Cambridge Herbarium is of great national and international significance. It ranks as only the 4th or 5th largest herbarium in Britain yet is disproportionately type-rich, with type specimens from across the new and old worlds collected by many of the leading botanical explorers of their day for example David Douglas (North America), Joseph Hooker (India), Thomas Mitchell (Australia), Richard Spruce (South America) and Charles Darwin. The Herbarium’s significance, therefore, encompasses the biodiversity-rich countries of the world. There is also an outstanding collection of irreplaceable British material as well as the 300 year long continuity of studies of the flora of Cambridgeshire.
The Darwin specimens are available online from this website. Databasing and imaging of the historic Martyn specimens and Henslow’s British collection is completed and work continues on the digitisation of the Lindley collection. Images of Cambridge Herbarium specimens, for research purposes only, can be requested.
Much of the Herbarium is made up of a large number of individuals’ collections. A selection of these is listed here.
Charles Darwin’s plants from the Beagle voyage were sent to Cambridge by Darwin as a gift for his friend and mentor Professor John S. Henslow. Around 2,400 plants are mounted on 954 sheets.
C.M. Lemann’s herbarium consists of plants from at least 100 collectors including T. Drummond, F. Lindheimer, J. Torrey, T. Nuttall, Asa Gray, R. Spruce, and P. Boissier. The Lemann Collection is of special interest to taxonomists because the plants were named by George Bentham who added to it many specimens from his own herbarium.
C.C. Babington succeeded John Stevens Henslow (died 1861) as Professor of Botany. Babington greatly enlarged Cambridge’s herbarium collections and was particularly interested in British plants building up an immense and complete British herbarium (around 55,000 sheets) from his own specimens and those of other botanists working all over Britain. He also bought many european exsiccatae. Amongst his many purchases was the herbarium of John Lindley.
John Lindley‘s herbarium of around 65,000 sheets was split into two collections after his death in 1865. The orchids went to Kew Herbarium and the remainder, 58,000 sheets, was bought by Cambridge University on the advice of Babington. The Lindley collection is of global significance containing type specimens from several continents.
J. & M. Gray’s algae collection, presented in 1876-77, comprises 3000 sheets.
Sir Charles James Fox Bunbury (1809–86) collected plants in South America during 1833 – 34. In 1838 he accompanied his uncle, Sir George Napier, to the Cape, where he collected plants in earnest, afterwards publishing Journal of a Residence at the Cape of Good Hope (1848). He travelled with his close friend Charles Lyell to Madeira in 1853. Specializing in fossil botany, Bunbury identified several of Lyell’s coal deposit specimens and catalogued the Carboniferous fossils in the Geological Society Museum. His copious journal and letters to Leonard Horner (father of Bunbury’s wife, Frances) and to Lyell, Charles Darwin and others provide extensive detail on the C19th study of natural history and give a flavour of C19th society in London and Suffolk. Cambridge Herbarium received Bunbury’s British and World herbarium of over 6000 sheets as a gift in 1887, on condition it was not incorporated into the main collection. His own handwritten notes and notebooks on his botanical collecting are also at Cambridge Herbarium.
Peter Derek Sell (1929 – 2013) started working in the Herbarium in 1944. His personal collection amounts to over 25,000 specimens from all parts of the British Isles and Europe. Sell paid attention to almost all the critical genera (including apomicts) found in the British Isles, infra-specific variants and trees and shrubs.