Economic Botany Collection

Porcupine needle box

The Economic Botany Collection, part of the Botanical Museum Collection, include The Oakes Ames Collection of Economic Botany (2082 specimens), The Economic Botany General Collection (9425 specimens), The Ethnobotanical Collection (about 150 specimens), several smaller collections, including the Freeman Bean Collection (604 specimens) and the Parke-Davis Drug Collection, and The Economic Herbarium of Oakes Ames (ECON) (about 40,000 specimens, integrated with the A, GH, and NEBC Herbaria).

The Economic Botany Collection is a rich resource for historical ethnobotanical data. Historical collections such as these provide invaluable information about change in cultural use of plants and plant demographics over time. They are useful for research in diverse and interdisciplinary fields, such as ethnobotany, biology, anthropology, archeology, history, pharmacology, folklore, and the arts.

The collections consist of artifacts and specimens dating back to the mid-19th century that represent humankind’s relationship with the plant world. These unique ethnographic collections illustrate the many ways plants have been used for food, medicine, construction, and other purposes in diverse cultures worldwide. The collection includes fibers, fruits, flowers, leaves, resins, tubers, bark, and other plant parts, mounted on paper or contained in jars, bags, boxes, cans, or bundles. The collection also contains manufactured objects that show people’s dependence on plants.

The Botanical Museum collections are also a wonderful teaching tool. They have been used as aids for over 100 years in economic botany and biology courses at Harvard. If you would like to visit the collections, please review our Visitor Policy or write to huh-requests@oeb.harvard.edu.

The collections consist of about 13,000 specimens (not including the ECON herbarium), including type specimens collected by R. E. Schultes, H. V. Pinkley, and E. Palmer. The majority of the specimens in the collections were made between 1870 and 1940. Significant contributors include: O. Ames, G. C. Cutler, G. N. D’Amica, E. M. East, E. Fenix, G. L. Goodale, A. Gray, H. A. Hagen, A. F. Hill, F. T. Hubbard, R. E. Karper, J. H. Kellogg, B. A. Krukoff, S. K. Lawton, P.C. Manglesdorf, C. F. McKhan, E. D. Merrill, C. R. Orcutt, R. E. Schultes, E. Palmer, T. Plowman, C. G. Pringle, J. M. Rodriquez, J. N. Rose, C. S. Sargent, T. Schuchardt, J. H. Sears, W. R. Singleton, R. Spruce, Capt. Edward B. Trumbal, P. A. Vestal, O. E. White, A. E. Wight, W. P. Wilson, G. C. Worthen, and many others.

Photo of Kalmia from Glass Flower collection

Plant families that are especially well-represented are: Amaryllidaceae, Anacardiaceae, Apiaceae, Arecaceae, Asteraceae, Apocynaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Fabaceae, Fagaceae, Juglandaceae, Lamiaceae, Lauraceae, Liliaceae, Linaceae, Malvaceae, Moraceae, Myrtaceae, Pinaceae, Poaceae, Rosaceae, Rubiaceae, Rutaceae, Sapindaceae, Sapotaceae, Solanaceae, Sterculiaceae, Theaceae, Urticaceae, Zingiberaceae.

The collections contain specimens from all over the world, but the following countries are especially well-represented: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, India, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, United States, and Venezuela.