Since the reopening of the Grand Herbarium in 2013, the Muséum’s rich wood collections have been gathered together in a xylotheque containing around 12,000 specimens from 80 countries and all the continents.
The collection contains samples of various formats and sizes: small book-shaped blocks, discs, cubes, branches and trunk pieces; the centrepiece is a gigantic stem-disc of a sequoia tree over 2,000 years old, on display in the entrance hall of the Galerie de Botanique. The xylotheque also contains groups of roots and vegetal fibres. Among the wood specimens’ various countries of origin, Brazil, Madagascar, Australia, India, the United States and France are the best represented. From a taxonomic point of view, around 220 botanic families have been listed, with most taxa coming from the tropical and subtropical regions.
These collections were mainly constituted at the same time as the Herbarium and the two are often complementary. Some of the wood samples were brought back from field gathering missions that began in the early 19th century, sometimes involving famous collectors such as Humboldt and Bonpland, Claussen, Poilane and Chevalier. Other samples have been acquired through exchanges with forestry departments and research institutions all over the world.
The xylotheque collections were recently gathered together in one area for easy access, and are currently being classified. As well as being of major historic and heritage value, these collections provide a tool for research and expert appraisal. Wood is both a plant tissue containing taxonomic and environmental information, and a raw material. It is therefore of interest to many scientific disciplines: systematics, ecology, palaeoecology, palaeobotany, archaeobotany, ethnobotany and material sciences. Combined with a technical platform for analysing the wood, equipped with microscopes, the specimens in the collection provide study material as well as a reference collection for identifying unknown wood species of various origins (palaeontological and archaeological excavations, trade, museum collections, etc.). The xylotheque is also an important tool for the Muséum’s teaching activities (including several Master’s modules specialising in xylology and palaeoxylology) as well as for the sharing of knowledge.