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Seed identification

Find out how staff at Kew's Herbarium help scientists at the Millennium Seed Bank to identify the seeds they collect to the correct plant species. Botanical keys in floras and monographs facilitate identification.

Identifying a species from the herbarium specimen taken at the time of a seed collection

The three components of a seed collection are

  • the seeds themselves
  • the associated field data (including accurate geo-references and photographs)
  • representative¬†herbarium specimens

It is the herbarium specimens that enable us to accurately identify the seeds to a particular species.

A pressed herbarium specimen (Astragalus sp.)

Herbarium specimens are usually cuttings, including leaves, fruit and flowers if available, taken from a representative plant from the population from which the seeds were collected.

The specimens are pressed and dried in newspaper soon after they are collected. They are sent to the Herbarium with labels detailing the field data (date, locality and plant description) and any associated material, such as photographs.

When identified, the specimens are mounted and accessioned into the Herbarium and contribute to Kew's global reference collection. Usually several specimens are collected; at least one staying in the MSB partner country. Botanical keys in floras and monographs facilitate identification if these are available.

The final identification is made by visually matching the herbarium specimen against the reference collections at Kew or at MSBP partner institutions.

The Kew Herbarium houses over seven million herbarium specimens and has supplementary collections of dried fruit and flowers preserved in alcohol. Some of the MSBP collections are identified in the field by specialists or at local herbaria.

The Kew Herbarium provides identifications for countries where the flora is less well-known or there are few botanists, as well as information on currently accepted plant names.