Royal Botanic Gardens Kew


Located in London, the World Heritage listed Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is a scientific institution responsible for the largest plant and fungal collections on Earth. For 250 years, its focus has been on documenting plant diversity and economic botany, increasingly emphasising plant conservation in modern decades. RBG Kew played a key role in early European exploration of plant life, and in the establishment of major crops including tea, coffee, rubber and quinine. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project was successful in securing seed of 10% of wild plant species in seed banks in 54 countries of origin by 2010, backed up by the MSB collection in Kew's annexe garden at Wakehurst Place, Sussex. Kew's Breathing Planet Program, instituted in 2009, is focused on seven strategies to inspire and deliver scienceā€based plant conservation worldwide, enhancing the quality of life. RBG Kew exemplifies institutional persistence through times of both patronage and austerity.

Key Concepts

  • A botanic garden contains scientifically named collections of plants, living and preserved, for public study, enjoyment, education, conservation and use.
  • A herbarium is a plant museum of dried labelled specimens for taxonomic, ecological, conservation and geographic studies.
  • Taxonomy/systematics is the science of plant naming and classification.
  • Economic botany is concerned with useful plants involved in human commerce.
  • Molecular phylogenetics is the science of evolutionary relationships using DNA sequence data.
  • Restoration ecology aims to repair and remediate damaged natural habitats, primarily through plant cultivation and management.
  • A seed bank stores plant materials under cool temperature and low humidity for future study, conservation and use.

Keywords: science; Hooker; Millennium Seed Bank; Breathing Planet; botany; herbarium; systematics

Figure 1. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew's Palm House, viewed in 2009, the 250th anniversary year of the gardens. Photographer: S.D. Hopper.
Figure 2. Directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew with their years in office, including the first two honorary Directors. Top row (L‐R) Lord Bute (1759–?), Sir Joseph Banks (1771–1820), Sir William Hooker (1841–1865), Sir Joseph Hooker (1865–1885), Professor Sir William Thistleton‐Dyer (1885–1905); Middle row (L‐R) Sir David Prain (1905–1922), Sir Arthur Hill (1922–1941), Sir Geoffrey Evans (acting Director 1941–1943), Professor Sir Edward Salisbury (1943–1956), Sir George Taylor (1956–1971), Professor Jack Heslop‐Harrison (1971–1976); Bottom row (L‐R) Professor Patrick Brennan (1976–1981), Professor Arthur Bell (1981–1988), Professor Sir Ghillean Prance (1988–1999), Professor Sir Peter Crane (1999–2006), Professor Stephen Hopper AC (2006–2012) and Richard Deverell (2012–). Reproduced with permission of the Board of Trustees, RBG Kew.
Figure 3. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst Place, Sussex, with raised garden beds in the foreground displaying British native flora of different soil types, emphasizing the local relevance of seed banking for flora conservation, sustainable plant use and restoration ecology. Photographer: S.D. Hopper.
Figure 4. L – Inscription certificate for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's register on the World Heritage List 3 July 2013. R – Kewa salsoloides, Kewaceae, Little Karoo, South Africa, named in 2014 to honour Kew's outstanding global leadership in documenting and understanding plant diversity through plant taxonomy, systematics, molecular phylogenetics, economic botany, conservation and restoration. Photographer: S.D. Hopper.
Figure 5. Breathing Planet Programme and contemporary Mission of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Reproduced with permission of the Board of Trustees, RBG Kew.


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Further Reading

Allan M (1967) The Hookers of Kew. London, UK: Michael Joseph.

Bean WJ and Thiselton‐Dyer W (1908) The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew: Historical and Descriptive. London, UK: Cassell.

Cope T (2009) The Wild Flora of Kew Gardens. Surrey, UK: Kew Publishing: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

Hepper FN (1989) Plant Hunting for Kew. London, UK: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

King R (1985) Royal Kew. London, UK: Constable.

Paterson A (2008) The Gardens at Kew. London, UK: Frances Lincoln.

Taylor G (1959) The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In: Turrill WB, (ed). Vistas in Botany. A Volume in Honour of the Bicentenary of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, pp. 1–2. New York: Pergamon Press.

Thiselton‐Dyer W (1908) Introduction. In: Bean WJ and Thiselton‐Dyer W, (eds). The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew: Historical and Descriptive, pp. xiii–xx. London, UK: Cassell.

Turrill WB (1959a) The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Past and Present. London, UK: Herbert Jenkins.

Turrill WB (1959b) Vistas in Botany. A Volume in Honour of the Bicentenary of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. New York: Pergamon Press.

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Hopper, Stephen D(Apr 2015) Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0024933]