The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s historic Herbarium opens a new wing in International Year of Biodiversity
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s historic Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives is expanding during the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity with a new state-of-the-art 5000m² extension designed by Edward Cullinan Architects. The new wing, which will launch to the media on 28 September 2010, will provide a modern space for part of the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archive’s existing preserved plant, botanical art, archive and book collections and allow for future acquisitions (1).
Tucked away from the public gaze, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives is not just important to Kew – its extensive collection of preserved plant and fungal specimens sits at the heart of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's plant conservation efforts and is internationally significant to organisations and governments working to protect plants.
- For more information on the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives click here
Professor Stephen Hopper, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says, “Kew’s preserved plant and fungal collection is still growing by tens of thousands of specimens each year, which means that every 40 years or so we need more space. There have been six extensions since 1852 and this latest extension is sorely needed because our storage space is under extreme pressure. The extension of the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives building is vital for Kew to retain its internationally pre-eminent position as the world’s leading centre for the study of plant diversity and to support hands-on-conservation.”
He adds, “Conservation programmes around the world depend fundamentally on the systematics and taxonomy expertise of Kew’s Herbarium staff and its world-leading collections. In a time of increasing loss of biodiversity and climate change, having the tools and knowledge to manage these issues is now more important than ever and it is vital that these areas of botanical science continue to be adequately funded and supported.” (2)
Since the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives was first founded in 1852, much has changed in the world of plant classification. Until a few decades ago only the physical appearance of plants guided how taxonomists classified species. Today, genetic analysis enables scientists to reassess ideas of relatedness of plants, and also to deduce the order in which groups of plants diverged from each other as they evolved. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew will take advantage of the additional space provided by the new wing to reorganise its collection of plant specimens to conform to the DNA-based Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) system of classification (3). This task will take at least two years to complete and will align the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew with organisations that are part of the Vascular Plant Classification Committee (4).
Professor David Mabberley, Keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives, explains, “The Vascular Plant Classification Committee is a consortium of European herbaria who are all re-arranging their collections as they have new space or buildings and have agreed to adopt the APG system of classification. Not only have we agreed to move from the old Bentham and Hooker classification, but we have also achieved consensus on a sequence for the arrangement of our herbaria. This standardisation is good news as it will allow future research and conservation projects involving these institutions to move forward more rapidly in the future.”
The oldest part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s existing Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives was established in 1852 by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s first director, Sir William Hooker, as a safe home for preserved plant specimens from all over world. For the next 150 years, right up to the present day, string-tied parcels have arrived from remote and exotic parts of the world. These are sent by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's own scientists and by global partners who are still exploring for undiscovered, as well as threatened plants. Once at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the plants are studied, named and correctly stored, to form a resource for researchers for years to come. Correct identification and understanding of plants lies at the foundation of all biodiversity conservation work, and will form an important part of adapting to and mitigating climate change. The collection now holds some eight million plant and fungal specimens – together making up the most important herbarium collection in the world (5).
Every day the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s scientists and visiting researchers from around the world refer to these collections to support studies on a wide variety of topics: from simply determining the correct name for a particular plant, to assessing its conservation status, to finding out all the plants that are known from a particular area, to understanding how plant diversity is distributed on the earth’s surface and how that distribution is changing over time.
The original building has been extended six times, starting in 1877. The new wing extends the capacity of the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives by about 40 years, providing climate-controlled storage and adjacent study areas. As well as housing hundreds of thousands of plant specimens, it provides new, state-of-the-art space for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s outstanding Library, Art and Archives Collection (6). Scientists from other institutions and amateur botanists will get greater access to the library, art and archives when the new wing opens as part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s year-long celebrations to mark the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity.
The architects of the new Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives wing are Edward Cullinan Architects, engineers are Buro Happold and construction services by Willmot Dixon.
On 28 September 2010 press will have an opportunity to tour Kew’s Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives with architects of the new wing, Edward Cullinan, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Director, Professor Stephen Hopper, and Keeper of the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives, Professor David Mabberley
For more information and images please contact Bronwyn Friedlander, Bryony Phillips, or Anna Quenby in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew press office on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)20 8332 5607. Out of hours +44 (0)20 8332 5000
For more information about Edward Cullinan Architects please contact Carolyn Larkin from Caro Communications email@example.com or +44 (0)20 7336 8488
Notes to editors
What is a Herbarium? A herbarium (plural: herbaria) is a collection of preserved plant and fungal specimens, used as reference material, to document the identity of plants and fungi. Some specimens are ‘types’ – the original specimens on which new species descriptions have been based and a key reference point for the application of scientific names. Specimens will usually be in a dried form, mounted on a sheet, but depending upon the material may also be kept in boxes (eg bulky plant parts such as palm fronds) or in alcohol (see Kew’s spirit collection http://www.kew.org/collections/spiritcol.html)
(2) Taxonomy is the scientific discipline of describing and naming organisms. Systematics is the process of organising taxonomic information about organisms into a logical classification that provides the framework for all comparative studies. Together, these disciplines are fundamental to the understanding of the natural world and how this may be changing
Taxonomy and systematics (sometimes referred to collectively as systematic biology) are essential for the wellbeing of people and the planet. They underpin conservation by providing an inventory of biodiversity and therefore the fundamental knowledge base from which effective action plans can be developed. For example, to restore habitats and repair associated ecosystems, you first have to plant appropriate species
Despite the fundamental importance of taxonomy and systematics, resources to support these disciplines are insufficient, and greater funding and increased training is needed in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Baseline knowledge is still required to prioritise the most threatened species and those most relevant to human livelihoods and well being
(3) The global effort to determine relationships between all known flowering plants is coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. For further information about the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group http://www.kew.org/about-kew/press-media/press-releases-kew/easy-as-apg3/index.htm
(4) Herbaria that are part of the Vascular Plant Classification Committee are the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Natural History Museum London; Natural History Museum Paris; Geneva City Conservatoire Botanique and the Naturalis – NCB, Netherlands
(5) The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s globally representative collections are exceptionally well curated for a collection of its size and include about one third of a million type specimens, making Kew’s Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives the best in the world at which to identify a totally unknown plant or to understand a particular plant species or genus in a global context. In order to make these collections more widely accessible, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is involved in a digitisation project www.kew.org/data/herb_digitisation.html
(6) Kew’s Library, Art and Archives: The collection of letters, books, maps, journals, botanical art and illustrations, manuscripts and photographs is one of the premier and largest sources of botanical information in the world. They are working collections, used by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s staff and visiting scientists, historians and art historians for research. More about the Art collection here http://www.kew.org/library/illus.html More about the Library and Archives here http://www.kew.org/library/index.html
A small fraction of the art works in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s botanical art collection (totalling some 200,000 items) are on display in The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, which opened its doors to the public on 19 April 2008. http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/garden-attractions-A-Z/shirley-sherwood-gallery.htm The Marianne North Gallery, which is joined to The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art by a linking gallery, is exclusively dedicated to the art of the intrepid, globe-trotting Victorian artist. http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/garden-attractions-A-Z/marianne-north-gallery.htm
The Centre for Economic Botany and Mycological collection is also part of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Herbarium, Library Art and Archives. Further information about Kew’s Mycological collection herehttp://www.kew.org/about-kew/press-media/press-releases-kew/fungi-collection-reaches-1-million/index.htm Further information about the Centre for Economic Botany here http://www.kew.org/collections/ecbot/
The new Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives wing is funded by Defra, Fondation Franklinia, Garfield Weston Foundation, Sfumato Foundation and The Wolfson Foundation.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (www.kew.org) is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10% of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species) and aim to conserve 25% by 2020.
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has already achieved so much, and its enormous potential for future conservation can only be fulfilled with the support of the public and other funders. Kew needs to raise significant funds both in the UK and overseas. Members of the public can support the work of Millennium Seed Bank Partnership by getting involved with the ‘Adopt a Seed, Save a Species' campaign. For £25 an individual can adopt a seed or for £1000 anyone can save an entire species. www.kew.org/adoptaseedhttp://www.kew.org/adoptaseed
‘Biodiversity Year at Kew’ in 2010 will celebrate the importance of plant diversity in underpinning biodiversity through a programme of themed and seasonal horticultural displays, art exhibitions, educational activities for all the family and scientific announcements. For a full programme of events see www.kew.org/biodiversity
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is part of the world-wide celebrations of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, and is one of over 300 UK organisations, charities and groups supporting this global awareness campaign. The diversity of life on earth is crucial for human well being and now is the time to act to preserve it. For information on events, initiatives and exhibitions across the UK during 2010 visit http://www.biodiversityislife.net/
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