GRIN taxonomic data was originally extracted from the Nomenclature File of the former Plant Exploration and Taxonomy Laboratory (PETL). The origin of the Nomenclature File and its relationship to the former Plant Introduction Office (PIO) since 1898 were described at the First International Symposium on Cultivated Plants (Terrell, 1986a). The purpose of the File from the beginning was to provide correct scientific names for the plants introduced into the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS).

Many germplasm introductions were received by exchange with foreign institutions, and others were collected throughout the world by American plant explorers. All the introductions accessioned through PIO were assigned consecutive Plant Inventory (P.I.) numbers, and distributed to the appropriate specialist or germplasm site. Others have gone directly to germplasm stations, many of these to be later processed by PIO.

For each accession a determination of the correct taxonomic nomenclature was made by taxonomists maintaining the Nomenclature File. While most scientific names in the File were the result of plant introductions, many names, mainly of economic plants, were added by USDA taxonomists for other reasons. Prior to GRIN-2, the version of GRIN initiated at the time of the First Symposium, the PIO accession data and PETL nomenclature data were in separate card files. The transfer of the Nomenclature File to GRIN-2 was completed in 1987 thus making this taxonomy directly accessible to the entire NPGS community.

Since the assimilation of the Nomenclature File into GRIN, GRIN taxonomic data has continued to expand in response to the needs of NPGS, the Agricultural Research Service, and other agricultural agencies. An extensive publication on world economic plants was completed from GRIN data in 1999, with a second revision in 2013, thereby further extended the coverage of GRIN taxonomic data to all plants in international commerce. This publication, entitled World Economic Plants: a standard reference, may be obtained from CRC Press. Data from this publication may be queried on the internet here as well.

From a previous gopher server, the World-Wide-Web interface for GRIN taxonomic data was developed and implemented in 1994, enabling users from throughout the world to access this information easily and efficiently. GRIN taxonomic data can thus be queried by scientific name (family, genus, or species), common name, economic uses, or geographical distribution. Specialized searches on GRIN data relating to economic plants, crop wild relatives, rare plants, noxious weeds, families and genera, or seed associations are also possible. Since GRIN taxonomic data have been available online, usage has grown at a nearly exponential rate. Currently over 40,000 reports per day from GRIN taxonomic data are output to users and search engines from around the world as a result of these queries.