The MBA Herbarium

The MBA Herbarium is a collection of preserved specimens of algae collated since the mid-nineteenth century. It is a world-class resource of historical and scientific importance.

Project: Many eminent phycologists and botanists have contributed specimens to the MBA Herbarium, among which Alison Wilson, Gerald Boalch, Lionel Ruttledge Crawshay, Mary W. Parke, J. Boswarva, E. A. L. Batters, J. Cocks, H. B. Moore, J. Hearn and H. H. Sturch. From March 2013 onwards, we will be exploring the stories of these and other people involved with the MBA Herbarium. In addition, from July to September 2013, we will be looking specifically at women phycologists who contributed to the MBA Herbarium, thanks to funding from the British Society for the History of Science. To see the results of these projects, please click here.

Project: Between April and June 2013, the catalogue of the MBA Herbarium will be digitised and some specimens photographed thanks to funding from the Vodafone Foundation "World of Difference" programme. Images from this project can be seen here in the Gallery section of this website.

Resources: The catalogue of the lichens in the MBA Herbarium is available online; please click here for further information.

Introduction to the MBA Herbarium by Gerald T. Boalch

The MBA Herbarium constists of three sections:

Marine algae and a few marine grasses

Marine lichens

Terrestrial lichens

Marine algae and a few marine grasses

The marine algae constitute the major part of the herbarium. The material was initially assembled by Dr Mary Parke in the 1940s from various collections at the MBA and from her own material. This has been added to steadily up to the mid-1980s by various phycologists either working at, or visiting, the MBA. The earliest material in the collection is from the 1830s from a number of collecters but most of the material collected since 1950 has been added by Dr Parke or Dr Gerald Boalch.

Originally the herbarium was planned as a collection of seaweeds of Southwest England with comparative material from other parts of the UK and neighbouring Europe. The collections range from the Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly to the Shetlands. It is probably the most comprehensive collection of seaweeds of Southwest England and is an important resource for taxonomy, ecology and biodiversity. A number of the species represented in the herbarium cannot now be found at the sites from which they were originaly collected.

All the specimens are mounted and have firmly attached labels, most of which are written in Indian ink. The labels give the name, locality, date of collection, collector, the name of the person who identified the material and, occasionally, information on the fertile state or any other point of interest about the material. All the sheets of specimens of one species are kept together in a paper folder and all the species of one genus are enclosed in a cardboard folder. The folders are stored in systematic order based on the checklist published by Dr Parke. All the specimens are also recorded on a card index which is currently being digitized. There are over 3,300 specimens belonging to 386 species in this collection.

There is also a series of folders containing mounted specimens collecter by Dr Boalch on various overseas visits. Some of these are quite large collections made on field trips associated with international meetings; in a number of cases the identification of the specimens has been checked by local phycologists. There are also several folders of other overseas collections donated by various visitors to the MBA. Again, all the specimens are labelled and they are recorded on separate cards in the card index.

There are several local collections which are bound up in books. These are: Algae Danmonienses by Mary Wyatt (236 specimens in 5 volumes), Agarum Fasciculi by John Cocks (2 copies; 178 specimens mainly from the Plymouth area), Plymouth Seaweeds by George Carter Bignell (85 specimens), 2 books of specimens, not named or dated and with no indication of location or collector, a book of pressed seaweeds from Torquay dated 1837, not all named and with no indication of collector, and a collection from the Sidmouth area all named and dated 1837 and collected by Miss Jackson. These are all recorded in the card index.

A few years ago we were presented with an amazing collection of seaweeds from the Inland Sea of Japan: The Marine Benthic Algae of the Seto Inland Sea, Japan (Vol. 1-6), from the Kobe University Research Center for Inland Seas. These are immaculately prepared and mounted and have printed labels. The sheets are loosely enclosed in plastic sleeves and are bound up in six hard cover volumes with gold lettering. The collection contains 189 specimens.

Marine lichens

The marine lichens are a collection made locally by Dr K. Alvin (author of The Observers Book of British Lichens) during  a series of visits to the MBA in the 1970s. They are all carefully labelled and stored in small boxes with glass lids, which are further packed into lidded trays. Please click here to consult the catalogue of lichens in the MBA Herbarium.

Terrestrial lichens

The terrestrial lichens are a collection made and identified by Professor Aino Henssen from Marburg University, Germany, author of an internationally recognised textbook on lichens. These are mainly from the Dartmoor area and were collected during a visit to the MBA in 1964. They are labelled and in small boxes or packets which are further stored in cardboard boxes. Please click here to consult the catalogue of lichens in the MBA Herbarium.

The MBA Herbarium, together will all the apparatus, mounting paper, drying sheets, etc… is housed in a set of specially-made cupboards stored on the groundfloor of the National Marine Biological Library. Very little conservation work is needed as the cupboards are built of veneered wood and the veneers are attached with formaldehyde-resin glus which helps te deter mites and fungi.


This is a general view of the MBA Herbarium in the Citadel Hill Laboratory.


Specimen P60/2/8 Asperococcus fistulosus (Hudson) Hooker, collected and identified by G. T. Boalch on 17.8.1962 in Lang Sound, West Barra, Shetland.


Specimen R102/2/10 Acrosorium uncinatum (Turner) Kylin, collected by C. Knott on 8.9.1967 in St Mary's, Isles of Scilly; identified by Mary Parke.

For more information about the MBA Herbarium, please contact Dr Anne-Flore Laloë at the MBA.



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