Historical (pre-Linnean) botanical collections

The Historical Collections Room houses some of the Museum's most historic items, including botanical specimens collected over 400 years ago.

The Museum's algae, fungi and plant collections span several centuries, covering a period of unprecedented exploration and investigation into natural history.

The Historical Collections Room, houses botanical collections made before the mid-18th century. Collections from the late 18th century onwards, including those of Joseph Banks, are in our general collections and enquiries regarding those should be directed to the curator responsible for the taxonomic group concerned.

The Historical Collections room houses the herbarium of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), comprising 265 volumes and an estimated 120,000 plant specimens collected from over 70 countries and dependencies worldwide. An account of the collection is provided by Dandy (1958), available from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

To date, digitisation of the herbarium has been limited but efforts are underway to increase digital access to the collection through the Sloane Lab project. The collections made by Sloane during his voyage to Jamaica have been digitised. Other parts of the Sloane herbarium that have been digitised are those volumes collected by Mark Catesby (1683–1749) and Engelbert Kaempfer (1651–1716).

Sloane’s catalogue to his Vegetables and Vegetable substances and the surviving objects have been transcribed.

Other major collections in the Historical Collections Room include the herbaria of Paul Hermann (1646-1695), John Clayton (1694/5-1773), George Clifford (1685-1760) and Samuel Dale (1659-1739) all of which have been digitised (although the Dale Herbarium has yet to be digitised), together with that of John Ray (1627-1705).

In total, over 1300 bound volumes and exsiccatae are held in the Herbarium at the Natural History Museum.

Major collections

John Clayton herbarium

Clayton's collections from Virginia provided Linnaeus with many type specimens for North American flora.

George Clifford herbarium

The herbarium contains over 3,000 specimens collected by wealthy Anglo-Dutch merchant George Clifford.

Paul Hermann herbarium

Hermann's dried plants and drawings from Sri Lanka were one of the first major botany collections of the East Indies.

Sir Hans Sloane’s Jamaican collections

Comprises seven volumes of plant specimens collected on Sloane's voyage to Jamaica (1687-1689).

Sloane’s vegetables and vegetable substances

A transcription of Sloane’s catalogue of over 12,500 objects and records and images of the surviving objects.

Bound volumes and exsiccatae

The Museum’s herbarium includes over 1300 bound volumes and exsiccatae.

The herbarium of Samuel Dale

The herbarium of the apothecary and physician Samuel Dale (1659-1739).

Looking for a specimen?

The historical collections are available in the Data Portal

Any Questions?

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


Collections on the move

Access to some collections will be affected as we prepare for the move to our new collections, science and digitisation centre.

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.