Historical collections

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.

Key historical collections

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 collections include:

  • those of the Russian botanist Pallas
  • plants from Chelsea Physic Garden compiled by Phillip Miller
  • Welwitsch’s collections from Angola

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.

  • Specimen and engraving of Cyperus longus in the Sloane Herbarium
    Sloane Herbarium

    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.

  • Banks and Solander specimen from New Holland (now known as Australia)
    Banks Herbarium

    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.

  • The Bernard Sunley Room
    Collections management and curation

    Learn about the curation of the historical botany collections and where to find them.

  • Scientist consulting the General Herbarium collection
    Access to the collections

    Find out about visiting the Museum's historical botany collections and who to contact.

Contact us 

Botany collections team

Contact the botany collections team with scientific enquiries about the collections.