Maintaining Kew's Collections
Kew’s living collection includes 178,000 plants (from over 19,300 species) growing in the Gardens at Kew and Wakehurst and the Herbarium houses around 7 million dried and pressed plant specimens and preserved collections. Our plants reflect global plant diversity and we continually update our living collection to represent the world’s flora.
The Princess of Wales conservatory has ten climatic zones all computer-controlled under one roof so as to house a variety of collections.
A living museum of trees, other plants and fungi
Our plants have been selected to reflect global plant diversity. The plants in Kew Gardens range from the ‘Old Lion’ trees planted in 1762 by garden founder Princess Augusta, to 3,000 scientifically arranged herbaceous plants in the Order Beds, and British native plants left to grow naturally in the Conservation Area.
Kew continually updates its living collection so that they better represent the world’s flora. The Gardens’ hardy woody plant collection was badly depleted by the great storm of 1987. Rather than simply replace the lost plants, staff looked at taxonomic and geographic gaps in the collection and set out to secure seeds of the missing plant species.
Specimens help advance science
Kew’s Herbarium collection houses around 7 million dried and pressed plant specimens. This includes 350,000 ‘types’ which are the original materials on which the descriptions of new plant species were based.
The Herbarium collection is supported by a second ‘dried collection’ of plant parts stored in boxes. This collection includes plant material that is not as easily preserved as herbarium specimens. It is often too bulky or delicate to be pressed and attached to sheets of paper.
Kew also houses 70,000 specimens of fleshy fruits and complex flowers preserved in jars. These are stored in ‘Kew Mix’, a cocktail of methylated spirit, formaldehyde, glycerol and water.
Kew’s Herbarium collection is constantly being added to and updated as new plant species are discovered and previously unknown relationships between them are uncovered. To facilitate advances in our botanical knowledge, we lend specimens from the collections to botanists around the world and receive loans of material from other herbaria. When dried plant material enters the building, it is first frozen for three days at –35°C to ensure no bugs survive that might tuck into our precious collection.
Saving seeds for posterity
Kew’s sister garden at Wakehurst is home to the Kew's Millennium Seed Bank. Working with a network of partners around the world, the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to store seed from a quarter of the world’s wild plant species by 2020.
Seed collections arrive at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank every day. Scientists check their quality by trying to germinate a small sample, then send seeds that pass the germination test to a drying room. Once the moisture content has dropped to three or four per cent, the seeds are sent to their ultimate destination – giant freezers. One set of banked seeds is left untouched, while another is made available for researchers and conservationists to use.
Preserving artistic treasures
As well as having collections of plant material, Kew owns an extensive archive of books, journals, letters, manuscripts, pamphlets and botanical paintings. This entire collection is housed in Kew's Herbarium.
Among the art collection are works by masters of botanical painting such as Ehret, the Bauer brothers, Redouté and Fitch. In 2008, Kew opened the first gallery in the world dedicated to exhibiting botanical art, the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. We are currently renovating the Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens, together with the 833 landscape and botanical paintings exhibited inside.
Help Kew break new ground
By making a donation to Kew today you can help our scientists to find out more about the fascinating world of plants, break new ground and inspire generations of young people to get to know plants better.
Our scientific programmes are focused on understanding plants and conserving the world's plant life and habitats at risk. Plants are essential to life on earth. In a world where the sustainability of the planet’s rich biodiversity is becoming less certain, Kew’s science work is ever more critical. Find out how your donation can make a difference.
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A mountain shrub with striking flower heads, the snow protea can withstand impressive extremes of temperature.
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