The Economic Botany Collection at Kew illustrates the extent of human use of plants around the world. The huge variety of objects ranges from artefacts made from plants, to raw plant materials, including a large collection of wood samples. Uses range from food, medicine and utensils, to social activities and clothing.

The collections build an important bridge between biological and cultural diversity, and are a valuable resource for the study of plant uses past, present and future. They are managed by the Biodiversity Department of the Herbarium Directorate, in close collaboration with the Sustainable Uses Department of the Jodrell Laboratory.

Museum No. 1 indigo factory & collection cases

Museum No. 1 indigo factory & collection cases

Sir William Hooker, the first official Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, opened the Museum of Economic Botany in 1847. While the majority of the objects were acquired during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Collection continues to grow today and now holds over 85,000 specimens. These include present-day material as well as archaeological specimens and nineteenth century curiosities. Please explore some of our holdings.

The Plants+People exhibition in the renovated Museum No. 1 displays over 450 of these plant-based treasures.


Annual Ethnobotany Lecture: Evolutionary ecology as a driver of new questions in ethnobotany
To be given by Professor Doyle M. McKey (Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology, University of Montpellier).
17.00 - Tuesday 14 October, 2014; Jodrell Lecture Theatre, Kew Gardens.
Entry via Jodrell Gate on Kew Road from 4.30pm. Postcode: TW9 3DS MAP. 10 minutes from Kew Gardens tube station.
All welcome - no ticket/booking required. Queries: m.nesbitt [at] kew.org

Doyle McKey is professor of ecology at the University of Montpellier and is a senior member of the Institut Universitaire de France. He studies interactions between plants and animals, and between plants and humans, in tropical ecosystems. His widely cited work covers diverse topics including the interactions between plants and vertebrate frugivore seed-dispersers, the theory of plant defence against herbivores, the ecology of protective ant-plant mutualisms, plant evolution under domestication, chemical ecology of plant-human interactions, historical ecology and landscape domestication. Research he led on the domestication of manioc by Amerindian farmers in South America has reshaped our ideas about the evolution of clonally propagated crops. For the past six years, he has directed an interdisciplinary project on the ecology of seasonally flooded savannas.

New book: Curating biocultural collections: a handbook

Available from all booksellers and www.kewbooks.com

Economic Botany Collection blog launched

Online now at the Kew Blogs page

Launch of the Economic Botany Collection database: all 85,000 specimens are online, with photos for 2000.

Some ethnobotanical talks in the Kew Mutual series see http://www.kew.org/learn/talks-courses/lectures/kmis/

Reading list on Kew, economic botany and empire. Kew, economic botany and empire (PDF).