The length of the rows in the Galerie de Botanique is staggering… Within the oldest and largest herbarium in the world, eight million specimens represent the incredible diversity of plants and the advances in botanical knowledge. A modernised treasure trove which is now open to the public with a dedicated exhibition.
The Botanical Gallery
A modern jungle
It’s a small revolution. After four years of work, completed in 2012, the ground floor of the Gallery is now open to curious visitors. They are truly immersed in the world of herbariums and botany, in a contemporary environment. But be careful! You don’t disappear into nature without taking precautions! The first area you enter serves as an airlock, gently acclimatising explorers.
Two great botanists, Michel Adanson and Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu, watch over the next area and the items in its collection! A section from a sequoia tree, 2.7 metres in diameter, takes pride of place on the great hall platform, surrounded by specimens of plants, seeds, fruit and wood from all over the world. It’s an opportunity to discover the incredible scientific and heritage value of the French national Herbarium, located in the Galerie de Botanique, and the vital role plants play on the planet.
Hands in the soil, head under water
Behind the collections, men. It takes time and patience to accumulate the national herbarium’s eight million or so specimens! The oldest have reached the respectable age of 450 years old and many have come from distant shores. In the third area, photos, videos, objects and interviews reveal the secrets of the harvesting and preparation of plants, in the field. A passion which can lead afar, down to the seabed even, in search of seaweed.
Beyond the collections
The study of plants is more than just archiving. It leads to very specific applications in a variety of fields, such as pharmacopoeia, cosmetics, medicine, chemistry, and industry. The final part of the botanical exhibition throws light on the different aspects of the discipline, through three highlights: the seed display case, the ten “great windows” — devoted to greenhouses, scientific research and naturalist travellers — and finally, the great display case, highlighting the relationships between plants and chemistry, food plants, and botanical illustration and classification.
Brand new and beautiful
The creation of an exhibition area is not the only change the Galerie de Botanique has seen since its beginnings. Its building, listed as a Historical Monument, was established between 1930 and 1935, and underwent major refurbishment and improvement works between 2008 and 2012. The aim was to accommodate the national Herbarium, research laboratories and documentary collections (periodicals, monographs, prints and so on) in the best possible way.
At the same time, almost 6 million herbarium plates have been digitalised. The aim? To make them accessible to everyone by setting up a database. An enormous undertaking involving each of the many on-line plant enthusiasts. The herbonautes.mnhn.fr website enables volunteers to enter the necessary information after scanning images. The national Herborium is entering the 21st century, so follow it…