History of the RHS Herbarium

Most herbaria are concerned primarily with wild plants - either from the local flora or collected from various parts of the world. In the RHS Herbarium the emphasis is on ornamental garden plants.

Although a relatively recent herbarium, compared with the ones at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew or Natural History Museum, the RHS Herbarium – situated at RHS Garden Wisley - is the largest herbarium dedicated to ornamental plants in the UK. 

The oldest specimen in the herbarium is a lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) that was collected in the Chelsea Physic Garden by Phillip Miller in 1731. This was donated by Rev George Henslow, RHS Professor of Botany between 1880 and 1918, along with the rest of his herbarium. The earliest collection in the herbarium recorded from Wisley itself is of Sedum mexicanum, made in 1916.

RHS Herbarium timeline

  • 1856The original herbarium of the Royal Horticultural Society was auctioned to help relieve the Society’s debts.
  • 1916The current herbarium started with the first gatherings of specimens made from the garden at Wisley, combined with the donation of Rev. George Henslow's teaching collection.
  • 1936Frederick Hanbury donated his European herbarium (approx 12,000 specimens).
  • 1960Chris Brickell took charge and started to co-ordinate efforts to collect and expand the herbarium.
  • 1967Diana Miller joined as Assistant Botanist and later became Keeper of the Herbarium in 1979 before retiring in September 2005.
  • 1985Building of new cupboards allowed the herbarium to grow more rapidly.
  • 2002New herbarium cupboards installed.
  • 2006 - 2014Christopher Whitehouse took over as Keeper of the Herbarium.
  • 2011Digitisation programme started by Mandeep Matharu.
  • 2013Herbarium curator, Barry Phillips, discovered Darwin's potato in the collection.
  • 2015Yvette Harvey takes over as Keeper of the Herbarium.
  • 2018The digitisation team imaged the last specimen (still ongoing as we are actively collecting).
  • 2021The collection moves to the Hilltop building with room for 400,000 UK ornamentals.

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