Division of Biology and Medicine
Brown University Herbarium


The Brown University Herbarium documents the world’s flora and provides a continuous and permanent record of botanical diversity.

The Brown University Herbarium is a natural history museum that holds preserved plants, as well as algae, fungi, and lichens. The majority of these specimens are dried, pressed, and mounted on sheets of archival paper with labels that provide information, including the species name of the specimen, when it was collected, by whom, and where. Together, the specimen and label tell a story about a species in a particular place at a particular time.


Vascular plants









Herbaria like Brown’s document the world’s flora and provide a continuous and permanent record of botanical diversity. This role is increasingly important as the rate of habitat destruction increases and climate change precipitates rapid changes in species’ ranges and all aspects of their ecology.  

Herbarium specimens play a critical role in the science of taxonomy, a field concerned with the identification, naming, and classification of species. Herbarium collections can additionally be used to address a wide range of scientific questions, for example: 

  • Constructing and revising plant phylogenies 
  • Studying the spread and habitat preferences of invasive species
  • Understanding the population trends of rare plants
  • Identifying priority sites for conservation 
  • Studying pollination ecology 
  • Conducting forensic studies 
  • Conducting ethnobotanical studies 
  • Understanding how global change affects plant phenology

Brown’s herbarium has been built up by many botanists working around the world over hundreds of years. Though our collections are particularly rich in 19th and 20th century specimens, the herbarium is far from inactive. On any given day, the herbarium is a busy place! You might find undergraduate assistants digitizing, mounters mounting new additions, or a class learning from our rich collections. The specimens housed in the herbarium are critical to scientists’ current understanding of our planet and the life it supports. Scientists both locally and globally visit, explore, study, and add to the collections, increasing scientific collaboration and knowledge. Information about past plant life is critical for both understanding the present and to prepare for the future. Historical plant collections are of great value to studies of global climate change, invasive species, and endangered or extinct plant occurrences. For example, a 1993 report by the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Program listed 200 historic occurrences of 80 plant species in the state—most extinct locally—known only from Brown’s herbarium collection. Historical herbarium specimens are also an important source of DNA from rare or extinct species and from multiple populations for genetic and evolutionary studies.

Ongoing collection efforts ensure a continuous record of species distributions and provide new material for all aspects of botanical research. As a regional herbarium, Brown’s herbarium seeks to maintain a comprehensive collection of the flora of our area, namely Rhode Island and New England. Rich and diverse collections are an important resource for researchers, students, local botanists, and interested members of the general public. Beyond this primary focus, Brown’s herbarium continues to add specimens from around the world and to build on the historical legacy left by past researchers.