A herbarium is a taxonomically and geographically organized collection of preserved plants, algae, lichens, and fungi.
In 1912 the Herbarium was located on West Pender Street, Vancouver, and formed part of the provincial government’s Botanical Office. John Davidson, the Provincial Botanist at that time, negotiated its relocation to UBC in 1916. Today, it holds more than 650,000 specimens, some dating back as far as 1804, and is the largest herbarium in Canada, west of Ottawa. Botanical researchers refer to our specimens to help identify the plants they work on, describe new species, and track changes in diversity in space and time. The specimens in the herbarium are also used to help train the next generation of Canadian botanists.
Herbarium collections traditionally include the land plants—mosses, ferns, conifers, flowering plants, and their relatives—as well as algae, lichens, and fungi. This odd assemblage represents older notions of the botanical world. If we compare this diversity to the different groups of animals in the museum, it would be equivalent to grouping fish, tetrapods, insects, and marine invertebrates into one collection. We also now know that lichens are really an emergent property of fungi and algae living in intimate relation with one another and that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants —they’re not plants at all!
Using the Collection
More detailed information about the Herbarium can be found on the UBC Herbarium website.
The Herbarium’s collection is critical to the identification, monitoring, and conservation of plant biodiversity in British Columbia, and is an important resource for education and scientific research. The numbers of accessioned specimens in each collection are as follows:
- 223,000 vascular plants (flowering plants, conifers, ferns and allies)
- 242,000 bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, and hornworts)
- 90,000 algae (mostly seaweed)
- 40,000 lichens
- 16,000 fungi
You can search the Herbarium specimens through our online database. Some of our data are also hosted through collaborative projects including E-Flora BC, Canadensys, and through the Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria.
If you would like to access the Herbarium for research purposes please contact Linda Jennings with reference to algae and vascular plants, and Olivia Lee with reference to bryophytes, fungi, and lichens (contact us).
For studies showing how the Herbarium has been used, please see our Articles & Papers page.
You may find this workshop on how to collect plant specimens in a wet tropical forest helpful.
Here, we recognize distinct parts of the herbarium as their own collections, to better reflect the biodiversity they represent:
Algae are a diverse group of aquatic organisms.
Bryophytes are plants without specialized tissues for moving water or nutrients.
Vascular plants have internal cellular structures for moving water up from the roots.
Fungi are organisms with nuclei-containing cells that get nutrients by breaking down organic material.
John Davidson started the Herbarium in 1912, at which point it was mostly vascular plants.