The USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection is one of the most unique collections in the Rare and Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library (NAL). As a historic botanical resource, it documents new fruit and nut varieties, and specimens introduced by USDA plant explorers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The collection spans the years 1886 to 1942. The majority of the paintings were created between 1894 and 1916. The plant specimens represented by these artworks originated in 29 countries and 51 states and territories in the U.S. There are 7,497 watercolor paintings, 87 line drawings, and 79 wax models created by approximately 21 artists.
Lithographs of the watercolor paintings were created to illustrate USDA bulletins, yearbooks, and other publications distributed to growers and gardeners across America.
Today, the collection is preserved in NAL's Rare and Special Collections, where it serves as an important research tool for a variety of users, including horticulturists, historians, artists, and publishers. In 2010 and 2011, the entire printed collection was digitized to improve public access to this valuable resource, and to better preserve the paintings by reducing the need for researchers to handle them.