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Anatomical Identification of Plant Material

An on-demand identification service for wood samples and other fragmentary plant material that requires microscopic examination. This work is supported by our extensive and expanding reference microscope slide collection and staff expertise.
A sandal from Ancient Egypt made from palm leaves.

We identify fragmentary plant material for a wide range of customers. Using the microscope slide collection for reference, we identify samples of wood, foreign plant matter in food, fragments of medicinal and poisonous plants, archaeological plant remains, crude drugs and forensic samples for a small fee. The income is used to help fund research such as the CITES timber project. In February 2006 we launched an annual one-week course at Kew on wood identification.

Peter Gasson is collaborating on an interactive wood identification database (Inside Wood) with colleagues at North Carolina State University. This database provides anatomical descriptions and photomicrographs of hardwoods worldwide, and has already become an essential resource for wood identification and systematic and phylogenetic studies of wood characters since its launch in 2004.

Key publications 2006-2011

  • Gasson, P. (2011). How precise can wood identification be? Wood anatomy’s role in support of the legal timber trade, especially CITES. IAWA Journal 32(2): 137-154.
  • Gasson, P., Baas, P. & Wheeler, E. (2011). Wood anatomy of CITES-listed tree species. IAWA Journal 32(2): 155-197.
  • Gasson, P., Miller, R., Stekel, D., Whinder, F. & Zieminska, K. (2010). Wood identification of Dalbergia nigra (CITES Appendix I) using quantitative wood anatomy, Principal Components Analysis and Naïve Bayes Classification. Annals of Botany 105: 45-56.
  • Froyd, C.A., Lee, J.A., Anderson, A.J., Haberle, S.G., Gasson, P.E. & Willis, K.J. (2010). Historic fuel wood use in the Galapagos Islands: identification of charred remains. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 19(3): 207-217.
  • White, L. & Gasson, P. (2008). Mahogany. London: Kew Publishing. 100 pp.

Project partners and collaborators

The Netherlands

Rijksherbarium, Leiden 


Forest Products Lab, Madison, WI
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina

Project Department

Project Leader: