University of Oulu

Park, D.S., Feng, X., Akiyama, S. et al. The colonial legacy of herbaria. Nat Hum Behav 7, 1059–1068 (2023).

The colonial legacy of herbaria

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Author: Park, Daniel S.1,2; Feng, Xiao3; Akiyama, Shinobu4;
Organizations: 1Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
2Purdue Center for Plant Biology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
3Department of Geography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
4Department of Botany, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tsukuba, Japan
5Herbarium Bogoriense, Research Center for Biosystematics and Evolution, National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), Cibinong, Indonesia
6Instituto Experimental Jardin Botánico ‘Dr. Tobías Lasser’, Avenida Salvador Allende, Ciudad Universitaria, Caracas, Venezuela
7Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas, Venezuela
8Hungarian Natural History Museum, Budapest, Hungary
9Herbier LY, FR-BioEEnVis, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Lyon, France
10Instituto de Botánica Darwinion, San Isidro, Argentina
11Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia
12Botany Section, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, the Netherlands
13Meise Botanic Garden, Meise, Belgium
14Herbario San Marcos, Museo de Historia Natural, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Peru
15Department of Botany and Zoology, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
16Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Průhonice, Czech Republic
17Central Regional Centre, Botanical Survey of India, Allahabad, India
18University of Washington Herbarium, Burke Museum, Seattle, WA, USA
19Sikkim Himalayan Regional Centre, Botanical Survey of India, Gangtok, India
20Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
21Botany Unit, Finnish Museum of Natural History, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
22Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Western Australian Herbarium, Kensington, Western Australia, Australia
23South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa
24School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
25Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, Kochi University, Kochi, Japan
26Hattori Botanical Laboratory, Nichinan, Japan
27Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA, USA
28Institute of Botany, Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
29National Institute of Ecology, Seocheon, South Korea
30National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore, Singapore
31Department of Environmental Biology, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy
32Herbarium Patavinum, University of Padua, Padua, Italy
33East African Herbarium, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya
34Komarov Botanical Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
35Herbarium Collections & Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
36Institute of Biological Sciences, Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, Poland
37Rocky Mountain Herbarium, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA
38Field Museum, Chicago, IL, USA
39Staatliche Naturwissenschaftliche Sammlungen Bayerns, Botanische Staatssammlung München, München, Germany
40Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA
41Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, UK
42Herbier Louis-Marie, Université Laval, Québec City, Québec, Canada
43University of Florida Herbarium, Florida Museum, Gainesville, FL, USA
44Instituto Multidisciplinario de Biología Vegetal (UNC-CONICET), Córdoba, Argentina
45Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, Austria
46Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
47Deccan Regional Centre, Botanical Survey of India, Hyderabad, India
48National Herbarium of Ukraine, M.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Kyiv, Ukraine
49Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
50Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO, USA
51Conservatory and Botanic Gardens of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
52Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
53New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY, USA
54Graduate School of Integrated Sciences for Life, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan
55Miyajima Natural Botanical Garden, Hiroshima University, Hiroshima, Japan
56Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
57Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
58University of Oulu Botanical Museum, Oulu, Finland
59Bell Museum, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA
60South China Botanical Garden Herbarium, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, China
61Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Herbaria, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: embargoed
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-12-12


Herbarium collections shape our understanding of Earth’s flora and are crucial for addressing global change issues. Their formation, however, is not free from sociopolitical issues of immediate relevance. Despite increasing efforts addressing issues of representation and colonialism in natural history collections, herbaria have received comparatively less attention. While it has been noted that the majority of plant specimens are housed in the Global North, the extent and magnitude of this disparity have not been quantified. Here we examine the colonial legacy of botanical collections, analysing 85,621,930 specimen records and assessing survey responses from 92 herbarium collections across 39 countries. We find an inverse relationship between where plant diversity exists in nature and where it is housed in herbaria. Such disparities persist across physical and digital realms despite overt colonialism ending over half a century ago. We emphasize the need for acknowledging the colonial history of herbarium collections and implementing a more equitable global paradigm for their collection, curation and use.

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Series: Nature human behaviour
ISSN: 2397-3374
ISSN-E: 2397-3374
ISSN-L: 2397-3374
Volume: 7
Issue: 7
Pages: 1059 - 1068
DOI: 10.1038/s41562-023-01616-7
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 118 Biological sciences
Funding: This work was supported by the Czech Academy of Sciences (grant no. RVO 67985939 to J.D.) and the Komarov Botanical Institute, RAS (grant no. AAAA-A19-119031290052-1 to D. Melnikov).
Dataset Reference: The data discussed in the paper are either publicly available through GBIF (; or Index Herbariorum ( or are in the Supplementary Information.
Copyright information: © 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.