Image collection

Valuable as pressed specimens are, good images of living material are extremely useful in supplementing specimens of cultivated plants. They are particularly effective for recording both the colour of the living plant and its natural habit; features that cannot be demonstrated by the dried specimen.

The Herbarium image collection has more than 4,200 original watercolours, approximately 45,000 colour slides and a rapidly increasing number of digital images, the majority of which are plant portraits of an individual species or cultivar.

Other than images taken by ourselves in RHS gardens, RHS Trials and RHS Shows the collection contains plant portraits donated by registrants, breeders and National Plant Collections to name but a few.


Between 1920 and the 1940s plants given the Award of Merit at Shows and Trials were painted as a record. The herbarium holds c. 4,200 of these paintings and included within the collection are a number of paintings of nomenclatural standards. The artists commissioned by the RHS include Winifred Walker and Stella Ross-Craig, both highly respected in the field of botanical art. This is a phenomenal resource for plant growers and historians as it contains accurately coloured records of long-lost cultivarsOwing to copyright issues we are unable to reproduce many, but are happy to give physical access on request if anyone should like to view them.


Comprising a wide diversity of image formats, the collection almost tracks the development of photography. The herbarium continues to keep up to date with imaging technology.

From the 1940s, with the wider availability of quality cameras, black and white photography started to replace paintings as the medium for recording the plants. Later, colour prints replaced the black and white prints. The collection has around 8,500 photographic prints in all.

Colour slides also took over from black and white prints, and these make up the majority in the Herbarium collection of which there are around 45,000.

Although most of the older images have been supplied by photographers commissioned by the RHS, the archive includes a substantial number of slides from the Harry Smith Collection and Plant Heritage National Plant Collection holders and other plant breeders.

Now we have been adding digital plant portraits to the collection and these are being taken by RHS staff, volunteers and commissioned photographers on an almost daily basis.  

Owing to copyright issues we are unable to reproduce many of the slides and prints, but are happy to give physical access on request if anyone should like to view them.
For digitised images of herbarium specimens, please visit our Specimens database.


With your support, we can undertake valuable research into gardening pests and diseases.

Join the RHS

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.