John Davidson started the Herbarium in 1912, at which point it was mostly vascular plants. It was originally located in the Botanical Offices in downtown Vancouver, and moved to UBC campus in 1925. Collections were housed in various buildings close to their curators, and it was not until in 1973 that all the Herbarium Collections were consolidated in the Biology building.
It is not known how many specimens were in the seed collection, but in its early days the collection grew rapidly with the donation of entire collections, sometimes containing 1,000 plants each. Notable donations include: A.J. Hill, Eli Wilson, W. Taylor, and A.E. Baggs.
The initial specimens for the algal collection were donated by Mrs. Mirian Armstead, but in the early days of the botany department there were no faculty appointed to work on macroalgae, and the collection grew slowly. In 1952, when Dr. Robert Scagel was appointed, the collection took up less than one herbarium case. Under his direction, and with the help of graduate students and postdocs, the collection grew to its present size of 67,000 specimens.
V.J. Krajina established the bryological collection in 1949. In 1960, the University appointed W.B. Schofield, the first bryologist to be hired by a Canadian university. Dr. Schofield was a legendary collector, and his tireless efforts have grown the collection to its present stature as the largest bryophyte herbarium in Canada, and one of the largest in the world.