Fern collections

A fern grows on a rock

Ddiaphanous bladder fern, Cystopteris diaphana, growing on a river bank in Cornwall © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The Museum houses one of the most important collection of ferns and other seed-free vascular plants in the world, with around 280,000 specimens.


The collections cover global fern diversity and have particular geographical strengths in:

  • Europe and the British Isles
  • Malesia
  • South Asia
  • Tropical America
  • Macronesia

The collections span  the seventeenth century to the present day. They are especially valuable due to their richness in types, historical collections and cytological vouchers.

Our fern type specimens are estimated to exceed 7,000, representing around 20 per cent of published fern names.

Important collections

  • Carl Christensen's Herbarium
  • John Smith's Herbarium
  • A.H.G. Alston
  • Clive Jermy
  • Trevor Walker
  • Christopher Fraser-Jenkins
  • Irene Manton
  • Irene Manton's research students, including Anne Sleep and Mary Gibby

Looking for a specimen?

The fern collection is being digitised

Senior curator

Alison Paul

Any questions?

If you would like to use any specimens for research, please get in touch

Collections on the move

We have set out on an ambitious programme to develop a new science and digitisation centre. As we prepare for the move, access to some collections will be affected. 

Find out more and sign up to our newsletter to receive updates on changes to collections access, relevant news and opportunities to get involved.

Accessing the collections

Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.

Collections management

Our duty is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our collections.