Nathaniel Wallich's herbarium specimens
Read about Nathaniel Wallich's collection of herbarium specimens
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The botanist Nathaniel Wallich was the Superintendent of Calcutta Botanic Garden from 1817 to 1846, and during this time he was an avid plant collector. His specimens are to be found in many herbaria, including that of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Natural History Museum, London. Wallich made plant collections during his many excursions in Asia, including his stay in Nepal in 1820–1821, travels to Penang and Singapore to recuperate from illness, and a particularly productive tour to Burma in the late 1820’s. Wallich employed botanical illustrators during his expeditions and many of the drawings made during the trips are comparable, sometimes identical, to his herbarium specimens. The specimens were brought to England by Wallich in 1828 during a two-year extension of leave from Calcutta, and during this time he named the collections and distributed specimens. In addition, Wallich produced a Catalogue for the his collection listing and naming every specimen. This ‘Numerical List of the Specimens of the East India Company Herbarium’, together with the matching herbarium specimens, are thus an extremely important resource to understanding the taxonomy and delimitation of many Asian species.
Wallich distributed his specimens to important museums and herbaria but his personal set of specimens are kept in a separate herbarium at Kew - usually referred to as the Wallich Herbarium, but more appropriately termed the East India Company Herbarium. The East India Company Herbarium holds over 8000 species which, in addition to Wallich’s collections, includes many important specimens added from other botanist’s herbaria, such as William Roxburgh’s - the ‘father’ of Indian botany. In 1832, the East India Company Herbarium was transferred to the Linnean society, where it was re-arranged into the order of Wallich’s Numerical List. However, by 1913 a shortage of space meant a new home was needed for the herbarium, and it was transferred to Kew and placed at the end of Wing B of the Herbarium, where it remains to this day.