A leading botanical collection of approximately 3 million specimens, representing half to two thirds of the world’s flora.

The World in One Room

With three million preserved plant specimens, collected over 350 years, the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has become a scientific resource of worldwide importance. Watch our short film to see how the world's biodiversity is brought together in one building for study.

What is a herbarium?

A herbarium is a collection of preserved plants stored, catalogued and arranged systematically for study by both professional taxonomists (scientists who name and identify plants), botanists and amateurs.

The creation of a herbarium specimen involves the pressing and drying of plants between sheets of paper, a practice that has changed very little since the beginning, 500 years ago. Thanks to this simple technique, most of the characteristics of living plants are visible on the dried plant. The few that are not (e.g. flower colour, scent, height of a tree, vegetation type) are written on the collection label by the collector. Most importantly, the label should tell us where and when the specimen was collected.

A working reference collection

A herbarium acts like a plant library or vast catalogue with each of our three million specimens providing unique information – where it was found, when it flowered, what it looks like and it’s DNA, which remains intact for many years. DNA is now routinely extracted from herbarium specimens. The most important specimens are called 'types'. The type specimen, chosen by the author of the species name, becomes the physical reference for the new species.

This unique working reference collection brings species from all over the world together into one place to be discovered, described and compared. The work is disseminated through the writing of Floras (a description of all the plants in a country or region), monographs (a description of plants or fungi within a group, such as a family) and scientific papers. This fundamental research provides an essential baseline for other plant-based research and helps inform conservation practices.


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