Kew in depth
Browse Kew's directory of projects and teams and find out more about Kew's science and conservation research in the UK and around the world. Get more detail about specific areas of Kew's work and access in depth resources too.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), entered into force in 1975. The aim of the Convention is to protect certain plants and animals being threatened with extinction by regulating and monitoring their international trade to prevent it reaching unsustainable levels. The United Kingdom has been a Party to the Convention since 1976. Find out more about Kew's role.
The Compositae (plants in the daisy or sunflower family) form one of the largest families of flowering plants with some 25,000 species (roughly 10% of the total number of flowering plants) in over 1,500 genera. It is one of the "core families" on which research at Kew is concentrated.
Cross-Cultural Histories of Tropical Botany in Latin America
This project aims to develop knowledge and understanding of the history of tropical botany through a critical engagement with the Herbarium, Economic Botany and Archive collections of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and related collections in other institutions.
The project seeks to illuminate the multiple histories entangled within the development of tropical botany, with particular reference to the Latin American collections, providing insights into the cultural history of the transatlantic exchanges between Britain and Latin America.
The Cyperaceae (sedges) form one of the larger and more diverse plant families being actively researched at Kew, comprising c. 4,000-5,000 species in 102-123 genera.
Kew has a long-standing tradition of expertise in sedges and, with the richness of its collections, is uniquely placed at the forefront of research on and identification of this family.
The research is centred on chromosomes present in the plant cell nucleus. Kew's research programmes are centred on chromosome surveys, molecular cytogenetics and chromosome behaviour.
'Difficult' Seeds Project
Kew's ‘Difficult’ Seeds Project works with crop gene banks and farmers to conserve plants used for food and agriculture in Africa. The aims of the project are to improve the identification, handling, storage and use of seeds that have been described as ‘difficult’ by gene bank managers and technicians.
Kew is a member of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL), an international barcoding initiative, and an active participant in the CBOL Plant Working Group. Together with ten other organizations and support from the Alfred P. Sloan and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundations, we are investigating DNA regions for their potential as barcodes for all land plant species.
Economic Botany Collection
The Economic Botany Collection at Kew illustrates the extent of human use of plants around the world. The huge variety of objects ranges from artefacts made from plants, to raw plant materials, including a large collection of wood samples. Uses range from food, medicine and utensils, to social activities and clothing.
The collections build an important bridge between biological and cultural diversity, and are a valuable resource for the study of plant uses past, present and future. They are managed by the Sustainable Uses Group of the Jodrell Laboratory.
Horticultural taxonomy is the study of the identification, naming and classification of horticulturally important plant groups. Scientists at Kew are working on the following areas at present: Viburnum, Lavandula (lavender), Paeonia (peonies), and Galanthus (snowdrops).
HOTSPOTS - Understanding and conserving the Earth’s biodiversity hotspots
The Earth’s biodiversity is threatened by human activities yet the sustainable use of biodiversity is fundamental to the future development of humanity. Because financial and human resources for nature conservation are limited, it is appropriate to focus efforts on the richest and most threatened reservoirs of biodiversity.
In collaboration with partners in FP6-third countries, the European HOTSPOTS consortium is working towards increasing the knowledge and understanding of biodiversity hotspots, including the Mediterranean Basin and some European overseas territories. Applying field, molecular and bioinformatics approaches to flagship plants and animals, HOTSPOTS will train a new generation of multidisciplinary biologists in state-of-the-art methods of evolution, ecology, and conservation.
IUCN/SSC Re-introduction Specialist Group
The IUCN/SSC Re-introduction Specialist Group (RSG) is a disciplinary group covering a wide range of plant and animal species. The RSG has an extensive international network, a re-introduction projects database and re-introduction library.
Kew GIS Unit
Kew's GIS unit provides Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing support for scientists and conservationists at Kew and around the world. We work on various projects across the globe and this resource provides examples of past and current projects.
- Kew in depth - GIS Unit
- Project - Conservation assessments
- Project - Madagascar
- Project - Mount Oku, Cameroon
- Project - TDWG World Geographical Scheme data
The Lamiaceae (the mint family) are important and many are of great economic importance. They are widely used in traditional systems of medicine and horticulture.
Research on the Lamiaceae at Kew is multi-disciplinary. Current research encompasses macromorphology, molecular systematics, phytochemistry, cytogenetics, and palynology.
Micropropagation can be defined as 'growing plants from seed or small pieces of tissue under sterile conditions in a laboratory on specially selected media.' This is performed in a carefully controlled environment.
Expertise has been developed in growing over 3000 species from around the world. These include many that have never been studied before. Our knowledge can be put to good use in helping with conservation of threatened species from unique habitats and remote locations.
Millennium Seed Bank Partnership
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) is the largest project in the world committed to safeguarding wild plant diversity from the combined threats of land conversion and climate change.
Our network of international partners in more than 50 countries focus on plants under immediate threat and those of greatest value to human livelihoods. By 2020 we aim to have 25% of the world's flowering plants safely banked for future use.
The primary metabolic constituents of plants - DNA, RNA, and proteins - contain variation that can be used to study plant evolution, evaluate classifications and help to establish conservation strategies aimed at maintaining maximum natural genetic variation in populations.
Our focus is on determining variation in DNA, the constituent that is the genetic foundation upon which function and structure of all organisms is based.
Morphometrics and Identification Systems
Based in the Herbarium, the aim of the unit is to further develop taxonomic computing and bioinformatics projects both within Kew and in collaboration with other UK and International partners. For example, the unit has been the main Kew point of contact with the SPICE project.
Current research is directed at the use of geometric morphometrics and multivariate techniques and their application to species delimitation and identification. The unit also manages projects including the XML markup of the African Floras (e.g. Flora Zambesiaca) and the development of computerised identification systems in South East Asia.
For more than a century mycologists at Kew have helped to increase our knowledge of the fungal kingdom by identifying and describing new families, new genera, new species, in Britain and overseas.
Each year over 4,000 specimens are received at Kew from more than 30 countries around the world for expert determination. Kew mycologists have pioneered research into tropical and equatorial fungi from the Amazon to Australia, working in collaboration with overseas research institutes and universities.
The accurate naming of plants is crucial to our survival in the natural world. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has an unparalleled ability to assign the correct name to a large percentage of the world's flora. Our long history has provided us with unique strengths and our greatest asset is the range and quality of our collections.
Orchids have been cultivated at Kew for more than two centuries and orchid research dates back to the time of Joseph Banks, who was studying them at the end of the 18th Century.
Today the orchid science group is a multi-disciplinary team, who work together to advance orchid knowledge, promote orchid conservation and improve access to the collections. In addition to the familiar living collection, there are Herbarium and Library collections, and also the Kew DNA Bank, which currently contains over 4000 orchid specimens.
The study of pollen grains (the male reproductive cells of seed plants) is a vital part of our research activities. Microscopic differences, magnified up to 50,000 times, reveal a remarkable diversity of shape, size and structure. These differences are important diagnostic features which are used in plant identification and classification.
Research in the plant anatomy section focuses largely on systematics, with implications for character evolution and conservation. We are concerned with improving and evaluating data sets for critical characters in various plant groups, often in collaboration with researchers from other disciplines.
Plant DNA banking
Kew's DNA Bank contains approximately 10,000 samples of plant genomic DNA (as at the beginning of year 2000), all stored at -80°C. DNA is extracted from particular taxa of interest that are then databased with information on names, collectors, localities etc. Each sample is vouchered.
The grass family (Poaceae) with approximately 10,000 species and 660 genera is ecologically and economically the most important of all plant families.
The Herbarium collection at Kew contains approximately 350,000 specimens (including 11,000 types) from all over the world. The United Kingdom, South-west Asia, Old and New World Tropics are particularly well represented.
We can all name a few poisonous plants, and possibly even identify them, but many of them will come as a surprise. Find out more from Kew's book 'Poisonous Plants – a guide for parents and childcare providers'.
Ecological restoration is the process of “assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed” (SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration) and restoration ecology is the science upon which the practice is based. It is a relatively new science that aims to guide those who work with land so that they can successfully restore areas affected by overexploitation, farming, industry or natural catastrophe.
Kew has a range of resources, including the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), that can play an important role in restoring habitats. Seed from the MSB project, together with expertise in areas such as plant surveying, mapping, propagation and germination, is currently being used in re-introduction and restoration programmes worldwide.
Rio Tinto partnership
In June 2004 Kew and Rio Tinto entered into a strategic 3-year partnership with the aim of combining activities at a global level to enhance their contribution to environmental conservation through jointly planned and managed programmes.
Tropical America Project
Kew has a long history of botanical research in Latin America. The Herbarium, Library, Living and Economic Botany Collections all contain globally important resources for Neotropical botany. In recent years our research efforts in Latin America have largely concentrated on drylands, particularly in Brazil. We also work in the Brazilian Amazon, Peru and Bolivia.
Kew's botanical research programme in Latin America is based on a strong foundation of systematic botany and taxonomy. It is primarily focused on the promotion of in situ conservation and sustainable use of plants.
- Kew in depth - About the Tropical America project
- Our projects
- Research Fellowships at Kew
UK Overseas Territories Programme
The UK’s Overseas Territories (UKOTs) encompass some of the most remote and biologically interesting places in the world. Many of them are isolated islands, scattered around the globe from the Mediterranean southwards to Antarctica, and from the Caribbean in the west to the Indian Ocean and Pacific in the east.
Kew’s botanists and conservationists work with partners in the Territories and internationally to safeguard their remarkable biological diversity.
Wet Tropics Africa
The great tropical rainforests of Africa are some of the most species-rich natural habitats in the world. Powered by sunlight, heat, and abundant rainfall, these ancient, complex ecosystems teem with life, providing homes to a unique assemblage of plants, animals, and fungi, most of which are found nowhere else on earth.
Kew's special area of expertise is the rainforests of western Cameroon, where most of our current research projects and co-operative ventures are based.
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
Specialist science news
23 May 2013
Research at the Millennium Seed Bank (RBG Kew) and the University of Reading has identified a new typology of seed development.
14 May 2013
A new hypothesis has been proposed on why some seeds are hard.
08 Nov 2012
A new study from Kew suggests that Arabica coffee could be extinct in the wild within 70 years.
14 Sep 2011
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew announced today that Director (CEO and Chief Scientist), Professor Stephen Hopper FLS will step down in autumn 2012 after six years in the job.