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Plants from the Past

Plants from the Past

A herbarium is a collection of plants that have been preserved for scientific study. Plants are carefully harvested, pressed, dried, and mounted on paper in order to preserve them for years to come. While herbariums typically house whole plant specimens, they may include other organisms such as liverworts, algae, and fungi. Herbaria can also include preserved seeds, wood cross sections, pollen, microscope slides and DNA extractions. Anything stored as part of a herbarium is often referred to as a herbarium specimen.

Herbaria are at the root of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens’ history. Our founder, Dr. John Cowell, began curating the Botanical Gardens’ first collection in 1894. He traveled around the world, searching for unique tropical plants that people couldn’t see anywhere else in Buffalo. As he was developing collections for the Botanical Gardens, he also collected plant samples for scientific research. These specimens included plants gathered in his expeditions, plants gathered from his nature walks throughout Western New York, and plants grown in the Botanical Gardens.

These scientific samples made up Cowell’s personal herbarium, which was donated following his death in 1915, just 15 years after the Botanical Gardens opened. These specimens are currently stored within the Clinton Herbarium at the Buffalo Museum of Science. There, a dedicated group of volunteers and staff care for and manage the herbarium, gathering new specimens and preserving them for generations to come.

On display during Plants from the Past are high-resolution reproductions of actual herbarium specimens, some of which are over 100 years old! To see these important pieces of history, as well as learn more about the process of making a herbarium, visit the Botanical Gardens. Our Herbarium Exhibit is on display daily, from 10am-4pm, now through June 3.

To learn more about the Clinton Herbarium, or to get involved, please visit

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