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Daisies find a new home in Kew's Herbarium

William Milliken
7 December 2010
Blog team: 
Kew's vast collection of herbarium specimens of the Compositae (daisy) family is now rehoused in pest-free low-temperature storage in the new wing of the Herbarium.

The new wing of the Kew Herbarium, specially designed for maintenance of specimens in a pest-free environment, now hosts a completely reorganised, relabelled collection of Compositae – the daisy family. This was no mean task, and has taken six months of intensive work by a team of dedicated staff and volunteers. 

Professor David Mabberley, Keeper of the Herbarium, and Sue Frisby with the last specimens to be moved

The project was managed by Dr Nicholas Hind, Kew’s Compositae specialist. Many months before the move he was already developing a new taxonomic arrangement for the genera, based on the latest finding in molecular systematics, and helping to get the Herbarium’s new walk-in freezers to the point where they could bring the specimens down to -40 degrees centigrade: essential for ensuring that any herbarium beetles and their eggs are killed before entering the pest-free, climate-controlled storage vaults.

Scale of the task

The collection is huge. It was transferred from the original cabinets to 8,500 herbarium storage boxes which were moved in 1417 trolley-loads and 236 lift journeys, stopping for three days in the freezers en route: 60 freezer-days in total. If the boxes were laid end-to-end they would stretch for 2.25km and they now occupy about 2.75km of shelving! The boxes came wrapped in 6.2 km (half a tonne) of brown paper. Each box was labelled manually with details of its contents (genus, species, geographical region), using a layout designed to be read easily even on the highest shelves in the compactor storage units. 

Setting in order

Bringing the taxonomic arrangement up to date was no small job either, with around three-quarters of a million specimens representing over 1,600 genera. During this process about 30,000 genus covers needed to be relabelled and/or replaced. 

Kew now boasts an up-to-date, pest-free Compositae collection that is the envy of the botanical world. The team responsible is to be congratulated.

- William -


8 December 2010
Thanks for your comment William. Nicholas Hind, an expert on Compositae at Kew, has written a thorough and detailed response covering each of your questions. You can find his full response posted here:
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7 December 2010
Wow! Well done! Obviously an awesome achievement. Yet, for somebody with an amateur curiosity, this report is tantalising about the implications of such a major operation. <br> Can we assume that now that the plant specimens are more securely preserved and more easily accessible that they going to receive more attention and reveal more? <br> And what are the general expectations of what might arise from such attention in liaison with the developments of molecular analysis? <br> Are we about to see a a big shake of Compositae classification? <br> Why is the family size so vastly out of proportion of all others? <br> Is there any evidence of when the family emerged as entity, and especially in relation to other families. <br> One is led to assume that the compacted composite nature of the flowers indicates that the family is at 'a', if not 'the', peak of plant evolution? Is this so? Does genomics bear this out? And is it fair to consider dandelions at a/the peak of compositae - as a streamlined culmination of them? <br> And finally is it generally recognised that compositae/asteraceae have an exceptional 'weediness' propensities? If so, what accounts for this? Have many of them evolved contemporaneously with ourselves? Do we have any particular relationship with them? Enough.
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