Dr Sandra Knapp

Dr Sandy Knapp
  • Merit Researcher, Head of Division
  • Life Sciences department
  • Plants Division
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road


Sol dulcamaroides

Solanum dulcamaroides Poiret, a Mexican canopy liana related to the European woody nightshade.


Ph.D., Cornell University, Ithaca NY, dissertation in Botany (1986).

B.A. in Botany, Pomona College, Claremont CA (1978).


Individual Merit Researcher (level 2), Global Biodiversity, Band 1. Botany (now Life Sciences) Department, NHM. 2009-present; Head of Plants Division (August 2012-present).

Individual Merit Researcher (level 3), Tropical Botany, Band 2. Botany Department, NHM. 2003-2009.

Research Botanist, UG7/Band 3, Tropical Botany. Botany Department, NHM. 1993-2003.

Senior Scientific Officer, Tropical Botany. Botany Department, NHM. 1992 – 1993.

Research Associate, Institute for Botanical Exploration, Mississippi State University. 1989-1991.

NATO postdoctoral fellow, Department of Botany, British Museum (Natural History). 1987-1988.

Collector, Flora of Perú project, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO (based in Tarapoto, Peru). 1986-1987.

Herbarium assistant (general identification and curatorial duties), Bailey Hortorium, Cornell University. 1985.

Curator of the Summit Herbarium, SCZ (Panama) and collector for the Flora of Panama project, Missouri Botanical Garden. 1981-1982.

Teaching Assistant, Cornell University: courses taught; Introductory Biology (Fall 1979, Spring 1980), Taxonomy of Vascular Plants (Fall 1980, Fall 1982, Fall 1983), Phytogeography (Spring 1983). 1980-1983.

Teaching Assistant, University of California, Irvine: courses taught; Introductory Ecology (Fall 1978), Systematics (Spring 1979). 1978-1979.

Professional Roles

Awards and Prizes

  • Honorary Doctorate awarded by Stockholm University (2011).
  • The American Association of Plant Taxonomists Peter Raven Award for Outreach (2009); awarded for outstanding accomplishment in bringing plant taxonomy and systematics to non-scientific audiences, the award is international in scope.
  • The John Burnett Medal of the UK National Biodiversity Network (2009) for outstanding work in the field of biodiversity science; at the award ceremony I gave the Burnett Lecture entitled “Origins and invasions: evolution and distribution in a changing world”.
  • Member Honoris Causa of Sociedad Peruana de Botánica (Peruvian Botanical Society) in recognition of significant advances in the understanding of Peruvian plant diversity (2008).
  • Honorary Research Professorship in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and the Environment (2007) awarded by University College London (UCL).
  • Prix J.-P. Redouté (http://www.lelude.com/fr/prix-redoute.php) for the best book on gardening and botany in the French language (2004); awarded for Le Voyage Botánique, the translation of Potted Histories, my popular work on plant history and exploration illustrated with treasures from the NHM art collections.
  • American Association of University Women Educational Foundation Fellow (1983-1984).
  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Teaching Assistant award, Cornell (1983).
  • Vaile Prize for Botany, Pomona College (1978).

Current appointments and trusteeships

  • BBSRC Science and Society Strategy Panel, member (2009-present).
  • Centre for Ecology and Evolution (CEE), co-director (2007-present).
  • Faculty of 1000 (F1000) contributor (2004-present).
  • Fauna and Flora International (FFI), elected member of Council (2004-2012); Conservation Committee, member (2000-present).
  • Field Museum of Natural History, Field Associate (1993-present).
  • International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT), Elected member of Council (2005-2011); Vice-President (2011-2017).
  • International SOL Genomics Network, co-chair with Professor Dani Zamir (Hebrew University) (2005-2007); elected chair of Coordinating Committee [SOL Co-Chair] (2012-present).
  • International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature (ITZN), member (trustee) of the Trust and Management Committee (2006-present).
  • Linnean Society of London, elected Council Member (2000-2004; 2005-2006); Botanical Secretary (2006-2011); Scientific Secretary (2011-present).
  • National Geographic Society, Global Exploration Fund - Northern Europe, Advisory Board member (2011-present).
  • Organisation for Flora Neotropica (OFN), elected member of Executive Council (2003-present).
  • Oxford University, MPLS sub-panel for review of the  James Martin 21st Century School (Oxford Martin School) (2010).
  • SYNTAX Review Panel, BBSRC-appointed member (2010-present).
  • Tropical Biology Association, Council member (2004-present).
  • UK National Biodiversity Science Committee (chair, elected 2012).
  • University College, London, Honorary Research Professor (2007-present).
  • University of Reading, Visiting Lecturer (1995-present).

Editorial Boards

  • Anales del Instituto de Biología, Editorial Board (2005-present).
  • Biological Conservation, Editorial Board (2008-2010).
  • BMC Evolutionary Biology, Editorial Board (2005- present).
  • Oryx; Editorial Board (2000-present).
  • PhytoKeys, Deputy Editor (2010-present).
  • Phytotaxa, Editorial Board (2009-present).
  • Systematics and Biodiversity; Editorial Board (2001-present).
  • Taxon, Editorial Board (2005-2010); Associate Editor (2009-present).

Membership in professional societies

American Society of Plant Taxonomists; Botanical Society of America; Fauna and Flora International; Organization for Tropical Studies; International Association of Plant Taxonomists; Linnean Society of London; Society for the Study of Evolution; Society for Systematic Biology; Systematics Association


Research Interests

I am a specialist on the taxonomy of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, and have spent much time in the field in Central and South America collecting plants. My particular focus of research is the taxonomy of the megadiverse genus Solanum, which contains potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants and is one of only a handful of flowering plant genera with more than 1000 species. I have described more than 50 new species of plants, mostly in Solanum and from the Neotropics. I came to the Natural History Museum in 1992 to manage the international project Flora Mesoamericana - a synoptic inventory of the approximately 18,000 species of plants of southern Mexico and the isthmus of Central America. My current projects include:

  • A world-wide taxonomic monograph of the some 1500 species of Solanum
  • Flora Mesoamericana
  • Collaborative research in phylogenetics and genomic evolution of Solanaceae
  •  Research into the domestication of Solanaceae crops such as eggplants in China
  • Conservation and biodiversity monitoring projects in the Neotropics, most recently in Paraguay.

Field Experience

My work depends upon seeing plants in their native habitats and I have been fortunate enough to have visited many countries and worked with many colleagues overseas over the course of my career. 

On my past few field trips I have posted blogs from the field, you can look for new ones on Nature Plus, or see some of my past field work adventures here:

 Investigating aubergines in China blog

Seeking nightshades in South America


Sandy Knapp

Sandy collecting plant specimens in Panama in the 1980s.

 Countries visited include 

  • Argentina
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Uganda
  • Venezuela.



All open-access publications available through Mendeley, for pdf files of others please contact Sandy by e-mail

Solanum anomalostemon

Solanum anomalostemon S.Knapp & M.Nee described from old herbarium specimens in 2009, found in the field in Peru 2012.


Sandy's Mendeley profile

Sandy's Google Scholar profile

Public outreach

Sol monarchostermon

Solanum monarchostermon S. Knapp, a member of the basal lineage of Solanum with unusual flower morphology.


  • Public lectures at a wide variety of venues such as the Royal Institution (Millennium Friday Evening Discourse, 2000), science festivals, schools and museums, both in the United Kingdom and internationally.
  • Regular contributor to the Natural History Museum’s innovative Nature Live (scientists meet the public) programme and Membership lecture series.
  • Development of exhibitions at the Natural History Museum, especially associated with the Darwin Centre.
  • Regular invited guest on radio and television (BBC, commercial stations and internationally) to discuss a wide variety of topics such as taxonomy and systematics and evolution.
  • Leader of work package to develop public outreach activities and dialogue for EU-SOL (an integrated project funded by the European Commission to improve food quality in Europe).
  • Founding contributor to Encyclopedia of Life.
  • Regular book reviewer for wide variety of publications from scientific (e.g., Nature) to general (e.g., Times Literary Supplement).

Popular Books and Field Guides

  • Knight, N. & S. Knapp. 1997. Flora. Schirmer-Mosel Verlag. [translated and released in German as: Knight, N. & S. Knapp. 1998. Flora. Schirmer-Mosel Verlag.; reprinted in paperback 2000, 2004].
  • Marín, G., B. Jiménez, M. Peña-Chocarro & S. Knapp. 1998. Plantas Comunes de Mbaracayú: una guía de las plantas de la Reserva Natural del Bosque Mbaracayú, Paraguay. NHM, London.
  • Peña-Chocarro, M., G. Marín, B. Jiménez & S. Knapp. 1999. Helechos de Mbaracayú: una guía de las pteridofitas de la Reserva Natural del Bosque Mbaracayú, Paraguay. NHM, London.
  • Knapp, S. 1999. Footsteps in the Forest: Alfred Russel Wallace in the Amazon. NHM, London.
  • Marín, G., B. Jiménez, M. Peña-Chocarro & S. Knapp. 2000. Plantas medicinales de al comunidad indígena Ava Katueté, Tekoha Ka’aguy Ryapu. NHM/FMB, Asunción, Paraguay.
  • Knapp, S. 2003. Potted Histories: an artistic voyage through plant exploration. Scriptum Editions/NHM. [translated and released internationally as: Knapp, S. 2003. Le voyage botanique. Editions Mengès, Paris. (transl. F. Daber & F. Fraisse), winner of Prix P.J. Redouté 2004; Knapp, S. 2003. Plant discoveries: a botanist’s voyage through plant exploration. Firefly Books, Toronto; Knapp, S. 2004. Das Blüten Museum: wo Kunst und Wissenschaft sich Zauberhaft Vereinen. GEO Frederking & Thaler, Munich (transl. E. Dempewolf & C. Kennerknecht)].
  • Knapp, S. & B. Press. 2005. The Gilded Canopy: botanical ceiling panels of the Natural History Museum. NHM Press, London.
  • De Egea, J., M. Peña-Chocarro, M. Vera, H. Maturo & S. Knapp. 2006. Arboles y arbustos del Chaco Húmedo. Editorial GZR, Asunción, Paraguay.
  • Knapp, S. & Q.D. Wheeler (eds.) 2009. Letters to Linnaeus. Linnean Society of London, London.
  • Monterrosa Salamon, J., M. Peña-Chocarro, S. Knapp & R. Escobar Lechuga. 2009. Guía de identificación de helechos de El Salvador. Jardin Botánico de La Laguna, El Salvador.
  • Brokaw, N., N. Bonilla, A.L. de MacVean, S. Knapp, J.J. Ortíz, M. Peña-Chocarro, E. de Pöll & J. Tun (ed. M. Peña-Chocarro & S. Knapp) 2011. Árboles del Mundo Maya. UVA Impresores S.A., Madrid. pp. 1-263.