Kew holds 260 rare and fascinating artefacts and raw plant materials collected by Richard Spruce in South America. Spruce's Economic Botany Collection includes examples of ceremonial clothing from the Cubeú Indians of North-west Amazonas, musical instruments from Rio Uaupés, weapons such as poisoned arrows and medicines used by the Manhe Indians.
Botanist Richard Spruce spent 15 years exploring the South American rainforests in the second half of the nineteenth century. His intrepid journey took him through Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Guyana and Ecuador collecting plant specimens. A keen anthropologist and linguist, Spruce learnt 21 native languages and recorded detailed accounts of native culture and plant use. From reading his journals it is clear that on first encountering the Amazon he was in awe of the mighty task he was about to embark on:
“The largest river in the world runs through the largest forest. Fancy … two millions of square miles of forest, uninterrupted save by the streams that transverse it …”
His journals and correspondence have proven to be a vital resource for researching the plants and artefacts held in the Economic Botany Collection. His notes have now been linked to the individual objects he collected and reproduced for you to read in the following pages. This project is linked to the Richard Spruce Project with the Natural History Museum and Kew, providing digitised herbarium specimens online.