Image showing Cross section of wood and bark from the stem of Acacia dealbata, also known as the silver wattle, blue wattle or mimosa (imaged using a 5X objective lens; A. Musson); > Kew Science > Kew's Science Collections > Kew’s Science Collections Strategy

Kew’s Science Collections Strategy

For the first time in Kew’s history, there is a formal strategy to set out a framework for managing, developing and providing greater access to the Science Collections over the next decade.

Kew’s vast scientific collections of plants and fungi from across the globe lie at the heart of the organisation and they provide the foundation for describing and understanding the world’s plant and fungal diversity, helping to find solutions to some of the greatest challenges faced by humanity.

The Science Collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, represent an asset that has been growing more or less continuously for the past 170 years. We now have over 8.5 million specimens housed at our two sites at Kew and Wakehurst. These specimens range from dried plant and fungal material preserved on sheets of paper, to seeds in jars stored at -20°C, to DNA samples stored in freezers at -80°C. They represent a global research resource, enabling the discovery of new knowledge on plants and fungi, their diversity and uses,
and their potential to provide solutions to some of the most critical challenges facing humanity today.

Download Kew's Science Collections Strategy 2018–2028 (pdf)

Kew’s Science Collection Strategy in numbers

For over 170 years, Kew’s collections have been used by a global community of researchers, including Charles Darwin and Beatrix Potter.

Specimen of Cyttaria darwinii

With over 8.5 million items, the collections at Kew are among the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world.

Fungarium specimens

Kew’s collections contain approximately 95 per cent of the world’s vascular plant genera and 60 per cent of the fungal genera.

Seed of Ravenala madagascariensis (traveller’s palm); native to Madagascar (Photo: W. Stuppy)

Kew’s Science Collection Strategy guides the development of Kew’s collections up to 2028, helping Kew scientists to audit, enhance, manage and share these globally significant resources.

Seed collecting in Namibia

Kew's Herbarium has over 330,000 type specimens – these are the specimens on which the names and descriptions of species are based.

The red cast-iron pillars and spiral staircases inside Kew's Herbarium

Kew houses the largest fungarium in the world, with over 1.25 million specimens – spanning seven continents and the entire fungal tree of life.

Cortinarius uraceisporus, a webcap recently described as new to science from Finland (Photo: K.Liimatainen)

Kew’s Spirit Collection is made up of over 76,000 specimens, preserved in fluid and stored in glass jars – ideal where standard herbarium mounting is not appropriate.

Image showing Specimens of fleshy fruits and delicate flowers preserved in jars in the Spirit Collection

Kew's Economic Botany Collection is the largest in the world – 100,000 specimens document the use of plants and fungi including clothing, jewellery, medicines and musical instruments.

Image showing Fragment of barkcloth collected in the Solomon Islands by Lady Robinson in 1876 and conserved as a Master's project by Elizabeth Palacios, Centre for Textile Conservation, University of Glasgow (E. Palacios).

Kew’s Microscope Slide Collection includes over 150,000 slides. Its uses include helping to identify timbers covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Microscope Slide Collection

The Millennium Seed Bank is the largest and most diverse wild plant seed bank in the world. Based at Wakehurst in Sussex, it contains over 85,000 seed collections.

Picture shows glass jars lying on their side on a shelf. Each jar contains seeds. (Image: Wolfgang Stuppy)

Kew’s global partnerships are essential to our plant and fungal collections. Kew currently works with collaborators in over 100 countries worldwide, sharing knowledge and expertise on collecting and curation.

Kew’s scientific work spans more than 100 countries

Digital databasing means Kew’s collections will be available to everyone, irrespective of where they are in the world. Kew aims to complete databasing the collections by 2028.

Herbarium specimen digitisation

Find out more

Learn more about Kew's Collections Department

Kew's Collections Department manages the botanical and mycological collections at Kew. Learn about their activities and ongoing projects.

Kew's Science Collections

Find out more about Kew's botanical and mycological collections as well as its library, art and archive collections.

Launching the Science Collections Strategy

Kew Science blog: The Strategy’s editors describe how this important document will guide the development of Kew’s globally important Science Collections over the next ten years.