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What is a herbarium and what does the TCD herbarium do?


A herbarium is a preserved reference collection of plants and is vital to many different areas of science. Some of the TCD Herbarium’s main functions are to:

  • allow accurate identification of plants (not easy outside of Ireland as there are about 400,000 species of plant worldwide of which many thousands are unknown to science and there are relatively few available books)
  • certify that a plant name is correct (by providing a vital reference collection of authenticated material. This is often based on the original material used to frame the plant’s description and is called ‘Type material’)
  • act as a source of information about plants (e.g. on plant distribution, ecology or plant medicinal usage)
  • allow the validation of scientific observations (e.g. on climate change, genetics and conservation matters)
  • support the research and teaching activities of the Department of Botany
  • provide an internationally recognized source of plant systematic expertise.

The TCD herbarium houses fungi, algae, mosses and liverworts, ferns, conifers, cycads and flowering plants (Angiosperms) collected from all over the world and an associated large library. It is one of only two herbaria in Ireland (the other is that of the National Botanic Garden at Glasnevin) but one of many worldwide (currently, there are 3,990 herbaria in ca. 170 countries with an associated 10,000 staff). On a world-scale the TCD herbarium ranks as of exceptionally high importance because of the unique material it contains including collections of great historic importance amassed by Coulter, Harvey, Kerr and later workers.

The Herbarium's holdings are large (ca. 300,000 sheets) and significant by international standards (for example it holds the biggest collection of algae in Ireland and one of the biggest of any University herbarium anywhere in the world). The TCD herbarium is a significant resource in Irish terms containing a significant part of the heritage of the country. Its collections and archives show the very large contribution Irishmen have made and continue to make to the exploration and study of the flora of the world. Its specimens are essential to base-line study of the Irish, European and tropical vegetation and flora.

A very useful web-site expanding on some of the above points is that of the Kew Herbarium Catalogue which has much extra information as well as links to useful, relevant sites.