What is a Herbarium?
An Internal View of Kew's Herbarium
A herbarium is a collection of preserved plants stored, catalogued, and arranged systematically for study by professionals and amateurs from many walks of life. A collection like this is a vital reference when you need to identify a plant and also serves to fix for ever the identity of thousands of plant names. A herbarium is a cross between a museum of priceless artefacts and a warehouse of birth certificates for plants; and acts as a source of information about plants - where they are found, what chemicals they have in them, when they flower, what they look like. Preserved plant specimens can be used to provide samples of DNA and to validate scientific observations. A herbarium is therefore of immense practical use and of fundamental importance to science.
Individual plants or parts of plants, are preserved in various ways, stored and cared for over time so that current and future generations can identify plants, study biodiversity and use the collection in support of conservation, ecology and sustainable development. The curator of a herbarium is responsible for its long-term care, maintenance and development. Many of the plants in the Kew Herbarium were collected hundreds of years ago and have priceless significance for botanical science as well as being an important resource for ecologists, scientists, geographers and historians.
Herbaria that organize their specimens systematically, by family, genus and species, serve as a working hypothesis of a classification of all plants. Specimens from related species are found close to one another thus facilitating their comparison.