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Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology

Creating knowledge from Kew’s unique collections to understand the principles that determine plant and fungal diversity.


Head of the Department: William J. Baker

Assistant Head of the Department: Ilia Leitch

Scientific vision and Strategy

Our department’s scientific vision is to understand the principles that determine plant and fungal diversity, applying this fundamental knowledge to the global science challenges of today.

To find out more, please see: Understanding Plants and Fungi – A strategy for Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology at Kew.

Department objectives

By exploiting our unique collections for research in our state-of-the-art facilities, we play a central role in Kew Science, in collaboration with colleagues across Kew and our partners in over 100 countries worldwide. We undertake comparative research that combines breadth in the diversity of organisms studied with depth in the analytical approaches applied to generate authoritative and wide-ranging insights into the systematics, evolution and traits of major plant and fungal groups. By studying diversity at the level of genes through to ecosystems, we aim to explain how plants and fungi evolve, interact with each other and their environment, and respond to global change.

Key department priorities

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 trends. Building the tree of life for plants and fungi remains a long-term research priority for Kew.

Trait-based research across plant and fungal lineages. Cutting across plant and fungal diversity, we focus on specific traits to explore the genetic, epigenetic, metabolic, cellular, whole-organism and ecological processes underpinning plant and fungal diversity. Key traits currently being investigated include seed behaviour, floral evolution, structural and chemical characteristics, fungal symbiotic interactions and genomic diversity.

Lineage-focused research on plant and fungal groups. We develop deep expertise in globally important groups of plants and fungi. Our plant and fungal lineage experts are leaders in the taxonomy and systematics of their groups and apply their knowledge to broader evolutionary and ecological questions. The targeted families (grasses, legumes, lichens, macrofungi, mycorrhizal fungi, myrtles, orchids and palms) cover all major regions and habitats of the world and are used as model groups for those areas.

Department teams

Integrated Monography - led by Olwen Grace

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


Further information

Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology strategy

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.

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