Historic Trinity herbarium to grow with €1.5m government funding

8 Mar 2023

Garden of the TCD School of Botany. Image: Trinity College Dublin

The herbarium in TCD is one of only two substantial herbaria in Ireland and contains around 400,000 plant specimens, providing researchers opportunities to track global biodiversity trends, assess the impact of climate change, and inform conservation efforts.

A restoration and digitisation project to upgrade and safeguard the herbarium in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) was announced today (8 March) by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan, TD.

The funding of €1.5m will provide state-of-the-art physical infrastructure and enable the digitisation of the herbarium’s 400,000 plant specimens and books to protect them and to ensure they are accessible to the international research community.

“I am delighted to be able to support this project via a very significant funding contribution through the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS),” Minister Noonan said.

The curator of the herbarium, Prof Trevor Hodkinson, said that it “has one of the largest collections of plant specimens in Ireland”.

“Together with our unique collection of books, some of which are more than 500 years old, our specimens provide a detailed record of Ireland’s natural history and contribute to our knowledge of the world’s biodiversity.”

From humble beginnings in the early 18th century when Sir Hans Sloane presented TCD with a ‘thick folio’ of dried plant specimens, to physician and botanist Thomas Coulter’s collection of 20,000 specimens in 1835, to the present day as one of the largest university herbaria in the world, the herbarium contains irreplaceable scientific information that allows researchers to track global biodiversity trends, assess the impact of climate change, and inform conservation efforts.

“At Trinity we are committed to addressing the biodiversity and climate crises by delivering cutting edge research that informs policy and practice, and embeds these issues in the curriculum, preparing future generations of leaders,” said Prof Jane Stout, TCD vice-president for biodiversity and climate action sustainability.

The herbarium contains a variety of samples from Australia, North America, Mexico, South Africa and Thailand. It includes specimens collected by early Irish botanist Ellen Hutchins and by Charles Darwin.

TCD is co-funding the project by supporting three fully funded PhD positions in Irish biodiversity, which will be co-designed with the NPWS.

Director of nature conservation at the NPWS Ciara Carberry said: “The partnership between the college and the NPWS will set the restoration and digitisation project on a sustainable footing and make sure the herbarium can be enjoyed by generations of students and scientists to come.”

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Rebecca Graham is production editor at Silicon Republic