Collection Policies

The herbarium is governed by the Academy's general policy on collections (revised 2001). This document overviews those aspects of particular relevance to most users of the herbarium, including access, specimen acquisition, loans, destructive sampling, deposition of specimens, and use of digital specimen images.

For all requests and inquiries regarding the collection, please email collections staff at

Collection Access

Achievement of the Herbarium's missions in research, teaching and service demands that the collections be easily accessible. At the same time, the herbarium consists of delicate and irreplaceable specimens, which means that protection and preservation of the collection are central to the staff's curation activities. The policy on access to the collection thus attempts to achieve a balance between the goals of easy access and protection.

The herbarium is open by appointment between 9 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday (except Academy holidays). After hours and weekend use can be arranged if necessary. Upon initial arrival, visitors must sign in at the museum security desk and be escorted to the collection wing of the building. Visitors should sign the herbarium's guest book.

Qualified individuals may use the collections; herbarium staff will assist novice users until they are familiar with standard protocol for handling specimens. Visitors may use workspace, scopes and networked computers (PC and Mac) provided on ample bench top in an alcove of the main herbarium (6th floor) and in the research area on the 5th floor. Plug-ins for personal laptop computers are also provided. These computers allow access to databases both at the Academy and other institutions and a label making program as well as printing and scanning resources. High-resolution digital photography can be provided by the in-house Greenfield digital imaging center. Plant materials brought in by visitors for study can be used only in designated areas unless they have been frozen.

Holdings of seed plants in the General Herbarium are organized following an updated De Dalla Torre and Harms system for families and genera are ordered alphabetically within families. The fruit, seed and cone collection is ordered following the General Herbarium. Ferns and fern allies are also shelved in alphabetical order. Bryophytes and lichens are ordered alphabetically by genus; fungi follow the system of Engler & Prantl. The paleobotanical collection is ordered by site and collector. In addition to our regular collection, types and important historical collections are held separately in the climate-controlled Types and Special Collections Room on the 5th floor. See the Vascular Herbarium and Cryptogamic Herbaria for more information.

The herbarium maintains a small collection of reference books and reprints for use by staff and visitors. These books do not normally leave the department. The Ewell Sale Stewart Library contained within the Academy houses an extensive collection of botanical reference books and botanical journals. The library allows reference materials to be used within the Academy with the appropriate permission.

Specimen Acquisition

Because of the resources involved in permanent curation of plant specimens, only those of high quality with good documentation (see below) are accepted. We require also proof of legal collecting and export (if applies) of the botanical specimens. The herbarium seeks to expand collections via research activities and exchange in support of research endeavors of staff members and associates, and to build on existing strengths. Preparation of specimens for incorporation into the collection follows standard herbarium procedures.


PH loans materials to institutions for study by professional researchers, provided that adequate facilities are available for care of the specimens while on loan. Loans are normally for a one-year period (type specimens for six months), extendable upon request. The herbarium has an historical beetle infestation problem making it crucial that all outgoing specimens are frozen for at least one week prior to sending. Loans are managed using an Access database and a file system. It is expected that specimens returned will be annotated appropriately and that any publication generated based on PH specimens will cite such. See the PH Loan Rules for details.

NOTICE: In order to avoid the holiday mail at the end of each year, we have a herbarium shipping moratorium from December 10 to January 10.

Destructive Sampling

Requests for destructive sampling require a brief description of research goals and sampling protocols. If permission is granted, specimens must be annotated to indicate structure and quantity removed, nature of study and Genbank or other database registration number if available. Click here to view the destructive sampling request sheet.

Specimen Imaging

People interested in publishing specimen images should consult the following forms.