Collections in the RHS Herbarium

The RHS Herbarium is one of the leading horticultural herbaria in the world, and is the largest collection devoted to horticultural material in the UK

The primary focus of the collection is to maintain and continue to acquire reference material of ornamental plants in cultivation. This includes herbarium specimens, but also images in the form of drawings, paintings, prints, slides, digital photographs and collectors’ notes.

Herbarium specimens are pressed and dried cuttings of plants accompanied by their associated data – for example, where the specimen was collected, when, and by whom. You can search the herbarium’s collection via RHS Digital Collections here.

The following criteria are used for assessing the suitability of material for inclusion the RHS Herbarium:

  • Ornamental plants in cultivation in the UK and other temperate zones
  • Material that assists with the identification of plants from RHS members’ enquiries
  • Material of international significance (nomenclatural standards but also botanical types where relevant, for example new hybrids)
  • Voucher material relating to ecosystem services, biochemical or molecular analyses in relation to horticultural research or the conservation of cultivated plants
  • Material of known and legitimate provenance
Images are used to supplement dried material. They are good for recording the colour of the living plant, shapes lost during the pressing process, and its natural habit. Find out more about the image collection.

Sources of material

The RHS Herbarium collection comes from a variety of sources:

  • Nurseries and breeders
  • National Plant Collections (Plant Heritage)
  • RHS Plant Trials
  • RHS Flower Shows
  • RHS International Cultivar Registration Authorities (ICRAs)

  • RHS Gardens
  • Other UK gardens
  • RHS members
  • Wild or naturalised plants in the UK
  • Cultivated plants elsewhere in the world

A number of different collections have been donated to the RHS Herbarium over the years. Some of the more significant collections are: Hanbury Herbarium, British Pteridological Soceity's Herbarium, Alpine Garden Society's Herbarium, The Heather Society's Herbarium, Steggall Herbarium, Harry Smith Collection, Rev. George Henslow, George Forrest, David McClintock and Ken Page.

The RHS Herbarium currently has no means of storing other reference material such as spirit collections or DNA samples.

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.