Clare Booth-Downs

Clare helps to curate and care for the collections of dried plant specimens and associated material in the RHS Herbarium. She is a plant collector and digitiser and helps to maintain the herbarium’s collections’ management system

What do you do?

I help to care for the collection by carrying out repairs, conservation checks and reporting on any pest issues I find. With an interest in the history of botany and plant collecting, I research the specimens to find interesting stories to share with the public. I participate in Science Week events and supervise young volunteers as they learn plant collecting and curation techniques. The RHS Herbarium has ambitious plans to quadruple the size of the collection over the next few years, so I visit gardens and RHS Trials to collect and create new specimens to show the breadth of cultivated plants in the UK.

“I spend every day fascinated by the diversity of the collection, its history and its potential as an aid in the cutting-edge scientific research carried out by the RHS.”

Why is your team’s research important?

The RHS Herbarium holds a nationally important collection of specimens which have a number of uses including – as a reference tool for identification of species or cultivars, as a secure repository of the exact plant specimens from which a plant was first validly named (Types or Nomenclatural Standards) and a source of DNA from which we can research the evolution of plants to name but a few. It is vitally important that the team keep the collection in a good condition with accurate data to facilitate research and the naming of new cultivars.

Projects I’m working on now

  • Currently working with the Horticultural Information team to trial and support the migration of the database to a new collections’ management system. This will eventually mean the entire collection of more than 90,000 digitised specimens will be available to view via the RHS online portal
  • With the opening of the RHS Hilltop – The Home of Gardening Science, the RHS Herbarium will be moving to a purpose-built facility. I am helping to plan the move of the collection and updating the filing system of the specimens taking into account current research and nomenclature

Completed projects

  • Part of the team who digitised the entire collection of almost 90,000 dried plant specimens


Presenting a talk at the 2019 Natural Sciences Collections Association conference in Dublin on behalf of the RHS, to discuss the digitisation project and how vital digitisation of collections is for the future of plant science research. I'm also currently studying for a BSc in Environmental Science with the Open University.

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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.