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Plant life

Ulster Museum’s herbarium started modestly—an alga, collected from a ‘boghole’ in Co Donegal in 1815. From there it has only grown, with many types of plant represented in a collection of more than 100,000 specimens.

Herbaria are collections of dried plant specimens. They have been the cornerstone of botanical science for three centuries. Ulster Museum’s herbarium is an important reference for research into Northern Ireland’s ecology. These are not eye-catching specimens. You will not find them adorning display cases in the museum, but they are an important scientific resource. For this reason, few of the specimens are on display. We hold important collections of:

  • mosses and liverworts
  • marine algae
  • ferns
  • herbaceous plants
  • lichens

Mosses and liverworts

Mosses and liverworts love the damp climate of Northern Ireland. Several hundred species grow here and most are represented in the museum’s collections. There are many other specimens from across Britain, Ireland and beyond.

Seaweeds and pondweeds

Seaweed - marine algae - thrives on Northern Ireland’s rocky coast. Lakes and rivers have their own species of algae too, often called ‘pondweeds’. Most of Northern Ireland’s algae are well represented in the museum’s reference collections.

Ferns, flowers, shrubs, and trees

Northern Ireland is home to several thousand species of ferns, flowers, shrubs and trees. Many are native, and reached this island thousands of years ago after the ice sheets had retreated. Many others have been introduced more recently from other parts of the world, as agricultural crops or garden plants. The Ulster Museum has an important reference collection of leaves, flowers, wood, seeds, and fruit from many of these native and introduced plants.

Fungi, lichen, and slime moulds

Fungi traditionally are grouped with plants. In fact they are more closely related to animals than plants and form a kingdom—alongside plants and animals—all their own. This kingdom is strange indeed. From dry rot to the field mushroom, there are more than 2300 typical fungi in Northern Ireland. Most are difficult to preserve so the museum does not hold a large collection of them.

Lichens are a type of fungus too, that lives in a symbiotic relationship with algae. The museum has a good collection of the almost one thousand species of lichen found in Northern Ireland, and many others from further afield.

Slime moulds are not like plants at all. They form colonies that can move. The museum has a small but important reference collection of these strange organisms.

There are currently no plant life collections published online but if you would like to make an enquiry about the collection please email Rhonda Ridley