The term can also refer to the building where the specimens are stored, or the scientific institute that not only stores but researches these specimens. The specimens in a herbarium are often used as reference material in describing plant taxa; some specimens may be types.

Specimen preservation

To preserve their form and color, plants collected in the field are spread flat on sheets of newsprint and dried, usually in a plant press, between blotters or absorbent paper. The specimens, which are then mounted on sheets of stiff white paper, are labeled with all essential data, such as date and place found, description of the plant, altitude, and special habitat conditions. The sheet is then placed in a protective case. As a precaution against insect attack, the pressed plant is frozen or poisoned and the case disinfected.

Certain groups of plants are soft, bulky, or otherwise not amenable to drying and mounting on sheets. For these plants, other methods of preparation and storage may be used. For example, conifer cones and palm fronds may be stored in labeled boxes. Representative flowers or fruits may be pickled in formaldehyde to preserve their three-dimensional structure. Small specimens, such as mosses and lichens, are often air-dried and packaged in small paper envelopes.

No matter the method of preservation, detailed information on where and when the plant was collected, habitat, color (since it may fade over time), and the name of collector is usually included.

Collections management

Most herbaria utilize a standard system of organizing their specimens into herbarium cases. Specimen sheets are stacked in groups by the species to which they belong and placed into a large lightweight folder that is labelled on the bottom edge. Groups of species folders are then placed together into larger, heavier folders by genus. The genus folders are then sorted by taxonomic family according to the standard system selected for use by the herbarium and placed into pigeonholes in herbarium cabinets.

Locating a specimen filed in the herbarium requires knowing the nomenclature and classification used by the herbarium. It also requires familiarity with possible name changes that have occurred since the specimen was collected, since the specimen may be filed under an older name.

Modern herbaria often maintain electronic databases accessible via the Internet.


Herbaria are essential for the study of plant taxonomy, the study of geographic distributions, and the stabilizing of nomenclature. Thus it is desirable to include in a specimen as much of the plant as possible (e.g., flowers, stems, leaves, seed, and fruit). Linnaeus' herbarium now belongs to the Linnean Society in England.

Specimens housed in herbaria may be used to catalogue or identify the flora of an area. A large collection from a single area is used in writing a field guide or manual to aid in the identification of plants that grow there. With more specimens available, the author of the guide will better understand the variability of form in the plants and the natural distribution over which the plants grow.

Herbaria also preserve an historical record of change in vegetation over time. In some cases, plants become extinct in one area, or may become extinct altogether. In such cases, specimens preserved in an herbarium can represent the only record of the plant's original distribution. Environmental scientists make use of such data to track changes in climate and human impact.

Many kinds of scientists use herbaria to preserve voucher specimens; representative samples of plants used in a particular study to demonstrate precisely the source of their data.

Largest herbaria

Many universities, museums, and botanical gardens maintain herbaria. Herbaria have also proven very useful as sources of plant DNA for use in taxonomy and molecular systematics. The largest herbaria in the world, in approximate order of decreasing size, are:
* Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (P) (Paris, France)
* New York Botanical Garden (NY) (Bronx, New York, USA)
* Komarov Botanical Institute (LE) (St. Petersburg, Russia)
* Royal Botanic Gardens (K) (Kew, England, UK)
* Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève (G) (Geneva, Switzerland)
* Missouri Botanical Garden (MO) (St. Louis, Missouri, USA)
* British Museum of Natural History (BM) (London, England, UK)
* Harvard University (HUH) (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA)
* Swedish Museum of Natural History (S) (Stockholm, Sweden)
* United States National Herbarium (Smithsonian Institution) (US) (Washington, DC, USA)
* Nationaal Herbarium Nederland (L) (Leiden, the Netherlands)
* Université Montpellier (MPU) (Montpellier, France)
* Université Claude Bernard (LY) (Villeurbane Cedex, France)
* National Botanic Garden of Belgium (BR) (Meise, Belgium)
* University of Helsinki (H) (Helsinki, Finland)
* Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem, Zentraleinrichtung der Freien Universität Berlin (B) (Berlin, Germany)
* The Field Museum (F) (Chicago, Illinois, USA)
* University of Copenhagen (C) (Copenhagen, Denmark)
* Chinese National Herbarium, (Chinese Academy of Sciences) (PE) (Beijing, People's Republic of China)
* University and Jepson Herbaria (UC/JEPS) (Berkeley, California, USA)
* Herbarium Bogoriense (BO) (Bogor, West Java, Indonesia)
* Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (E) (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK)

See also

* List of herbaria
* Plant collecting
* Plant taxonomy
* Systematics
* Virtual Herbarium

External links

* "For links to a specific herbarium or institution, see the List of herbaria"
* [http://sciweb.nybg.org/science2/IndexHerbariorum.asp Index Herbariorum]
* [http://linnaeus.nrm.se/botany/fbo/welcome.html.en Linnean Herbarium]
* [http://www.lamarck.cnrs.fr/herbier.php?lang=en Lamarck's Herbarium] (online database with 20.000 sheets in HD)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Herbarium — Sn Sammlung getrockneter Pflanzen per. Wortschatz fach. (16. Jh., Bedeutung 18. Jh.) Entlehnung. In Frankreich mit Bedeutungsänderung entlehnt aus ml. herbarium Gemüsegarten, Kräutergarten , zu l. herba f. Pflanze, Kraut . Zunächst Kräuterbuch ,… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • Herbarĭum — Herbarĭum, ursprünglich eine historia plantarum oder eine andre botanische Abhandlung, auch eine Art Museum von Wurzeln, Kräutern, Früchten, die in der Medizin oder in der Kunst benutzt werden, erst seit dem 17. Jahrh. eine für botanische Zwecke… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Herbarium — Her*ba ri*um, n.; pl. E. {Herbariums}, L. {Herbaria}. [LL., fr. L. herba. See {Herb}, and cf. {Arbor}, {Herbary}.] 1. A collection of dried specimens of plants, systematically arranged. Gray. [1913 Webster] 2. A book or case for preserving dried… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Herbarĭum — Herbarĭum, 1) (H. vivum), die Sammlung getrockneter Pflanzen, zur Belehrung u. Aufbewahrung. Am besten werden von jeder Art od. Abart. ein od. einige Exemplare nebst einem, den systematischen, officinellen u. deutschen Namen, Fundort, Blüthenzeit …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Herbarium — Herbarĭum (lat.), Sammlung getrockneter Pflanzen; die ältesten H. stammen aus dem 16. Jahrh., die größten in Kiew und im Brit. Museum. – Vgl. Hempel (1895) …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Herbarium — Herbarium, eine Sammlung getrockneter Pflanzen, mit Sorgfalt geordnet und mit ihren deutschen und lateinischen Namen versehen. Die meisten Pflanzen trocknen leicht zwischen glattem Papier, wenn sie gehörig beschwert werden. Einige haben jedoch so …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Herbarium — Herbarium, Sammlung von getrockneten Pflanzen, wenn solche zu botan. Zwecken systematisch geordnet sind …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • herbarium — ► NOUN (pl. herbaria) ▪ a systematically arranged collection of dried plants …   English terms dictionary

  • herbarium — [hər ber′ē əm, ərber′ē əm] n. pl. herbariums or herbaria [hər ber′ēə, ər ber′ēə] [LL < L herba, HERB] 1. a collection of dried plants classified, mounted, and used for botanical study 2. a room, building, case, etc. for keeping such a… …   English World dictionary

  • Herbarium — Vitellaria paradoxa, Herbarbeleg aus dem Herbarium Senckenbergianum …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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