About Paul Hermann

Paul Hermann was Medical Officer to the Dutch East India Company in Sri Lanka between 1672 and 1677. 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.

Palm plantation

Drawing by Hermann of a scene in a toddy palm plantation.

Hermann (1646-1695) was born in Halle, Germany. He was the son of Johann Hermann, a well-known organist, and Maria Magdalena Röber, a clergyman's daughter.

His notes from Sri Lanka 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


The collection itself comprises of five bound volumes containing:

  • pressed plants
  • a smattering of similarly preserved insects
  • a volume of drawings
Missing materials

The volumes seem to have disappeared from sight until 1744, when they were 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.


Sacred lotus

Drawing by Hermann of the sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera.

Flora of Ceylon

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); Linnaeus did not introduce his binomial system of nomenclature until six years later.

Names and types

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. Hermann's herbarium is thus very rich in Linnaean type material.

To the Museum


Drawing by Hermann of the banana, Musa x paradisiaca L.

Coming to London

After studying them, Linnaeus 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.

Studying the specimens

Hermann's herbarium has been studied by many botanists, notably by Trimen (1887) who attempted to provide identifications for the Sri Lankan specimens 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).

Other collections

More material

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).

Dispersed collections

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). Hermann's Cape collections, for example in the Sloane Herbarium (Dandy, 1958), and at Oxford (Karsten, 1967) amongst others, are also of considerable significance.