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The Linnaean Herbarium

The Herbarium held by the Linnean Society of London is the single most important Linnaean collection of plant specimens.

Historical importance

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The Linnaean Herbarium contains some 14,300 specimens, many pre-dating Linnaeus’ seminal work, Species Plantarum (1753). More than 4,000 specimens are type specimens for Linnaean names. A type specimen is a specimen which is permanently associated with a given scientific name, and acts as a permanent reference to confirm the identity of the species to which the name must apply.

The herbarium includes plants from Asia, Europe and the Americas collected during a time of intense exploration of new lands.

The Society’s Linnaean herbarium is particularly rare because it is an example of a personal herbarium of a famous scientist that has been kept in its original state and not been remounted or relabelled.

The herbarium is held in the same room as Linnaeus' personal library, correspondence and the rest of his collections.

Taxonomic importance

Species Plantarum

The information contained in the herbarium is of critical importance to the correct naming and identification of botanical specimens.

The type specimens represent the original concept of new species, exemplified by the specimens and illustrations used when assigning binomial scientific names. They are the foundation stones of taxonomy.

The Linnaean Herbarium is an invaluable resource for the study of plant taxonomy. It supports the work towards protecting global diversity.

The collections are constantly referred to by researchers throughout the world and many specimens have been cited and/or illustrated in taxonomic papers.

Organisation of the Herbarium

Linnaean Herbarium folders

Linnaeus’ herbarium was prepared and organized differently to its predecessors in the 17th and 18th centuries. These earlier herbaria were usually bound volumes in which specimens were mounted, often many to a page. They were known as Horti Sicci (“dry gardens”).

Linnaeus, on the other hand, mounted his specimens singly on unbound sheets of paper. This dispensed with the need for the complicated indexes that were often necessary in bound collections. It also allowed for the easy incorporation of new material, and for substantial reorganization, if necessary.

Some specimens are heavily annotated, and bear inscriptions on the reverse of the sheet. Others have additional notes attached to the front of the sheet which may obscure the specimen itself.

In the Linnaean Herbarium Online such annotations are imaged separately and will also be available in conjunction with the specimens to which they relate.

Further Reading

Order out of chaos

For more information on the Linnaean Herbarium see Charlie Jarvis' article, "A concise history of the Linnean Society's Linnaean Herbarium, with some notes on the dating of the specimens it contains" in The Linnean Special Issue No. 7, 'The Linnaean Collections'.

The Linnaean Plant Name Typification Project has been working to establish type specimens for the 9,000 plant species with names coined by Linnaeus, so that the names can be correctly used.

Order out of Chaos: Linnaean Plant Names and their Types, a major new work from the Linnaean Plant Name Typification Project is a comprehensive guide to the typifications of the plant names described by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).