Large scale digitisation conveyor belt > Kew Science > Projects > Large scale digitisation of Herbarium specimens

Large scale digitisation of Herbarium specimens

Enhancing access to Kew’s Herbarium collection to enable and accelerate scientific research.

Project details

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Funded By: 
Kew Foundation

Objectives and outputs


Plants preserved as herbarium specimens provide the evidence of what plants there are, where they grow and when they were collected. They provide the basis for modelling plant distribution over time, act as evidence that ensures plants are named consistently, and are a source of material for analyses of anatomy, disease and disease control, biochemistry and evolutionary relationships. Kew’s herbarium is one of the largest and most representative in the world, however only 10% of these collections are currently visible via the internet. This project aims to use high throughput digitisation systems to increase the rate of accessibility to Kew’s specimen information to facilitate strategic and novel scientific activities.

Pilot of mass digitisation technologies and systems

In January 2015, Kew collaborated with the Natural History Museum London (NHM) to test a mass digitisation approach, provided by the commercial company Picturae. Approximately 67,000 herbarium sheets of the genus Solanum (potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines) and the family Dioscoreaceae (yams) were digitised using Picturae’s ‘DigiStreet’ methods. A ‘DigiStreet’ is essentially a purpose built conveyor belt system that minimises manual handling of fragile herbarium specimens and captures a high resolution image of each sheet.

During the pilot phase 3,000 to 4,000 images were created each day. The use of Picturae’s operation also extended to a transcription centre where information was transcribed from the images of specimen folders and labels. All specimen imaging and transcription was completed in September 2015 to defined quality standards. 

The digital resource (of Solanum and Dioscoreaceae specimens) that has been created will support food science research into potatoes, yams and their relatives, important food and medicinal plants worldwide.

The pilot will also lay the foundation for future mass digitisation projects establishing efficient workflows and producing accurate costings with the ultimate aim of digitising the whole of the Kew Herbarium.


  • To significantly increase access to Kew's Herbarium specimen collections.
  • Development of a tailored workflow for high throughput digitisation of herbarium sheets including testing imaging conveyor belt systems.
  • To provide a source of data which will facilitate strategic and novel scientific activities into two important food groups: potatoes (Solanum) and yams and their relatives (Dioscoreaceae).
  • To provide better collections management and provide protection of the information held in event of damage to the physical collection.


  • All Solanum and Dioscoreaceae herbarium sheets fully imaged and transcribed.
  • All Solanum and Dioscoreaceae specimen records and images made available via Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.
  • Proof of concept of mass digitisation workflows with accurate costings for further digitisation projects.

Partners and collaborators