About the Collection

The Economic Botany Collection is housed in the National Herbarium at Glasnevin. It is a made up of a substantial collection of plant specimens such as bark, fruits, leaves, fibres, tubers as well as plant-derived products and artefacts. It demonstrates the technology, craft and knowledge involved in the production of plant products; how humans have utilised and managed their environments over time and how plants have influenced and shaped humanity. As humans have developed and adapted to the natural environments in which they live, nature has simultaneously influenced cultural beliefs, knowledge systems, languages and practices.

The industrial and urban societies in which we find ourselves today create an ever widening gap between us and our natural environment. With a lack of understanding for the botanical origins and processes involved in the production of materials, food and medicines, our lack of recognition for the over exploitation of natural resources and the social and environmental consequences that follow increases.

Gene-banks and botanic gardens work towards the ex-situ conservation of our biological heritage, but humans are an intrinsic part of nature, interrelated and mutually supportive and the conservation of biological diversity is futile without the "human intellectual 'gene pool'" from which communities draw upon for adaptive and sustainable measures. The Economic Botany Collection plays a pivotal role in the preservation of our tangible and intangible biocultural heritage. Together with botanic gardens these collections can work to enhance peoples' experiences with the natural world while bridging the gap between plants and products. As a repository for traditional and modern uses of plants throughout the world, the collection is an important resource for research and education providing invaluable data to a diverse group of disciplines such as History, Medicine, Agriculture, Anthropology, Ethnobotany, Nutrition, Pharmacology, Horticulture, Biochemistry and the Arts. It's potential for promoting the importance of cultural diversity from an environmental perspective and documenting and promoting intangible cultural heritage of both past and present cross-cultural adaptations of plants is far reaching.

The collection is gradually being accessioned and catalogued following guidelines outlined in The Economic Botany Data Collection Standard by Frances E.M.Cook. From time to time exhibits are on display in the Visitor Centre of the Botanic Gardens. Previous exhibitions have included items associated with the Irish Patriot Sir Roger Casement, who donated plant material from, what was then, the Belgian Congo. If you would like to visit the collection contact the Director of the Gardens and Museum Curator, Dr. Matthew Jebb.

References: McNeely 1997 in Maffi, L. 2004:12 'Maintaining and Restoring Biocultural Diversity: The Evolution of a Role for Ethnobiology' in Carlson, T. J. S. & Maffi, L. Ethnobotany and Conservation of Biocultural Diversity The New York Botanical Garden Press