Historical herbaria collection

The "historical" herbaria are of great value to researchers as they provide examples of particular classification concepts and contain many reference specimens (types).


The historical herbaria, which comprise around 150,000 specimens today, are stored separately. The most important ones are still classified according to the order followed by their designers, in the publications where the latter described plants or developed classification systems. These great authors include the Jussieus, active at the Muséum for three generations (from the 1710s to the 1850s), Michel Adanson (1727-1806), Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829), André Michaux (1746-1803), René-Louiche Desfontaines (1750-1833), Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and Aimé Bonpland (1773-1858). In general, these collections cover a very broad taxonomic spectrum (vascular and non-vascular plants) and also have quite a vast geographical range.

Among the collections stored separately, there are also objects in specific formats. This is the case for older, bound herbaria such as those of Jehan Girault (this little book dates back to 1558 and was added to the collection thanks to the Jussieu family), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (15 binders containing types from Guiana harvested by Jean-Baptiste Fusée Aublet) and Albrecht von Haller (18th century). Lastly, some herbaria are stored in these collections because of their uniqueness, like the Léon Mercurin herbarium (20th century), whose specimens are beautifully mounted on Bristol board.


In the 17th century, botanists founded and consulted natural history cabinets. They annotated the samples and described new species. The herbarium of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708), who was named botanist at the Jardin du Roi in 1683 and was responsible for the wider development of botany, would officially become the first historical herbarium.


The historical herbaria are constantly being consulted by systematicians. Digital images are made at the researchers’ request. Science and botany historians in particular are also very interested in studying these collections. They are loaned under certain conditions, for exhibitions only.

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