Botanists have published more than 1,200,000 plant names since 1753, the year that Carl Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum was published, which established the current naming convention for plants. There are about 400,000 species of flowering plants in the world, and we know varying amounts of information about each. Traditionally, botanists have attempted to keep track of plants and information about them through the production of indexes to names and other printed materials, but the large numbers of plants and small numbers of botanists have resulted in an imperfect system of information retrieval.
Computers obviously provide a means by which this information can be stored and easily retrieved. In the late 1980s they became inexpensive enough, reliable enough, and powerful enough to become an effective tool for botanists. Tropicos® is the Garden’s botanical information system, accessible at www.Tropicos.org, as w³Tropicos .
Tropicos, the world’s largest botanical database, contains 1.2 million published names, information on more than 361,000 type specimens (the specimen used to establish the name for a plant species), more than two million distribution records, nearly 660,000 synonyms, over four million specimen records and more than 230,000 plant images. Literature reports on chromosome counts are also included, as well as information on the ways plants have been used by or had an effect on humans.
The Garden is involved in floristic projects throughout the world which gather information and descriptions of plants of a specific geographic region. Data from these large projects, such as Flora of North America, Flora of China and Flora Mesoamericana, along with floristic data from other institutions, are stored on Tropicos, which is constantly updated. Working with these institutions worldwide through the Internet, the Garden is getting closer to its goal of having information on all plant species in the world included in Tropicos.
In addition to recording and manipulating information about plant specimens and names, Tropicos also keeps track of incoming and outgoing shipments of specimens to the Garden’s 6.2 million specimen herbarium and produces labels from the database for specimens collected by the Garden’s staff and entered into the herbarium each year. It is also used for managing the library’s journals and image programs.
The recent Botanicus project was a significant breakthrough in improving access to botanical literature. The project supports an independent viewer for critical works in systematic botany but is also closely linked to the Tropicos nomenclature database. The project has now surpassed 2.3 million imaged pages from 5,591 volumes in 1196 titles. The project was undertaken to capture page images of important early works in botanical systematics and make them available on the web. The Tropicos names database was used to identify the top 500 titles where names have been published. There are now over 222,000 direct links to Botanicus protologue pages from Tropicos and options for viewing other pages in an article or scanning an entire volume.
The success of Botanicus has been reused by the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) consortium of the world’s largest natural history museums that are now imaging their libraries using the Botanicus model. The BHL digital library is the literature source for the Encyclopedia of Life project. Botanists have brought a wealth of data to Tropicos, which is available in two formats: the internal system where most of the Garden’s research is undertaken, and a web version that was developed to allow access to the database for scientists and the knowledgeable public.
Visit the website www.Tropicos.org for both the displayand input of information by scientists anywhere in the world. The site receives over 40,000 requests daily for authoritative botanical information.
Tropicos was developed by Garden botanist Dr. Robert Magill in the early 1980s, initially on a tiny Osborne 01 microcomputer.