Palaeobotany collections

The palaeobotany collections at the Natural History Museum span the Archean to the present, containing cyanobacteria and fungi as well as plants.

The collections include:

  • over 1,100 type specimens
  • around 250,000 hand specimens
  • 30,000 slide preparations

The fossils range in size from microscopic cuticle preparations to a 15m-long tree.

Collection strengths

Our collections are among the most important palaeobotanical collections worldwide with respect to geographic, stratigraphic and historical coverage.

There is a particular abundance of fossils from:

  • British Carboniferous coal measures
  • Yorkshire Jurassic
  • Eocene London Clay
  • some ex-British colonies, such as Australia, South Africa, India and Canada

Details

The palaeobotany collections include:
  • algae
  • bacteria
  • fungi
  • lichens
  • bryophytes
  • all major plant groups from the Silurian/Devonian to the present, including:
    • early land plants such as primitive vascular plants, eg Cooksonia
    • lycopsids (clubmosses), eg Lepidodendron
    • sphenopsids (horsetails), eg Annularia
    • filicopsids (ferns), eg Psaronius
    • progymnosperms (early gymnosperm-like plants), eg Archaeopteris
    • pteridosperms (seed ferns), eg Neuropteris
    • gymnosperms (ginkgoes, conifers), eg Pinus
    • angiosperms (flowering plants), eg Platanus
Geological range:

Our collection of fossil plants represents over 400 million years of plant evolution from the Silurian/Devonian to the present.

Other groups such as the algae have been collected from much older strata, with specimens from the Precambrian onwards in the collection.

Geographical range:

The collections feature palaeobotanical material from all over the world. 

  • Antarctic fossil leaf of Glossopteris indica
    Historic collections

    The Museum cares for many historically-important fossil plant collections, including those made by Charles Darwin, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and DH Scott, one of the most influential Palaeozoic palaeobotanists of the 19th century. Find out about our other historic palaeobotany collections.

  • Fossilised algae, Mastopora fava
    Research visits

    Researchers visiting the palaeobotany collections are welcome to use the Seward Library, which contains bench facilities as well as reprints and rare monographs. Find out more about research visits and the facilities available.

Collection management and curation

Arrangement:

The palaeobotany collection is arranged by:

  1. age (period)
  2. collecting locality, with British fossils first, then European and international fossils
  3. taxon

There are some separate historic collections, also arranged by period and collecting locality.

Storage:
  • Hand specimens are boxed, or kept in silicon fluid in glass tubes.
  • Slide preparations are kept flat and horizontal in specially-designed drawers.
Labels:

Each specimen has a label with:

  • all available details on:
    • identification
    • age
    • collecting site
    • collector
  • a registration number on a yellow label adhered to the surrounding matrix

Specimens can be additionally identified as:

  • type specimens, usually indicated by a green spot inscribed with a ‘T’
  • figured, indicated by a green spot
  • cited, indicated by a red spot

Location

The palaeobotany collections are housed in 3 London locations:

  • The main collection is stored in the Palaeontology Department at South Kensington.
  • Some materials are held in offsite storage at Wandsworth. This includes especially large specimens such as tree trunks, and some unprocessed field collections.
  • Fossil plants are on display at the Museum in the Fossils from Britain and From the Beginning galleries, and on the front lawn.

Find out more

Using palaeontology collections