Since the 1500s, scientists have documented the plants and fungi that grew around them, organizing the specimens into collections. Known as herbaria, these archives helped give rise to botany as its own scientific endeavor.
Herbarium is a fascinating enquiry into this unique field of plant biology, exploring how herbaria emerged and have changed over time, who promoted and contributed to them, and why they remain such an important source of data for their new role: understanding how the world’s flora is changing. Barbara Thiers, director of the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium at the New York Botanical Garden, also explains how recent innovations that allow us to see things at both the molecular level and on a global scale can be applied to herbaria specimens, helping us address some of the most critical problems facing the world today.
At its heart, Herbarium is a compelling reminder of one of humanity’s better impulses: to save things—not just for ourselves, but for generations to come.