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W. C. Steere
About the W. C. Steere
Bryophyte Herbarium

W. C. Steere's 1949 Alaska Itinerary

Bryologists Represented in the Steere Herbarium

Major Floristic Works on North American Bryophytes based on Steere Herbarium specimens

Herbaria with significant holdings of North American bryophytes

  William C. Steere, Bryologist

In October 1998, the Garden's bryophyte collection was dedicated as the William C. Steere Bryophyte Herbarium in honor of the late former Garden President, whose specialty and passion was the study of the world's bryophytes.

To the all-too-common question: "What good are mosses anyway?" William C. Steere, Sr., used to answer: "Well, they've supported me and my family all these years!" A passion for mosses may surprise laypersons, but for a botanist, looking at mosses through a microscope is entering a world of extraordinary beauty. Mosses play an important ecological role: they absorb and release water slowly, thereby maintaining humidity in the atmosphere. Mosses and liverworts are found all over the world, from the tropics to the polar regions, and even the deserts. Only marine environments thwart the growth of mosses because of their salt content. Bryophytes are estimated to include 40,000 species.

When Steere began his work on mosses in the early 1930s, bryology was a field filled primarily with amateurs. Through the strength of his scientific contributions and his editing of The Bryologist, the journal of the American Bryological and Lichenological Society, he raised the field to a new scientific level. Because of his own strong taxonomic background, William Campbell Steere, Sr., took an immediate interest in the Garden's Herbarium, especially the bryophytes, when he became Garden President in 1958.

As Garden President, he revived the Garden's bryological tradition that began with Elizabeth Britton, wife of the Garden's founder Nathaniel Lord Britton. When private and institutional herbaria became available, he secured them for the Garden. Through his involvement with the National Science Foundation, he was instrumental in establishing the division that provides grants for facilities improvements, through which the Garden has received millions of dollars, including nearly $1 million for cases and compactors for the new facility.

Ever active in the field, Steere collected many new specimens himself, particularly from Arctic America and Ecuador/Andean South America. He was the first bryologist to visit the northern slopes of the American Arctic Mountains. On his expedition to Antarctica he found a rich and endemic moss flora. Because of his efforts, the Garden was designated as a national repository for Antarctic bryophytes. Upon his retirement, Steere worked to identify mosses that he and others had collected, resulting in tens of thousands of specimens becoming available to the scientific community.

The William C. Steere Bryophyte Herbarium, the largest such collection in the Western Hemisphere, contains approximately 600,000 specimens preserved and available for scientific study and consultation.

Online Catalog

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Checklist of the Mosses of French Guiana

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