Pressed to preserve


A bit of history is hidden at Butler’s Friesner Herbarium. The herbarium contains more than 100,000 dried and pressed leaves, making up the third-largest collection of plants in the state. The herbarium is also the site where Dr. Ray C. Friesner—the man for whom the building is named—conducted most of his work.

The Friesner Herbarium recently joined forces with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis University Library to make its  collection digital. On their website,, more than 18,000 images of the plants and all the information known to date about each individual sample are posted. The goal of the project is to eventually have all 43,000 different Indiana plants in the Butler University Friesner Herbarium posted on the site for easy and convenient access.

Friesner, born in 1894, served Butler as a professor of botany, later leading the botany department for 33 years. Throughout his lifetime, he collected more than 25,500 different plants from the Indianapolis area, all of which are still preserved in Butler’s herbarium.

His ultimate goal before his death in 1952 was to find and record every species of plant in Indiana. Rebecca Dolan, director of the Friesner Herbarium, said his goal continues to be carried out.
“Plants are still being discovered in the area,” Dolan said. “Usually, newfound plants are weeds spreading from neighboring states. Occasionally, a rare plant has always been here, but someone is just finding it now.”

Although the herbarium has a strong emphasis on plants from Indiana, the collection represents species from all 50 states as well as different countries from around the world. To obtain foreign plants, a system of international trade takes place.

“When a new species is collected, people gather 20 or so duplicates of that plant to trade with other places across the world,” Dolan said. “In turn, those places would send things back from their country or region.”

According to Dolan, a good specimen is large and has enough material to look at much later and still be identified. Smaller plants should be collected with their roots, while species with flowers should contain those buds in the samples.

The preservation of the plants is what makes a herbarium different from a greenhouse.
“The term “herbarium” is not clear to people sometimes,” Dolan said. “It has pressed and dried plants, basically a giant leaf collection.”

This “leaf” collection is important for historical purposes. Every sample is recorded with where and when that sample was found.

Dolan is also working on a Ray C. Friesner inspired mission. “I am working with a researcher of the Missouri botanical garden to gather a comprehensive list of up-to-date records of all the plants in Indiana,” she said.
Dolan’s book is scheduled to be published later this year.

Until then, if one is curious about the plant specimens to be found from Indiana to India, the Friesner Herbarium is open to the public by appointment by calling 317-940-9413, or by emailing Dolan at


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