Palaeobotany, a discipline devoted to the study of vegetal fossils (reproductive organs, leaves, wood, etc.), enables us to reconstruct ancient climates and chart the evolutionary history of plants over the geological periods. The Muséum’s plant fossil collection was started by Adolphe Brongniart, a pioneer of the discipline, in 1835.
The Muséum’s vegetal fossil collection is one of the richest in the world. It encompasses various units formed since the 19th century by the pioneers of the discipline: Ad. Brongniart, G. Saporta, C. Grand’Eury, B. Renault, etc. The general collection thus contains a great many types and figured specimens, providing a reference which can be consulted in order to make comparisons.
Adolphe Brongniart’s (1801-1876) collection in particular contains many reference specimens for coalfield flora, corresponding to many species from genera such as Calamites, Lepidodendron, Neuropteris, Pecopteris, Sigillaria, Sphenophyllum, Stigmaria, etc. This pioneering palaeobotanist collected samples from coal mines in the mid-19th century. The collection of Gaston de Saporta (1823-1895) comprises many specimens from the Cenozoic deposits of South-East France; moreover, this collection contains most of the types and figured specimens described by the famous palaeobotanist.
With tens of thousands of vegetal fossil specimens, the collection is a major palaeobotanical research base, both scientifically and in terms of the quantity of samples it contains. This collection comprises over 3,500 taxa, spanning the entire systematic spectrum and virtually all of the planet’s geographical areas and stratigraphic levels. Remains of angiosperms from the Cenozoic are particularly well represented. The information on each of the specimens is currently being computerised, and the types and figured specimens have mostly been recorded electronically.
The collection is mainly used for fundamental research (taxonomic studies, comparative anatomy, systematics and palaeoecology) as well as publicly accessible museography and teaching. The palaeobotanical collection continues to thrive and evolve: it grows regularly with the addition of harvests carried out in the field by members of the Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments Research Centre (UMR 7207 MNHN/CNRS/UPMC), or deposited by various palaeobotanists and geologists from other institutions, as well as gifts from amateurs. It is also further enriched by the addition of other historical collections entrusted to the Muséum. Around 600 contributors have thus helped to put together this collection since 1835.
Visits and loads for studies or exhibitions are managed by the heads of conservation of the collection:
Dario De Franceschi and Romain Thomas - http://colhelper.mnhn.fr