University’s name was Austin Peay State College.

Mission of APSC:

To serve as the primary herbarium for the Interior Low Plateaus Physiographic Province, to maintain a reference collection of most Southeastern U.S. vascular plant taxa, and to educate a new generation of highly skilled field botanists, taxonomists, and systematists through excellence in teaching, research, and outreach.

History of APSC:

The APSU Herbarium (APSC) was established in 1942 by Dr. Royal Shanks (below left). Initially the collection consisted of vascular plants from northwestern middle Tennessee and was housed in cardboard storage boxes. The first herbarium cabinet was purchased in 1948 with a second cabinet added 10 years later. During this time, a local naturalist, Mr. Alfred Clebsch (below right), added a few thousand specimens to the herbarium including about 1,000 bryophyte and 500 lichen specimens.

In 1965, the APSU Biology Department was awarded a research grant by the Tennessee Valley Authority to document the flora and fauna of the proposed Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a 69,000 ha land unit now managed by the U.S. Forest Service. This project was initially directed by Dr. William Ellis (below left). This grant led to the purchase of five new cabinets and the collection of a few thousand specimens from LBL.

In 1967, Dr. Edward W. Chester (below right) became curator of the herbarium. During his career, he added more cabinets and several thousand specimens. These collections came from his extensive collecting in the region and the collection efforts of his students. In addition, he actively exchanged specimens with several major southeastern U.S. herbaria which greatly enhanced the diversity of the collection. Dr. Chester made other important contributions to APSC including ensuring that many of the problematic taxa were annotated by experts, establishing a strong connection between the herbarium and field biology courses, and ensuring that the APSU library contained significant taxonomic works and botanical journals to enhance opportunities in botanical research and education at APSU. Dr. Chester also published extensively during his career (see herbarium-related publications).

Present Status of APSC:

Dr. Dwayne Estes assumed the duty as director of APSC in 2007. At the time the collection contained ca. 32,000 specimens in 40 cabinets. Four new cabinets were purchased with a small APSU equipment grant in spring 2008 to provide space for short-term growth. From Aug 2007-May 2010, 6,700 specimens were mounted and added to the collection raising the number of total mounted specimens to 38,700, a 17% increase in growth. The diversity of the herbarium is also increasing rapidly. The collection currently contains specimens of more than 5,000 species. These across-the-board increases demonstrate the high level of activity at APSC and are opposite the recently documented national trend in which herbaria are slowing their activities or are being abandoned altogether.


Regional Significance of Herbarium:

Currently, APSC is the second largest herbarium in Tennessee (the University of Tennessee Herbarium is the largest with 550,000 specimens) and the third largest in the Interior Low Plateau Physiographic Province (only behind Indiana University and Eastern Kentucky University which lie at the far northern and northeastern sections of the ILP), a region that includes northern Alabama, central Tennessee, most of central and western Kentucky, and unglaciated parts of southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio (see map). APSC is a vital regional collection since it is centrally located within the ILP and because it is the largest and most diverse herbarium within 150 miles. The Vanderbilt University Herbarium (VDB, 300,000 specimens), which contains the most complete collection of Interior Low Plateau specimens, was transferred to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) in Fort Worth, TX in 1997 and is no longer a convenient regional resource since it is 630 miles away. Borrowing specimens for study from VDB is not possible for many individuals and agencies (i.e. Tennessee Natural Heritage Program) that aren’t affiliated with an established herbarium and it is often impractical for botanists working on the flora of the region to consult the VDB collection. APSC now partially fills the void left by the transfer of the VDB collection out-of-state.

Current Size and Holdings:

For its size, APSC is a diverse collection representing ca. 5,000 species and infraspecific taxa of vascular plants. The vascular portion of the collection contains 84% of the Tennessee flora and an estimated 60% of the flora of the Southeast. The collection also includes an excellent selection of specimens from the Southern Appalachians (Blue Ridge Mountains, Cumberland Plateau, Ridge and Valley, Piedmont Plateau), Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, Coastal Plain, Edwards Plateau, Great Plains, central Rocky Mountains, and Trans-Pecos regions. In addition to its vascular plant holdings, APSC also contains one of the most complete sets of bryophyte and lichen collections from the central ILP, especially the lower Cumberland River Valley.


APSC serves a number of different local, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and environmental consultants. Services provided to these groups include plant identification, floristic surveys, and surveys for endangered and invasive flora. We also serve the academic and scientific community by maintaining an active loan and specimen exchange program.


APSC staff and students are currently involved in numerous projects including description of new species, floristic inventories, taxonomic studies, invasive species projects, community ecology and vegetation mapping, and molecular systematics.

Staff & Students:

APSC is directed and curated by Dr. Dwayne Estes. In addition, Dr. Edward W. Chester, Professor Emeritus, remains active. The Herbarium employs three graduate students, and two undergraduate students.


Thirteen volunteers, including current and former students, members of the community, and high school students volunteer their time and services to APSC. These volunteers work on projects critical to the functioning of the herbarium including mounting specimens, filing, packaging loans, weeding the native plant garden, and helping to maintain living collections in the greenhouse.