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Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology

Our scientists use a wide range of comparative approaches to understand the underlying principles that generate and drive plant and fungal diversity.

Department objectives

Drawing on Kew’s rich and varied collections, we undertake comparative research that combines depth in the analytical approaches applied with breadth of diversity studied to generate authoritative and wide-ranging insights on the systematics, evolution, and traits of major plant and fungal groups. By studying all levels of organisation, from genes to whole organisms, we aim to explain how plants and fungi evolve, interact with each other and their environment and respond to global change.

Key department priorities

Lineage-specific research on plant and fungal groups. We aim to develop great depth of expertise in globally important groups of plants and fungi. Our lineage experts are leaders in the taxonomy and systematics of their groups, and apply this knowledge to broader evolutionary and ecological questions. The targeted groups cover all major regions and habitats of the world, and are used as scientific proxies for those areas.

Trait-based research across plant and fungal lineages. Cutting across plant and fungal diversity, we focus on specific trait sets to explore the genomic, cellular and ecological processes underpinning global plant and fungi diversity. Key traits currently being investigated include seed behaviour, floral evolution, structural and chemical characteristics and genomic diversity.

Building the tree of life of plants and fungi. The evolutionary tree of life underpins all of our research. It provides a fundamental roadmap for exploring and predicting patterns of diversity, and for understanding its drivers and future. Building the tree of life for plants and fungi remains a long term research priority for Kew.

Delivering Kew’s laboratory infrastructure. We provide and develop the breadth of lab infrastructure to ensure that Kew’s scientists can undertake world-class research that maximizes the value of our diverse collections.

Department teams

Integrated Monography - led by Bill Baker

Conducting fundamental research on the classification and evolution of plants

Scientist studying herbarium specimen

Character Evolution – led by Ilia Leitch

Investigating the evolution of plant traits and their responses to global change

Comparative Seed Biology – led by Hugh Pritchard

Examining diversity and adaptations in seeds, from longevity to germination

Helicopter seeds of paper bark maple

Comparative Fungal Biology – led by Ester Gaya

Exploring the diversity and evolution of the world’s fungi

Fungi and crocuses

Analytical Methods – led by Felix Forest

Delivering and developing lab infrastructure and techniques for Kew Science

Using a microscope to study plant specimens


Further information

Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology department projects

Learn more here about the interesting and diverse projects of Kew's Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology department.

Plant and Fungal Trees of Life - Strategic Output 2020

Learn more about how we are working to better understand how the world’s plants and fungi are related to each other and how they have evolved.

Kew's DNA and Tissue Bank

Kew’s DNA and Tissue Bank contains approximately 58,000 samples representing nearly all families and over half the genera of flowering plants.

Kew's Seed Bank

Within the vault of the Millennium Seed Bank is the Seed Collection, which represents the greatest concentration of living seed-plant biodiversity on earth.

Seeds in the Millennium Seed Bank vault

Plant DNA C-values Database

The Plant DNA C-values Database currently contains data for 8510 plant species.

DNA research at Kew

Palmweb - Palms of the World Online

Palmweb contains data compiled by palm diversity experts for all 2,585 palm species and 188 genera.

Inside the Palm House