The Museum’s Herbarium was established by Peter Rolfs in 1891 at Florida Agricultural College in Lake City. Later transferred to the new University of Florida, this early collection of about 5,000 specimens documents Florida flora from the 1890s and early 1900s.


Chinquapin (Castanea pumila)
Hooded Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia minor)

Specimens from the Peter H. Rolfs Collection




Big things have small beginnings…and so it was with the Museum’s plant collection. This specimen of Chinquapin or Dwarf Chestnut (Castanea pumila) is from the founding set of collections in the University of Florida Herbarium.

The collector, Peter Henry Rolfs, established the Herbarium of Florida Agricultural College in 1891. Rolfs came to Lake City from Iowa in the late 1800s as a horticulturalist and a biologist for the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station and was a professor of natural science, entomology, botany and just about anything else for the Florida Agricultural College.

Rolfs and the staff of the college prepared herbarium specimens and accumulated them through an active exchange with several Midwestern institutions during the 1890s and early 1900s. In 1905 several institutions were consolidated to form the University of Florida. The Herbarium contained over 5,000 specimens when it was moved by covered wagon from Lake City to Gainesville in 1906. The Herbarium resided in Rolfs Hall here on campus for many years.

Peter Rolfs had a distinguished career in botany and agriculture. He was the Director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station from 1906 to 1921 and he was also Dean of the UF College of Agriculture until about 1920. He moved to Brazil in 1920 where he established and directed a school of agriculture at Minas Gerais until his retirement in 1932.

Rolfs didn’t collect many specimens, nor are his specimens particularly valuable as scientific specimens, but they were the beginning of the collection which has now grown to be among the largest in the U.S. Most of the objects in our museum are like this – individually they’re not very significant but they gain importance as part of a much larger collection of specimens and data. Rolfs’ legacy is that he had the vision to see this and to begin the collection.

Mark Whitten
Senior Biologist, Herbarium*
Florida Museum of Natural History


On display Sept. 23, 2017-Jan. 7, 2018, Rare, Beautiful & Fascinating: 100 Years @FloridaMuseum celebrated the Museum’s rich history. Each Museum collection was asked to contribute its most interesting items and share the stories that make them special. Though the physical exhibit is closed, this companion website remains online, providing an opportunity to experience the Florida Museum’s most treasured specimens.

Exhibit Area: 100 Years of History

Theme:  Historical Collections

Cover of the All Things Beautiful bookWant to see more? Explore more than 300 breathtaking color photos of plants, animals, fossils and cultural heritage materials from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s collections in the award-winning book All Things Beautiful available from the University Press of Florida.

*This title was accurate at the time the exhibit was on display in 2017. Please visit the collection website to verify current staff and student information.

You Might Also Like