About the Rapid Reference Project

About the Rapid Reference Project

Herbaria around the world are racing to digitize their holdings. The vast online databases that now display millions of imaged plant specimens are a huge step forward for botany, but they can also be overwhelming. Indeed, one of the least efficient ways of identifying a specimen of Inga is by typing the word ‘Inga’ into the search bar of an herbarium database—because the next step will be wading through thousands of results. In an age of pressing conservation challenges, field biologists need a shortcut to identify their material.


The Rapid Reference project provides that shortcut by restricting search results to 1–3 representative specimens for each species. Preference is given to specimens from the New World tropics that have a good set of leaves as well as flowers or fruit, and to specimens with an authoritative identification. Specimens of juveniles are included when available and when significantly different in appearance from adults.


The Rapid Reference project is run by the museum's Keller Science Action Center, in close collaboration with the Gantz Family Collections Center and IT department. The vast majority of specimens in this website are from the Searle Herbarium of the Field Museum. To search all digitized specimens of the Searle Herbarium rather than the subset served by the Rapid Reference project, click here.

While you're here, take a look at our other plant identification tools!

This database was developed with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and members of the Field Museum community: Withrow Meeker, Ellen Hyndman, Tobey and John Taylor and the Warwick Foundation, Liza and Al Pyott, and Jamee and Marshall Field. The Rapid Reference project is currently run by Nigel Pitman (oversight), Nancy Hensold (taxonomy, databasing), Colleen Dennis (imaging, databasing), and Robin Foster (founder), with significant support fromthe Field Museum herbarium and IT department. The following people played an important role in previous years: Corine Vriesendorp, Tyana Wachter, Margaret Metz, Heike Betz, and Ryan Peters. We are grateful for additional support from Mike Contraveos, Erica Bishop, Sarah Kaplan, Edna Davion, Allison Beck, Lydia Gentry, Ute Knoerr, Aaron Franklin, Amber Staub, Juliana Philipp, Jean Fincher, Freddie Robinson, Darlene Dowdy, and Alicia Castro. This website was designed by Nicole Borens, built byNina Sandlin, Sharon Grant, Pete Herbst, and Kate Webbink, and launched in 2017 with support from an anonymous foundation.

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