Selected collections at RBGE (E)


The tree family Sapotaceae is a major research focus of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It has a pan-tropical distribution and contains over 50 genera and about 1,200 species. We hold around 2,500 herbarium specimens collected from all parts of the tropics but have particularly good collections from South East Asia. RBGE has an active programme of plant collecting to increase our holdings of the family and many new collections have been made by Peter Wilkie in Malaysia and Thailand and James Richardson in Colombia over the past few years. New collections are also being gifted to RBGE from other herbaria around the world for expert identification by our staff. The entire Sapotaceae collection at RBGE has been digitised and is available on the Herbarium Catalogue. Additional information can also be found at on the Sapotaceae Resource Centre.


The RBGE has a large collection of specimens of Gesneriaceae. These have been built up as part of the routine acquisition of specimens but also through dedicated collection trips by RBGE staff and because other collectors have known that there was a research group based at RBGE that would work on any material sent here. There is also a large living Gesneriaceae collection and it is important that these collections be vouchered into the herbarium. Many new species have been described from herbarium material taken from our living collections. The collections include specimens collected by B.L. Burtt and Olive M. Hilliard.


Zingiberaceae have been collected and studied at RBGE since the early 1960s and the herbarium now houses a considerable number of type specimens. Most important among these are collections by George Argent and B.L. Burtt who, with various colleagues, collected Zingiberaceae in Borneo from 1962 onwards. More recent collections by Mark Newman and Axel Poulsen include important additional material in spirit which is a great help to the taxonomist. Most of the collections at RBGE come from tropical Asia, particularly Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia but there is also a representative collection of one of the African genera, Aframomum, gathered by David Harris.

Begonia, Gunung Sinabung, SumatraBegoniaceae

Begonia is a core research group at RBGE, and as a result the collection is expanding rapidly. Recent projects sponsored by the M.L. Macintyre Trust have contributed specimens from China and Cameroon. The most recent additions include material from the under-collected Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi. The collection also has a strong historical component, including Burmese material collected by J.H. Lace and the widely distributed and type-rich duplicates of A.D.E. Elmer and E.D. Merrill from the Philippines. Most of the specimens are databased and can be accessed via the SE Asian Begonia online database.


The conifer herbarium contains over 12,000 specimens (of which about 90% have been fully data-based) with over 200 types. The most comprehensive collections are those from China and the Himalaya region, which are rich in historical collections of Wen-pei Fang, George Forrest, Edouard-Ernest Maire, Ernest Wilson and T.T. Yu. The herbarium also has comprehensive collections from Chile, Indo-China, New Caledonia and SW Asia.


The bryophyte herbarium at RBGE is a leading world collection, now totalling over 250,000 specimens. Its strengths are in its rich historical material and extensive modern collections. The historical material derives from important early Scottish bryologists, particularly Archibald Menzies, George Walker-Arnott and Robert Kaye Greville who were important collectors as well as correspondents with contemporaries such as James Dickson, William Hooker, Ambroise Palisot de Beauvois, Christian Gottfried Nees von Esenbeck, Christian Friedrich Schwägrichen, Olof Swartz and Thomas Taylor who sent them many type specimens. Other early collectors well-represented include Joseph Dalton Hooker, Richard Spruce and Nathaniel Wallich. Over the past 25 years the collections have grown quickly, with important acquisition of herbaria of Eric Watson, Alan Crundwell, Eustace Jones (African material), Jean Paton and Cliff Townsend as well as the modern collections of David Long and others from Britain, Europe and Asia. The largest recent acquisition is of the Glasgow University non-British bryophytes.


The RBGE herbarium has a diverse range of fungal collections. Some of the earliest British collections are those of Archibald Menzies and Johann Friedrich Klotzsch when employed as mycologists in Glasgow under Joseph Dalton Hooker, and those of Robert Kaye Greville, supporting his Scottish Cryptogamic Flora, as well as some classical Elias Magnus Fries specimens. There are many duplicates of Miles Joseph Berkeley and Mordecai Cubitt Cooke. More recent collections include specimens of plant and tree pathogens of Malcolm Wilson, agaric collections of P.D. Orton supporting his numerous publications, and a wide range of general accessions including scottish material by Douglas M. Henderson and Roy Watling. The foreign collections include approximately 2,000 specimens of the late Edred John Henry Corner. The herbarium is rich in specimens from the Himalayas and SW Asia, and in specimens of ornamental and arboricultural plant diseases especially from the RBGE's policies.


At present time, RBGE’s algae collection contains over 25,000 specimens which includes over 10,000 British collections and a small spirit collection (nearly 500 specimens). The spirit collection consists of a donation from the Granton Museum of Joint Nature Conservation Committee specimens. As a whole the collection falls into three main time periods: 1800’s-1880’s, 1916-1940’s and 1960-1980’s.  The oldest specimen is a Scottish red alga collected in 1779 by Archibald Menzies. The British algae collectors in Victorian times worked extensively in the Devon and Dorset region and Mrs Amelia Warren Griffiths was one of several lady collectors working in this area. Orkney was a collectors dream with people like Dr John Hutton Pollexfen and later in the 1930s and 1940s with J. Sinclair. Robert Kaye Greville and George William Traill also made extensive collections which are now held at RBGE. RBGE holds the top set of algal specimens collected by Robert Kaye Greville. In modern times the vast collection of David Irvine was added, followed by that of Helen Caldwell, and more recently a collection from the west coast of Scotland by staff of Scottish Natural Heritage. The foreign collection covers most parts of the world, and is in part formed from a permanent loan of Glasgow Herbarium specimens. Of particular interest are the algae collected in Kerguelens Land during the Challenger Expedition of 1874 and those collected during the 1875 Transit of Venus Expedition. Amongst the foreign collections those of William Henry Harvey are notable. The tables below provide some quantitative data about the collections.

Algal groups present in Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's herbarium collections
and the total number of specimens within each group
Algal Group

The ten most frequently collected genera within Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's herbarium 
algae collections and the total number of specimens within these genera
Algal Group

The ten most frequently occurring collectors within the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s 
herbarium algae collection and the number of specimens present for each of these collectors.
Number of specimens
David Edward Guthrie
George William Traill
William Henry
Robert Kaye Greville
Helen  Caldwell
James Sinclair
Miles Joseph Berkeley
Mrs Amelia Warren Griffiths
Josephine  Elizabeth Tilden
David Lyall


The diatom collections of the RBGE have expanded rapidly since 1990, especially through major donations from Professor Frank Round (University of Bristol), Professor David Mann (formerly University of Edinburgh), the Scottish Marine Biological Association and Glasgow University (the Walker-Arnott and Glasgow University teaching collections), and the estate of J.R. Carter. Extensive new collections have also been made by RBGE staff and students, and many slide preparations and samples were purchased from B. Hartley. The collections currently comprise c. 40,000 mounted microscope preparations of selected or strewn diatoms (dating from c. 1850 until the present day), and also many samples of unmounted material, either preserved in alcohol or dried on mica or paper. Most specimens come from the United Kingdom, but there are also significant holdings from Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Both freshwater and marine diatoms are well represented and a particular and unusual strength is the collection of harvested epipelon. Complementing the diatom herbarium are the reprint collections and entire photographic archives (>30,000 negatives) of Frank Round and David Mann.


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Saintpaulia orbicularis growing in the glasshouses at RBGE

Saintpaulia orbicularis growing in the glasshouses at RBGE.

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