Botany is the science and study of plants. RAMM has many thousands of plant specimens in its collections. The scientific name for a plant collection is a herbarium. Fungi and algae are also kept in the botany section.
Most of the specimens are what we call flowering or seed plants. These are the majority of large green plants you are likely to see in the countryside or in gardens. Divisions in which we have significant collections include fungi, seaweeds, green algae, stoneworts, clubmosses, horsetails, ferns, conifers and flowering plants.
Due the sheer size of the collection it is not possible to display it all at once. If you wish to view a stored collection for research purposes please contact RAMM’s Collections Officer. A selection of displayed and stored items can also be viewed on Collections Explorer.
Botany collection at RAMM
RAMM has many thousands of plant specimens in its collections, collectively called herbaria. Divisions in which we have significant collections include stoneworts, clubmosses, horsetails, ferns, conifers and flowering plants.
The preserved plants are not mounted with display purposes in mind. Most are pressed and stored on herbarium sheets. Others are kept in alcohol or between glass. Some are decoratively arranged in photograph albums.
Plants in Spirit
Sometimes it is more appropriate to preserve plants in liquid. This is often the case if they are bulky such as fruits and seeds. Liquid is also supports flowers with complex three-dimensional structures such as orchids.
Formalin, alcohol, and more complicated mixtures of chemicals such as ‘Kew Mix’ (developed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) may be used as preservatives.
Plants in museum collections are usually in the form of herbarium sheets. To make a herbarium sheet the first step is to place the fresh plants on sheets of absorbent paper. Next they are put into a press and left to dry. The pressed plant is then attached to a sheet of card or stiff paper. Glue is sometimes used. But it is better to sew on bulkier specimens or use strips of paper for fix the stems in place. The specimen’s collection location, date, altitude, etc. is also recorded on the sheet.
Because they are preserved this way they often don’t look much like the living plant. But details of their shape and form are preserved and can still be studied after hundreds of years.
Herbarium sheets are particularly prone to attack by museum pests. Silverfish feed on the paper and the adhesives. Booklice are also common, unwelcome visitors to these collections that feed on any mould growths and spores on the sheet or the plant. In doing so silverfish and booklice can destroy the data that accompanies the specimen and cause serious damage to the specimen itself.
In the past chemicals such as mercuric chloride, napthalene and arsenic have been used to kill or deter these pests. Today these chemicals are forbidden because they are harmful to humans. So curators must be vigilant and make regular checks on the collection.