A variety of mounted beetle specimens in collection trays.

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Botany Collection

The National Herbarium of Canada

A Brief Herbarium History

The National Herbarium of the Canadian Museum of Nature has grown from lengthy and auspicious roots. The plant collections of the Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada were officially incorporated into a museum department in 1882.

At that time John Macoun was hired as the museum's first biologist; his primary interest was botany. Macoun built up a sizable collection of approximately 100 000 plants, known as a herbarium, before his semi-retirement in 1911. As a result of Macoun's collecting and trading endeavours, the museum's Plant Collections are rich in historic specimens dating back to 1766.

A.E. Porsild was hired as the museum's botanist in 1936, and with his specific interest in Arctic botany, he developed the Canadian National Herbarium into a world-class Arctic plant collection that today holds more than 100 000 Arctic plant specimens.

In 1968 the Canadian National Herbarium was divided into four separate herbaria, each with its own international code: vascular plants (CAN); algae (CANA); Lichens (CANL) and Bryophytes (CANM). Today, the museum's four herbaria together contain more than one million plant specimens.

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature


Our Vascular Plant Collection is one of the largest in Canada. It offers an excellent representation of native species from north temperate regions, with a strong emphasis on Canadian species. There are 575 000 specimens, including about 2500 type specimens.

Our Lichen Collection includes the largest holdings of Canadian lichens in the world. The collection currently contains 111 500 catalogued specimens, including about 750 type specimens.

Our Bryophyte Collection contains 225 000 moss specimens, about 25 000 hepatics, and about 950 type specimens.

Our Algae Collection (the National Phycology Collection of Canada) contains 65 000 specimens, including macro and microalgae. There are about 300 type specimens. Find out more, and access collection data online.

Visitors Are Partners

Visitors are very welcome in the National Herbarium of Canada. By making the herbarium accessible to those who are investigating botanical questions large or small, we fulfill our mandate to "increase... interest in, knowledge of and appreciation and respect for the natural world" through our collection. Visitors add value to the plant collection by making sustainable use of collections for purposes such as education, research and conservation management, and by sharing the knowledge gained from their use of the specimens. By correcting or updating information, visitors continually improve the collection for subsequent users. If you have a project or question that the collection might help you with, please contact us to learn more, or to arrange a visit.

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature


Plocamium coccineum
Catalogue #: CANA 3680

Macoun's Algae Specimens

These algae specimens were collected by J. Macoun on June 17, 1893, from Point Holmes, Vancouver Island, Strait of Georgia.