Herbarium collections

Herbarium collections
Kew Herbarium, Wing C,
built in 1877

Herbaria are collections of dried preserved specimens that document the identity of plants and fungi. They represent reference collections with many and varied functions including identification, research and education. At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Herbarium has a central rôle for research on plant and mycological biodiversity on earth, with 7 million specimens, including approximately 350,000 type specimens.

From its foundation in 1853, the herbarium collections held at Kew have grown as a result of the amalgamation of several formerly private collections, such as Sir William Hooker's, George Bentham's and M J. Berkeley's mycological herbarium. The collections include the personal herbaria of some of Britain's most celebrated scientists and explorers of the past. Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, David Livingstone, John Hanning Speke, Richard Spruce, Ernest 'Chinese' Wilson and Miles Joseph Berkeley are just a few of the famous names whose collections can still be studied in the Herbarium.

The collection is still growing with an yearly addition of around 37,000 new specimens through a programme of joint work with overseas colleagues, expeditions, gifts and exchanges with other institutes at home and abroad. The care of the collections, or curation, is undertaken with great precision. When studied in the herbarium, specimens sometimes prove to be previously unknown species, which in due course will be described and named as new to science. Other specimens, once examined and determined, will provide essential research material for in-depth studies of systematics, micromorphology, biochemistry, and molecular genetics. The Herbarium is also the repository of many voucher specimens. Such specimens are the only tangible record by which species used in experimental research can be compared.

The Herbarium is the centre of an information network that brings together botanists and mycologists from around the world. Every week, the Herbarium attracts an average of 50 visitors, about a quarter of whom are overseas researchers. Please see the guidelines on herbarium visitor information.

We share our resources by sending out specimens on loan to overseas universities and specialist institutes. If you wish to borrow a herbarium specimen, please consult our loan regulations. We are actively seeking to make the collections more widely accessible through our recently started digitisation programme.

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