Natural History Collections

Cycadeoidea marylandica
Cycadeoidea marylandica – about 206 to 144 million years old.

NPS Staff

The Museum Resource Center preserves many different types of natural history collections from parks in the National Capital Region. Approximately 5,500 specimens are currently housed at the facility, along with reports and field notes. The purpose of a natural history collection is to support scientific research, resource management in the parks and education. The collection provides baseline data of park natural resources as well as documents changes these resources are undergoing because of internal conditions and external effects. In addition, the collection comprises a database for researchers, preserves important or locally significant species collected in response to specific research or interpretive needs, and helps guarantee the protection of important paleontological specimens that are preserved in situ.


Plant specimens in the collection include a wide variety of trees, wild flowers, and grasses – many from the Baltimore-Washington region – both native and non-native species. Parks collections represented include: Anacostia Park, C & O Canal NHP, Fort Washington Park, Greenbelt Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, the National Mall, Piscataway Park, and Rock Creek Park. Examples include:

  • Plants collected by Frederick Doulgass and his wife Helen Pitts Douglass from this area and from their travels to other countries. Some specimens include trumpet creeper flowers and sweetgum leaves.
  • Shells, corals, and rocks collected by Frederick Douglass from his visits to other countries.
  • Insects such as ants, bees, moths, butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, spiders from parks such as Piscataway, Fort Washington, Rock Creek, C & O Canal, and Harpers Ferry.
  • Shells of shellfish from the Potomac River as well as insects and other aquatic invertebrates preserved in ethanol.
  • Mammal collections – skins and bones from rodents found in parks east and south of the Washington D.C. region.

Mineral and rock collections contain materials from Rock Creek Park and C & O Canal NHP – aplite (quartz and feldspar), galena, lead sulfide, gold, garnet, mica schist, ilmenite (a titanium-iron oxide mineral that is weakly magnetic), hematite (iron(III) oxide), quartz, rose quartz, and granite.


Fossils dating back to the Paleozoic era (543 million years ago) represent the first signs of life on earth in the Nation’s Capital. Fossil collections are from Fort Washington Park, C & O Canal NHP, Rock Creek Park, the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Piscataway Park, Greenbelt Park, Massassas National Battlefield Park, and the Suitland Parkway, and include:

  • Fossils include the traces of worm burrows called Skolithos found in quartzite rocks. These tube burrows are interpreted as being made by annelid or phoronid worms that moved up and down the substrate to feed. These traces reflect a shallow marine environment.
  • Other fossils include impressions from brachiopods, shells, and gastropods on mudstones to sandstones.
  • Fossil molds include Cucullaea gigantea, oysters from the genus Ostera, and gastropod shells from Kapalmerella mortoni.
  • Shark fossil teeth from the Miocene epoch such as Hemiporistis serra, Isurus hastalis, and ray teeth plates from Rhinoptera. Other fossils include bones and parts of a skull from a baleen whale.
  • Plant fossils include Archaeopteris, an extinct genus of tree-like plants that lived during the Paleozoic era and Cycadeoidea marylandica, a fossil from the extinctBennettitalean family that lived during both the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Last updated: December 10, 2014