Palaeobotany collection

Fossilised fern

Petrified trunk of the fern Palaeosmunda williamsonii, from Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia. This fossil dates to the Permian, about 250-299 million years ago.

The Museum's palaeobotany collection spans the Archean to the present, containing cyanobacteria and fungi as well as plants.

Type specimens


Hand specimens


Slide preparations



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

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


  • 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

Historic collections

  • Charles Darwin: Tertiary and Permo-Carboniferous woods collected during the Beagle voyage, mostly from South America.
  • WH Lang: Devonian fossil plants, mostly from Scotland, Wales and England.
  • Marie Stopes: Cretaceous plants from Japan, Carboniferous coal balls and paper archives.
  • Captain Robert Falcon Scott: Mesozoic plant fossils from the Discovery (1901-1904) and Terra Nova (1910-1913) expeditions to the Terra Nova Bay in the Antarctic in 1911.
  • WC Williamson: Late Carboniferous plants from British coal mining areas.
  • W Hemingway: a large number of Carboniferous plant fossils from the British coal measures and the Mississippian of Scotland.
  • FW Oliver: slide preparations of Carboniferous plants, particularly seed ferns.
  • DH Scott: Carboniferous plant slide preparations.
  • RH Scott Collection: Tertiary leaves from Greenland.
  • Reid and Chandler Collection: living seeds that were compared with seeds from the London Clay for a monograph in 1933.
  • H Cotta Collection: permineralised plants from Chemnitz in Germany, including the only surviving type specimens from the original research on the area.
  • W Nicol Collection: contains some of the first thin sections ever made by the inventor of the Nicol Prism.
  • Taylor Collection: Carboniferous plants from Wales.
  • WT Gordon Collection: Palaeozoic plants from Scotland.
  • GF Elliott Collection: thin sections of calcareous algae.

Looking for a specimen?

The palaeobotany collection is being digitised

Senior Curator

Dr Peta Hayes

Collections Manager

Dr Martin Munt

Any questions ?

If you would like to use any specimens for research   

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 collection features palaeobotanical material from all over the world.

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.