The herbarium at Clemson University was initially organized between the turn of the century and 1905 by a group of botanists who lectured and were often called upon to identify plant specimens for the general public. The herbarium was used to verify identifications and keep a more or less permanent documentation of the flora of South Carolina. These remain the primary uses of the Clemson University herbarium today.
Much of the original plant collection was lost in 1925 when Sikes Hall, the site of the natural history collections, was destroyed by fire. After this disaster, two Clemson professors, Duane B. Rosenkrans and Myron A. Rice, took on the challenge of rebuilding the herbarium. Mr. Rice remained at Clemson until 1938 when he left for Cornell University to pursue a Ph.D. Mr. Rosenkrans remained on the faculty for over 40 years, and retired in 1975.
Both men contributed numerous specimens to the Clemson Herbarium, greatly adding to our botanical knowledge of the "Palmetto State." Another noteworthy professor of this period, Mr. Henry W. Barre, taught a course in "cryptogamic botany" and probably was instrumental in starting the mycology (fungus) collections. Most importantly, he saved this part of the collection from the fire of 1925.
In the past the curators of the herbarium were often also faculty members. Their duties included the collection, identification, and preparation of plant specimens along with the maintenance and organization of the collection itself. Two professor/curators of recent times include Dr. Andrew C. Matthews, who served as curator from 1957 to 1968, and Dr. John E. Fairey III, who carried the duties of professor and curator from 1968 to 1977.
In 1977 Caroline C. Douglass was hired as curator and served for ten years, until Dr. Steven R. Hill replaced her in 1987. In 1995, Mr. John F. Townsend began his tenure as curator and remained until 2001, when Patrick D. McMillan was hired for the position.
Dr. McMillan later became director of the Bob and Betsy Campbell Museum of Natural History, and Dixie Z. Damrel was named curator in 2008.
While the mission of the herbarium continues to be documentation of the flora of South Carolina and the southeastern United States, a growing percentage of the herbarium’s specimens come from other regions of the country as well as other parts of the world. The Clemson University Herbarium is a crucial resource for the identification of plant specimens and an important source of plant material for classroom instruction. Botanists from the southeast and across the nation often borrow specimens from Clemson's herbarium for use in plant research. The herbarium strives to be a significant resource for the study of the natural world that accommodates research specialists, Clemson students and the general public.