Herbaria or pressed plant collections have historically been the only accurate way to study botany.

The Herbaria collection contains material collected by Thomas Bruges Flower (1817 to 1899), Sir John St Aubyn (1758 to 1839), I.N.W. Keys (donated 1909) and G.C. Bignell (1826 to 1910). Specimens have been collected over a long time period, from the mid-1700s to the present day in Devon and the surrounding area.

St. Aubyn herbarium

Sheet of unfolded paper which on the left has handwritten notes and on the right contains a pressed cutting of a plant which has thin dark green leavesThe herbarium (pressed plant collection) dates from 1793 to 1803 and consists of approximately 1000 specimens. The collection provides a comprehensive insight into not only the local ecology at the time, but also the use of plants in medicine and the presence of new cultivars.

Associated with the specimens are many important collectors of the period who knew St Aubyn. The notes on the herbarium sheets are exceptionally detailed and the specimens themselves are in good condition. See the St. Aubyn collection page for more about this fascinating collection, or view all these specimens on our online database.

Thomas Bruge Flower herbarium

Thomas Flower’s herbarium (a collection of pressed plants) was one of the most important lost collections of British flowering plants. Its rediscovery in the 1980s was a major botanical event. There are approximately 2000 specimens in the collection, covering most species found in the British Isles in the early 19th century.

About Dr Thomas Bruges Flower [PDF]

herbarium specimenWe still have no idea how this herbarium ended up in Plymouth. The history of the herbarium is by no means clear. Of the few papers written about Thomas Flower, one suggests that the herbarium was left to his family. His last surviving granddaughter, Miss Catherine Harper of Bath, is supposed to have claimed that she had a collection of Flower’s. She later denied the statement. In the same article, it is reported that when someone tried to track down the herbarium in the 1940s they couldn’t find it. The herbarium was last seen in Wiltshire in 1937, two years before its accession date at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.

The mysterious appearance of the collection at Plymouth can be more easily explained though and is more due to world events than Museum policy. It is believed that the outbreak of World War II in 1939 interrupted the Museum’s monthly Committee meetings. Usually during these assemblies, new items entering the museum would be recorded in the minutes. With no meetings taking place at this time, collections like Flower’s were not recorded.

George Carter Bignell Pressed seaweed

Red seaweed pressingBignell amassed a large collection of pressed marine algae collected in and around Plymouth. They are still in their original bound book which was purchased from auction in 1994. You can view this collection in an online catalogue.

About George Carter Bignell [PDF]