The Herbarium contains specimens dating from 1731, and while keen gardeners had to travel to RHS Garden Wisley to view the plants, they will be able to browse the collection on the RHS website from autumn 2020.

The team began the ambitious project in 2011 and during the process have rediscovered inspiring specimens include a potato collected by Charles Darwin and 24 specimens made by John Sibthorp from the Levant and illustrated by Ferdinand Bauer in Flora Graeca, the most expensive botanical work to have been produced.

With the help of the Mellon Foundation and the 1851 Royal Commission, the Society employed a full-time digitiser, Mandeep Matharu, who started with a flat-bed scanner to image our collection.

After completing the types and standards, currently available online via JSTOR Global Plants, the Society supported the Herbarium to continue digitising the entire collection and with the support of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant and a high resolution camera, Mandeep imaged the final specimen in 2018.

The opening-up of the collection is helping to support conservation work and ensure an exciting future for plant diversity in UK gardens.  When the collection is available online our expectation is that it will be a tool to help fellow horticulturists navigate the fascinating history of garden plants.

About the database

The specimen data are captured using BG-Base, and are part of the same RHS Horticultural Database that maintains the living collections and RHS Plant Finder. This ensures that the names used for the taxa are those currently accepted by the RHS Plant Finder and that the names of garden collections and the specimens made from them are in agreement.

The specimen database for RHS Herbarium consists of:

  • Herbarium specimens: 87,600

  • Photographs: 44,950

  • Paintings: 4,207

  • Taxa: 51,000


Join the RHS

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

Join the RHS

Get involved

We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.