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Dr Lauren Gardiner, Curator of the University Herbarium, botanist, explorer

Cambridge University Herbarium: why keep a million dead plants?

Britain is a nation of garden lovers, yet few people have any idea of how many of the familiar plants they grow and love were discovered in the wild. With 1.1 million specimens, Cambridge University Herbarium (part of the Department of Plant Sciences), is especially rich in the original specimens used to describe new species, including many which are well-known garden plants today. As the first Curator of the collection for many years, I am lucky enough to be responsible for its continued preservation and future use in research and teaching.

The Herbarium represents over more than 300 years of species discovery and expeditions all over the world. The 19th century specimens include those collected by some of the great Victorian scientists and explorers, including John Stevens Henslow, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, John Lindley, David Douglas, and Richard Spruce.

In my talk I’ll be revealing some of these treasures and the extraordinary stories behind them and the long-deceased but intrepid collectors who found them. Find out why these specimens are so important today for scientific as well as historical research, and how many of the specimens have never been studied since they arrived in Cambridge well over a century ago. These specimens are being re-discovered now, including a particularly exciting one recently found in the collection which will be revealed for the first time during the Festival.

Visit the pop-up Herbarium to see how and why herbarium specimens are still made today, some of the uses of the specimens and why they are still so important for modern scientific research – especially for conservation and DNA-based studies.


Discovery and the Dead Plants Society

Thurs 14 March, 7-8pm


Pop-up Herbarium in the Plant and Life Sciences Marquee

Sat 16 March, 10-4pm