What is Botany?
Botany is the scientific study of plant life.
It is one of the oldest sciences, and it originates from man’s need to be able to identify plants that can be eaten, plants that can be used for medicine and plants that are poisonous.
From this ancient interest in plants, the scope of botany has increased to include the study of over half a million kinds of living organisms.
It also examines their relationships with man, such as their roles as sources of drugs and foods, clothing and building materials and as sources of inspiration in art, design and recreation.
A museum collection of preserved plant specimens is called an herbarium.
Some 100,000 preserved plants are held in the Ulster Museum’s herbarium, the oldest specimen dating back to 1798. The Botany collections document how the native and introduced flora of Northern Ireland has changed through time.
The bulk of the specimens in the herbarium are preserved as pressed, dried specimens attached to sheets of paper, with a label carrying information about where the plant was collected, by whom and when, as well as the name of the plant and who identified it.
In addition there is a xylarium which is a reference collection of named timber specimens, largely built up by the Museum's first Director, Arthur Deane, in the first two decades of the last century; a collection of plant medicinal products and extracts; a collection of seeds, fruits, fibres and other products; a rare book and manuscript collection and an historical collection of personalia and correspondence relating to some of the important botanists of the past who worked or lived in Northern Ireland.
Botanical collections are used for a wide variety of purposes but mainly as aids in identification, as voucher specimens and for research and education.
Download the Detailed account of National Museum’s Herbarium PDF 250KB compiled by Paul Hackney, Catherine Tyrie and Osborne Morton in 2004. This describes the history, arrangement and contents of the herbarium, and includes an index of collectors.
The 'lower plants' comprise everything from tiny microscopic algae to seaweeds, mosses and ferns.Traditionally, they also include fungi and a strange group called slime moulds (neither of which are closely related to true plants but are both studied and collected by botanists). Some of the most b...
The ‘higher plants’ are the most familiar to us and include the flowering plants and the conifers. They dominate the vegetation of the land, provide the ornamental plants for our gardens and are the main source of food for animals and people.The ‘higher plants’ are the mos...
Books, images and archives
As well as plant specimens, the Museum’s collections include historically rare and important books and manuscripts.There are also original examples of the art of botanical illustration. The collection is notable for early herbals. These are books, often illustrated, that describe the a...
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