Plant Anatomy

Applied plant anatomy (identifications)

Our scientific research is the basis for many practical uses of plant anatomy in solving everyday problems. We use light microscopes and scanning and transmission electron microscopy to examine plant material at high magnifications. Comparing these with our extensive reference collection of c. 100,000 anatomical slides, we can then identify fragments of plant material.

Identifications are undertaken for a diverse range of people, including the police, HM Revenue and Customs, archaeologists, antique dealers, furniture restorers, hospitals & vets. The material we are sent for identification comes from across the world, and can be wood samples, foreign plant matter in food, fragments of medicinal and poisonous plants, archaeological plant remains, and forensic samples, among others.

There is a limit of 10 samples per enquiry for anatomical identifications, and there is a charge for each sample. We do not identify tree roots implicated in causing damage to buildings, as there are several commercial firms specialising in tree root identification.

Case study: identification and authentication of CITES listed species

When timber or timber products are imported into the UK we are sometimes called upon to check if they contain wood from any species whose trade is regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The photograph (right) shows an imported blind which was found to contain many different types of wood. One of these was ramin, and as a result the shipment was confiscated by Customs.

The identification was only possible due to the expertise of Kew staff, and the use of high magnification microscopy techniques. The picture (left) shows the characteristic wood anatomy (to the trained eye) of Gonystylus species, the scientific name for the tropical trees that yield ramin.