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Cambridge University Herbarium

Researcher working with herbarium specimens

Facilitating research is a core function of the Herbarium.

Each of the 1.1 million specimens in our collection is a multi-dimensional datapoint: it is a record that a plant was present at a specific location, on a specific date, with a specific profile of morphologies, life-cycle stages, pest damage and more. Many have additional historical and/or social information attached to them e.g how the plant was used by the local indigenous people or whether it was collected by a prominent individual or on a famous expedition.

The rich, diverse information held within our specimens has enormous research potential, in fields as varied as the natural sciences, geography, history and anthropology. We collaborate with Departments across the University of Cambridge, external academic researchers and organisations, including the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, the Wildlife Trust and Natural England.

Explore these pages to learn more about past projects and to find out how you can use our collections in your own research.

Read more at: Species Discovery

Species Discovery

Herbaria are vital resources for surveying botanical diversity. They provide a reference collection for identifying known species, for naming and describing new species and for resolving evolutionary relationships.

Read more at: Plant Humanities

Plant Humanities

The mid-18th and 19th centuries were a tumultous era of change, a time of imperial expansion and political revolution. Historical herbarium specimens can shed light on how naturalists were operating against this backdrop of global upheaval.

Read more at: Conservation


For some rare plants that have not been recorded for decades, herbarium specimens provide the only evidence that they ever existed and the only means to verify new occurrences.

Read more at: Environmental Change

Environmental Change

As plants grow they are constantly adapting to their environment, so their features can provide a reliable readout for historical environmental conditions.

Read more at: Evolution & Genomics

Evolution & Genomics

Sequencing plant DNA provides a wealth of information about genetic diversity and ancestry. DNA from historical material, preserved in herbaria, and fresh material can build a picture of how genetic make-up varies on spatial and temporal scales.

Read more at: Global Food Security

Global Food Security

The historical plant material preserved in herbaria is essential for tracing the ancestry of crop varieties over the last few centuries, helping us to learn why our crops are the way they are and what we can do to ensure better food security.

Give to Cambridge University Herbarium

Botanical teaching chart

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