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Cambridge University Herbarium

Botanical illustration of a california poppy

Illustrations in the University Herbarium Collections

Until the widespread use of photography, the scientific and artistic study of plants were closely tied. Many botanists were accomplished artists themselves (or worked closely with someone who was) and illustrated plants in exquisite detail. This was the best way to accurately record a plant’s anatomical features so that it could be identified and classified.

The Herbarium holds many examples of botanical illustrations. Several are directly attached to specimen sheets, showing the corresponding specimen as it would have looked in life. Rich collections of botanical artwork are also held by members of University of Cambridge Museums. The Fitzwilliam Museum has extensive collections of 17th and 18th century flower paintings, botanical drawings and watercolours, many of which were bequeathed to the museum by the second Lord Fairhaven.

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science holds over 100 large-scale botanical teaching diagrams, hand-drawn and painted in the 19th century by John Stevens Henslow and his son, George. John Stevens Henslow was an important figure in the history of the herbarium and his innovative teaching rejuvenated the subject of botany at the University of Cambridge. The diagrams were of such good quality that they were still used by university lecturers in the 1960s. The museum also holds scientific equipment - microscopes and a micro-spectroscope - owned by both Henslows.

Together, these artworks enrich our understanding of historical botany across scientific, social and educational contexts.

Purchasing Herbarium Prints

If you would like to have a little piece of the Herbarium’s art in your own home, you can purchase prints from Curating Cambridge. Money raised from the sales supports our work in the Herbarium.

Purchase prints and more

Illustration of plant

Visit Curating Cambridge to support the Herbarium with a purchase of prints, tea towels and stationary.

Give to Cambridge University Herbarium

John Stevens Henslow teaching chart

Support the University Herbarium's work to preserve and provide access to our...