What is a Herbarium?

Herb Shelves

A herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens. Most herbaria consist of mainly dried, pressed specimens. If stored properly, such pressed specimens can be preserved for hundreds of years. Many specimens collected by the great Swedish naturalist Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) in the mid-1700s still exist in excellent condition (see the Linnean Herbarium).

The same is true for many specimens collected on the east coast of Australia by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, the botanists who travelled to Australia and the Pacific with Captain James Cook onboard the Endeavour in 1770.

Today the largest herbaria in the world, such as those found at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the UK and at the New York Botanical Garden in the US, contain several million specimens. Plant collections in herbaria are permanent records of the flora in a particular area at a particular point in time. Herbarium collections also play a central role in taxonomic studies, i.e. studies of the relationship between different plant species.