The botany collections at the Museum span almost 400 years. They are unique in terms of their historical and cultural context, covering a period of unprecedented exploration and investigation into natural history.
The Museum’s botany collections date from the 17th century. No other major herbarium existed in the UK until the mid-19th century when the one at Kew was developed by William Hooker. Consequently, virtually all important collections that reached the UK's shores before this are housed at the Museum.
There are two key foundations to the Museum’s botanical collections - those of Sir Hans Sloane and Sir Joseph Banks.
Other significant historical collections held in the Botany Department include:
Many of these latter collections include important type specimens, but all are hugely important from cultural and historical perspectives, and as part of the Museum’s heritage.
Learn more about Sir Hans Sloane’s botany collection – the Museum’s oldest. It includes many special items and the first collections to reach Europe from Japan, China and the Americas.
Sir Joseph Banks provided the Museum’s second major botany collection. It includes the first botanical collections from Australia and New Zealand, obtained during his HMS Endeavour voyage.
Learn about the curation of the historical botany collections and where to find them.
Find out about visiting the Botany Department's historical collections and who to contact.