Paul Hermann (1646-1695) was born in Halle, the son of Johann Hermann, a well-known organist, and Maria Magdalena Röber, a clergyman's daughter. He was to make one of the earliest scientific collections of plant specimens from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), where he was Medical Officer to the Dutch East India Company between 1672 and 1677. Although largely restricted to plants from the area around Colombo, and including a number of foreign introductions in gardens, the collection is nevertheless of great scientific importance. After his return to Europe, Hermann took up the Chair of Botany at the University of Leiden in 1679 where he spent the rest of his life. Subsequently, his notes reached William Sherard (1659-1728), who edited them to produce a catalogue published as Musaeum Zeylanicum (1717), with a second edition in 1726.
The collection itself, comprising four bound volumes containing pressed plants and a smattering of similarly preserved insects, and a volume of drawings, seems to have disappeared from sight until 1744, when it was in the possession of the Danish Apothecary-Royal, August Günther. He loaned these five volumes to the Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), who set about identifying them and placing them in his new 'sexual system', which classified plants according to the number and arrangement of the male and female parts of the flower.
The collection contained many plants new to Linnaeus, and the result was his Flora Zeylanica (1747). This work still distinguished species by the use of descriptive phrases in Latin (polynomials), for Linnaeus did not introduce his binomial system of nomenclature until six years later. However, in his Flora, Linnaeus numbered every species, and also cross-referenced each to Hermann's specimens and drawings by writing the relevant number next to them, making the relationship between specimens and descriptions explicit. In 1753, Linnaeus published his Species Plantarum, in which he gave modern binomial names for the first time, most of his Sri Lankan taxa being based on their earlier Flora Zeylanica accounts. It follows that Hermann's herbarium is very rich in Linnaean type material.
After studying them, Linnaeus had returned the volumes to Günther in Copenhagen, from whom they passed to Count Adam Gottlob Moltke. At his death, they were bought by Professor Treschow of Copenhagen, from whom they were purchased by Sir Joseph Banks in 1793 for £75. The volumes subsequently reached the British Museum with the rest of Banks' collections. Hermann's herbarium has been studied by many botanists, notably by Trimen (1887) who attempted to provide identifications for the Sri Lankan specimens (there are also some from South Africa) and drawings. Here at The Natural History Museum, an annotated copy of Linnaeus' Flora Zeylanica, bound with Musaeum Zeylanicum, has provided an index to the material (which is often scattered through more than one volume). However, until now there has been no published catalogue showing how the material is dispersed through the volumes, nor have images of the specimens been available other than by request for particular specimens to be photographed. Only a small number of these have been published previously (e.g. Karsten, 1967: 121, folio 1; van Ooststroom, 1937: fig. 1).
There is another substantial collection of Hermann's Sri Lankan material, now at the Rijksherbarium in Leiden which, although not studied directly by Linnaeus, undoubtedly contains many isotype specimens for Linnaean names. A detailed description of the collection, with determinations, is provided by van Ooststroom (1937), and images of the specimens have been published (IDC microfiche 8302/1). A second collection, now at Erfurt, has been described by Rauschert (1970). Another Sri Lankan collection, the basis for Johannes Burman's Thesaurus Zeylanicus (1737), is at the Institut de France (Lourteig, 1966), and Hermann's Cape collections, e.g. in the Sloane Herbarium (Dandy, 1958), and at Oxford (Karsten, 1967) amongst others, are also of considerable significance.