Compendium Index of North American Paleobotany

Leo J. Hickey1, 2 and Shusheng Hu1


1Division of Paleobotany, Yale Peabody Museum, P. O. Box 208118, New Haven, CT 06520

2Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, P. O. Box 208109, New Haven, CT 06520


  1. Introduction

    This file is a digitized version of a card-file index of approximately 20,000 images and text of descriptions of fossil plant species, maintained at Yale Peabody Museum as a classification and identification tool. The Compendium Index presently covers fossil floras from North America, including Greenland, starting in the Triassic Period and extending to Pleistocene. In some cases its coverage is extended to higher latitude regions of Eurasia because of the close relationship of the entire circumpolar flora of those times. Each record in the physical Compendium consists of an 8"x10" card onto which the illustrations and description of an individual occurrence of a fossil plant species have been reproduced on the front and reverse side, respectively. Along with the illustration, the front of the card also contains the species name, its geological age, the formation where it occurs, its status, as well as its locality of occurrence and the citation of the reference where it was published (see user guide). Each entry thus must consist of at least two images-a front and a back-that together make up the primary card. For many entries, there are also secondary cards, which consist of additional illustrations or text.


    The taxonomic identification of fossil plant material is an essential first step in determining the evolutionary history of plant lineages. Geologists, paleontologists, climatologists, and, to an increasing extent, those involved in the phylogenetic reconstruction of plant lineages depend on accurate identifications. Fossil plant data are essential for reconstructing the history of vegetation and patterns of continental drift, as well as for inferring the environmental and climatic changes that have affected the land surface of the earth over geological time.


    Yet the identification of a fossil species and determination of its novelty is often a painstaking process that may consume months of research time. In order to determine the correct name for a fossil plant, researchers must examine a broad array of publications from highly disparate and often hard to obtain sources that span a period of more than 160 years. Moreover, the large number of misidentifications, synonyms, and misapplied names in the systematic literature require that researchers obtain access to high quality pictorial data in addition to lists of names and occurrences. Despite recent advances in digitization of such material, the scattered nature and lack of systematic finding-aides to this literature often cause investigators to overlook important primary sources.

  2. History

    In 1937 Erling Dorf, of the Department of Geology at Princeton University, began to compile what he titled the Compendium Index of North American Mesozoic and Cenozoic Type Fossil Plants. By 1940, he had amassed some 126 references (Dorf, 1940). One of his goals was to optimize the coverage of the early systematic literature of paleobotany because of its significance in determining the senior appellations in taxonomic identifications. In addition, Dorf greatly facilitated identification of fossil plants by the innovative way in which he organized the cards of the Compendium. This innovation was the arrangement of the cards into a set of numbered morphological categories (e.g., leaf shape, major venation type) that grouped like forms with one another regardless of their purported taxonomic assignments. During the period when Erling Dorf compiled the Compendium, clippings of the original references were glued directly on to the cards. If clippings could not be obtained, photographs were made of the figures and the descriptions from library copies were typed directly on the card stock.


    The Compendium was transferred to the Paleobotany Division in the Peabody Museum in 1984. And work immediately began on updating the content and reorganizing the classification system. At first, most new references were added using paste-ups of high quality Xerox copies. Today, new cards are made by means of Photoshop and physical copies of new cards are still prepared but these consist entirely of digital scans of images and text. Work on the Compendium remains an ongoing project of the Division of Paleobotany.

  3. Scope of Coverage

    Table 1. Geographical Distribution of the Peabody Museum's Compendium Index

    U.S., West


    U.S., Southeast


    U.S., Midwest




    U.S., Northeast


    Other (Greenland, Iceland Spitbergen, Mongolia)



    Table 2. Stratigraphic Distribution of the Peabody Museum's Compendium Index














    Table 3. Taxonomic Distribution of the Peabody Museum's Compendium Index

















  4. Disclaimer

    Each of the files in this data base consists of a digital image of a physical card that was produced sometime during a period of over 70 years. The early cards consist of paste-ups made from clippings of the original literature and are sometimes stained by the deterioration of the original glues that were used. Early cards may bear images belonging to more than one CIC, such as a fruit and a leaf on the same card, although the current editors have made every effort to cross-reference these into their appropriate categories.


    Entries bear the identifications applied by their original authors. The editors have made no effort to synonomize these or apply more modern concepts of systematics, although spelling errors are sometimes corrected and hand-written notes and corrections by later authorities may appear on some cards.


    Copyright permission has been secured for all of the images used in this compendium and the cooperating owners are acknowledged below. In cases where copyright permission could not be secured, the relevant pictures and text are masked, with a reference given to the original source.


    Finally, in a compilation of such size, mistakes and omissions are inevitable. Hopefully, many of the most egregious have been corrected but others no doubt remain because of the need to publish this work in a timely fashion. The editors would appreciate receiving comments and corrections from the users through this website. They would also value suggestions for further additions to the list of references.

  5. References

    [As given in the compendium reference list.] See User Guide.

  6. Copyright acknowledgements.

    We thank following publishers and institutions for their permission to use their images and text in this Compendium Index:

    University of California Press
    International Journal of Plant Sciences
    American Journal of Botany
    Canadian Journal of Botany
    Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters
    Virginia Museum of Natural History
    Field Museum
    University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology
    Denver Museum of Nature and Science
    Missouri Botanical Garden

  7. Acknowledgements

    We would like to thank the following volunteers:


    Sarah Allen
    Veronique Berger
    Dave Delgrego
    Shannon Dunn
    Gabriela Gonzalez
    Kristin Grotecloss
    William Guth
    Philip Hammer
    Rula H-Nassar
    Samantha Hustoft
    Kelly Johnson
    Zoe Kitchel
    Philip Kuchuk
    Jie Ma
    Monica Marcano
    Charlie Marsh
    Kyle Martin
    Steven McKay
    Joanne McCarthy
    Charles Mitchell
    Yalimar Pagan
    John Petrucelli
    Halina Platt
    Tom Platt
    Robert Prahovic
    Ornella Rossi
    Carl Russell
    Anna Schoefert
    Jared Shayne
    Robert Swerling
    Cecilia Tenorio
    Serra Vidinli Dedeoglu
    Tsun-En (Grace) Yang


    We would like to thank the following Yale students:

    Genevieve Bates
    Kelly Freund
    Julie Goodness
    Walton Green
    Kirk Johnson
    Nicholas Leingang
    Benjamin Liberman
    Richard Miron
    Caroline Nash
    Jasmine Reid
    Susannah Shattuck
    Karl Waage


    Thanks also go to:


    Linda Klise, former Collections Manager for the division of Paleobotany
    Larry Gall, head of the Computer System Office at The Yale Peabody Museum
    Sally Palatto, Graphic Designer at The Yale Peabody Museum for website design
    Harry Shyket, Digital Media Specialist at The Yale Peabody Museum for website development
    Rosemary Volpe, Editor at The Yale Peabody Museum for copyright information.