How to use the Economic Botany Collection database

The online database offers a powerful search facility for catalogue records and photographs of the Economic Botany Collection.


The online database covers all of the Economic Botany Collection (EBC), with the exception of a few specimens on loan to the Collection, recent (post 1990) accessions of Chinese medicines, and potpourri specimens. The latter two collections derive from current projects and will be added to the database later. About 3000 specimens have one or more digital images attached.

In the 1960s some specimens were transferred to other museums. These can be found using the search term Kew in their collection databases: British Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum and the Horniman Museum.

Finding out more about specimens

Most accessions to the EBC are also recorded in the Collection’s Museum Entry Books, which run in a complete series from 1847 to the present and are held in the EBC office. At a minimum these give information on donation date, place of origin and collector name. The EBC database is less complete, having been compiled in the 1980s using only the information present with each specimen. An essential part of serious research into the EBC is the cross-correlation of the database and the Entry Books, which can often fill gaps in information.

Further information is often available in Kew’s Archives and in printed literature. Thanks to digital resources such as Directors’ Correspondence on JSTOR Plant Science, and literature at the Biodiversity Heritage Library, some of this work can now be done remotely. For advice on further research into collectors or specimens of interest, please consult EBC staff via the contact address below. Information is available online about the history of the EBC, and Kew’s Archives.

Simple search

Searches across all fields of the database. It works well for botanical names (genus + species, e.g. Adansonia digitata), for the surnames of collectors and for most country names. Feel free to experiment with other searches (e.g. for unusual terms that will identify a small group of specimens), but for more complex searches the advanced search screen may give better results.

All searches use AND as the default combination. Thus entering Spruce and Brazil finds specimens with both terms anywhere in the record. If you wish to search using OR, enter or between each term, e.g. Spruce or Wallace. The database does not allow fuzzy searching – be sure to use correct spellings – but terminal truncation is possible using an asterisk, e.g. basket* finds basket, baskets and basketry.

Be sure to use the database navigation commands, not the browser back button.

Advanced search fields

Catalogue number

A unique number assigned to each specimen during databasing in the 1980s. The catalogue number should be used to refer to specimens in publications. Please quote it in any enquiries.

Entry Book Number

Numbers assigned to each group of specimens at the point of acquisition. The numbers run in a series each year, e.g. from 1.1859 to 192.1858. Note that many specimens are missing their Entry Book Number, though it can sometimes be found using the Entry Book indices held in the EBC office at Kew.


Specimens in the EBC are classified according to the Brummitt system of vascular plant families, not according to the more recent Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification that is used in Kew’s Herbarium.

Genus and species

Specimens can be searched by genus (e.g. Salix) , or by genus and species (e.g. Salix triandra). Genera are named according to the Brummitt system of vascular plant families. Note that plant names have not been consistently updated. Plants should be searched for under current accepted names and common synonyms. Names can be checked at the Plants of the World Online.

A few common names are recorded in the database and can be searched using the simple search box, but in general this will not produce consistent results.

TDWG region

When the country of collection is known, the specimen is also classified by the ( TDWG World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions. This allows hierarchical searching by continent, country and (for large countries) regions.

ISO country

Searches by country name. Note that county names that have changed since the 1980s may not have been updated.


Details of place of collection, often using obsolete spellings.


The collector is the person or institution who first obtained the specimen. The donor field is used when specimens have passed through a second person or institution. In practice use of these fields is not consistent, so the search field searches both. Personal names are recorded as Surname Initials, e.g. Hooker JD, but there are many inconsistencies. It is safest to search surname alone. For exhibitions, it is safest to search by year as this will form part of the donor name. For expeditions, use a key word from the expedition title, e.g. Zambesi or Challenger.

Collection/Donor number

These are very inconsistently recorded, but useful for specialist searches.


A short description, usually taken from the Museum Entry book. Distinctive descriptions can be very helpful in linking specimens to their description in Entry Books.

Plant part

This follows terms used in the TDWG Economic Botany Data Standard.

Kew use

List compiled during cataloguing of the EBC in the 1980s. Not consistently applied but can be very useful.

TDWG use

Recorded with level 1 and 2 terms from the TDWG Economic Botany Data Standard.


This is useful for limiting search to wood specimens (search on W1,W2,W3 and W4) or archaeological material (A1). For other searches this field is unlikely to be useful.

Exclude woods

When the box is checked, excludes specimens stored in the wood area. This will not exclude woods stored elsewhere. Useful when woods overwhelm search results. To limit a search to include woods, use the Storage field.

Specimens with images

Limits the search to specimens with images.


In general record images, with colour card and scale (in centimetres), have been placed online. Some images will benefit from colour correction. High-resolution publication quality images, with or without scales, are available direct from the EBC. More images are added to the database each month. We do not have and in-house photographer but can sometimes get objects photographed to order for research and publication.


We have put this data online now, rather than waiting until it is all checked for consistency. Data checking is on-going. Reports of errors are welcome, and should be sent to the EBC via the contact address below. If the database is not working at all, please wait and try it again.


A suggested citation for this database is: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (2012). Economic Botany Collection online database Accessed [date].

If you cite specimens from the EBC, be sure to quote the EBC catalogue number. Our recommended format is EBC ##### (i.e. as a five digit number), e.g. EBC 04732, EBC 70694.


The Economic Botany Collection can be contacted by email at


The content of the original database was compiled in the 1980s by Naomi Rumball, Nicky Biggs and Sue Frisby, with subsequent updating by Julia Steele and Caroline Servaes. This web interface was developed in 2011 and went online in 2012. It was built by Christopher Hopkins of Kew’s IT department, with Mark Nesbitt, curator of the Economic Botany Collection as client. The database was moved to a new software system in 2019 by Eduardo Toledo and Berta Gallego. Most photographs to 2014 are by Andrew McRobb. Grateful acknowledgements are due to the many volunteers who have helped with data entry and organising photography over the past decade.

Terms of use

Online data and images in the Economic Botany Collection are made freely available under a CC-BY licence. Note that the online image files are too small for use in print publications. Please contact us for high resolution images for publication, usually at no charge for scholarly or educational use.

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information held in the database is reliable, Kew is not responsible for any errors or omissions in the data or any damages arising from the use of the data.