Botanical collections

The Natural History Museum’s plant collections comprise an estimated 6 million specimens of:

  • bryophytes
  • ferns
  • seed plants
  • slime moulds

Collections overview

The collections are worldwide in origin with around 10% from the British Isles.

They span a period from the 17th century to the present and include a number of historically important collections such as those of:

  • Sir Hans Sloane
  • Sir Joseph Banks
  • Charles Darwin

The collections continue to grow and develop, with recent collecting efforts focused on supporting current research projects.

Type specimen of Rhododendron tsareinse Cowan from Tibet

Type specimen of Rhododendron tsareinse Cowan from Tibet

Type specimens

A comparatively high percentage of the Botany Department's specimens are type material - some 2.6%.

The department is part of a major international project to database and image type specimens. These data and images are being made available via online collections.

Botany online collections

 

Are fungi and fossil material included?

With the exception of lichenised taxa and a small reference collection of lichenicolous species (fungi that grow on lichens), there are no fungi held in the Botany Department.

Apart from fossil diatom collections, fossil botanical material is cared for by the Palaeontology Department.

  • Herbarium sheet with numerous specimens of the moss Splachnum
    Bryophyte collections

    Learn more about the collections housed in one of the world’s largest bryophyte herbaria. They incorporate over 900,000 specimens from around the globe, including more than 32,000 type specimens.

  • Ophioglossum lusitanicum from Guernsey
    Fern collections

    Our fern collections include major historical and modern collections, as well as the herbarium of the founder of modern fern taxonomy. Find out about the collections, their curation and how to access them. 

  • Anemone pavonina, a flowering Mediterranean plant species
    Seed plant collections

    Find out about our seed plant collections, an important resource for the scientific community. The earliest specimens originate from the 17th century and some collections provide time series that make it possible to study climate and vegetation changes.

  • Megaspore apparatus of Azolla filiculoides from the family Salviniaceae
    Pollen and spore collections

    The Botany Department has an outstanding palynological slide collection. All major vascular plant groups are represented, with a particular focus on angiosperms and pteridophytes of Quaternary importance.

  • Scientist loading DNA onto a gel
    Molecular collections

    The molecular collections contain silica gel-preserved material and DNA that enable investigation of plants at the molecular level.

  • Banksia dentata and herbarium specimens
    Historical collections

    Explore the history of our unique botany collections. They cover a period of unprecedented exploration and include the significant historical collections of Sir Hans Sloane from the 17th century as well as the first botanical collections from Australia and New Zealand, obtained by Joseph Banks on his HMS Endeavour voyage.

  • Volvox aureus, a species of green alga commonly found in lakes, ponds and ditches in the UK
    Algal collections

    Find out about the Museum's collections of algae, which are among the largest in the world and a rich source of important historical material.

  • Craticula species of diatom
    Diatom collections

    The Museum’s diatom collection is geographically and taxonomically diverse, with all major groups represented and a comprehensive assemblage of fossil specimens.

  • The lichen Xanthoria aureola
    Lichen collections

    The Museum’s lichen collection is one of the world's largest and is an important research resource.