Online Exhibits

The Botany Libraries host a robust exhibit program. Online exhibits are designed to enhance Harvard courses as well as illuminate aspects of our department's history.

The Botany Libraries staff also work in conjunction with our faculty and HUH staff members to create a series of in-house exhibits that highlight a wide range of botanically inspired topics. Past exhibits have showcased everything from current research to botanical motifs in early 20th century glassware.

Contact the library with any questions about our in-house or online exhibit programs.

Online Exhibits

Amanita phalloides: The Death Cap Mushroom

This exhibit looks at the poisonous aspect of Amanita phalloides as well as some of its fun, if not entirely accurate, appearances in popular culture. It also highlights some important and early identifications and illustrations of this fungus.
This exhibit uses materials from the Farlow Library, Archives, and Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany to illustrate the varied representations of Amanita phalloides in literature, illustration, and specimens, dating from 1727 through the present.

Visit the Amanita phalloides exhibit

Web Exhibit Created 2005, Updated 2011 and 2020.

Asa Gray Bicentennial Web Exhibit

Asa Gray (1810-1888) was responsible for establishing systematic botany at Harvard and the United States. Gray's ties with European botanists combined with his network of collectors in North America allowed him to serve as a central clearinghouse for the identification of plants from newly explored areas of North America. Through these relationships, Gray was able to build the foundation of the current Gray Herbarium at Harvard. Gray wrote a number of botanical textbooks, including his Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, which became the standard field guide.

Gray served as a link between American and European botanical sciences. He reviewed new European scientific works regularly in the American Journal of Science and Arts and was largely responsible for introducing Darwin's theory of natural selection in the United States.

Part of the Asa Gray bicenntenial celebration at HUH was the creation of twelve web exhibits, each highlighting a different aspect of Gray's life and career.

Visit the Asa Gray Bicentennial Exhibit

Web Exhibit Created 2010.

Additional Information & Images:
Harvard Papers in Botany Bicentennial Tribute to Asa Gray issue.
United States Postal Service first-class stamp honoring botanist Asa Gray.

Blaschka Processing Exhibit

A short online exhibit on processing the Archives of Rudolf and Leopold Blaschka and the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants.

Visit the Blaschka Processing exhibit

Consult the finding aid for the Archives of Rudolf and Leopold Blaschka & the Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants.


Botanical Illustrations from the Harvard University Herbaria

The beauty of botany and the importance of scientific accuracy come together in these original works of art in the archives of the Harvard University Herbaria. These collections overseen by the Botany Libraries date from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s and include works by Harvard botanists, professional artists, “amateur” women who studied plants, and others.

This exhibit draws includes original artwork from all five of the Harvard Botany Libraries.

Visit the Botanical Illustrations exhibit.  Some of the illustrations have been digitized and are available in a searchable CURIOSity collection.

Web Exhibit Created 2019

Bound in Intrigue

Books come and go from libraries, drifting in and out of hands, across continents, and through centuries. The Harvard Botany Libraries contain books whose stories and provenance are a mystery; some of which can be strung together by notes scribbled in the margins, stamps from previous owners, embossing, and distinctive original bindings. While many of our books may have once had fascinating lives, they now sit now safe and dry upon our shelves.

This exhibit highlights a few of the stunning books in our collections.

Visit the Bound in Intrigue exhibit

Web Exhibit Created 2011.

Additional Information & Images:
The Center for Bookarts.
Columbia University Libraries Judging a Book by it's Cover.
Michigan State University Libraries How to Judge a Book by it's Cover.

A Collection of Chinese Botanicals

The two-volume collection of botanical paintings on pith paper currently housed in the archives of the Harvard University Herbarium were acquired by Charles Sprague Sargent around 1912.

Pith paper is not rice-paper as it is commonly labeled. The smooth, bone white paper is made from the pith of the Tetrapanax papyriferum plant, which is a member of the Araliaceae (ginseng) family. It is native to southern China and Taiwan, but was not investigated by Western botanists until the early and mid-nineteenth century. Pith paper has been used to make artificial flowers and decorative hairpins in China for centuries, and became extremely popular as a surface for painting with watercolors and tempera in the 1800’s. These paintings were bound in books with silk tape and usually depicted scenes from daily life. In China and Taiwan, the plant was referred to as tung-tsao, meaning ”hollow plant”.

View the Chinese Botanicals exhibit.

Web Exhibit Created 2003, Updated 2011.

Additional Information & Images:
American Society of Botanical Artists. The Pith Paper Collections of Harvard University Botany Libraries.
Harvard Magazine Pith Paper. Rice has nothing to do with it.
Ifan Williams. Chinese Drawings on Pith Paper.
Library of Congress. Preserving Pith Paintings.

Fragile Science

Botanical specimens are inherently fragile; they are composed of living matter doomed to wilt, dry, and crumble to dust. The specimens sent to herbaria are housed there to be preserved, their lives suspended indefinitely in time. Many precautions are taken to ensure the longest life span and the best conditions possible for each incoming specimen. But despite the care and devotion from the curators of the herbaria, there are destructive elements waiting around each bend.

This exhibit illustrates the challenges faced by the HUH curatorial staff and the work that they do to preserve the specimens in the Herbaria.

View the Fragile Science exhibit.

Web Exhibit Created 2009, Updated 2011.

Additional Information & Images:
Missouri Botanical Garden Herbarium Collection Management Policy.
National Park Service Preparing and Storing Herbarium Specimens.
Rutgers University Preservation of Herbarium Specimens.

Harvard University Photograph Album, circa 1906

This album contains forty views of the Harvard Campus as well as other important buildings, monuments, and landmarks in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The album is undated but, based on the dates of the buildings pictured, it was probably compiled around 1906 as a souvenir.   

The album was donated to the Archives of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany in April 2008 by Professor Donald H. Pfister and Cathleen Pfister.

Visit the Harvard University Photograph Album exhibit.

Web Exhibit Created 2008, Updated 2012.

History of Mycological Illustration

In a paper read before the Botanical Society of Washington, D.C. in December 1921, mycologist L. C. C. Krieger pointed out that illustrations are essential for the correct identification of fleshy fungi. He noted that the best illustrations accurately portray the organism's size, shape, color, and other physical characteristics.

Unfortunately, early naturalists faced many obstacles in their attempts to document the fungi they observed. They often lacked fresh specimens, had use of only primitive printing techniques, and in some cases, suffered from overactive imaginations.

The work of illustrators was greatly enhanced by technological advancements such as the introduction of steel- and copperplate engraving in the 17th century, lithographic printing in the 1800s, and the introduction of photography in the 20th century.

This exhibit traces the advances in scientific printing by examining illustrations of fungi in selected books from the Farlow Library of Cryptogamic Botany.

View the History of Mycological Illustration exhibit.

Web Exhibit Created 2004, Updated 2011.

Additional Information & Images:
Harvard Magazine. Don’t Eat Amanitas. A bad-news mushroom.
Mycological Society of America.
MykoLibri: Mycological Library Christian Volbracht.
MykoWeb The Registry of Mushrooms in Works of Art.

Humulus lupulus L. or Hops

This perennial plant belongs to the Cannabidaceae family.  The hops plant is native to Europe and is also found indigenously in some parts of western Asia. Wild hops tends to flourish near waste dumps and roadside wastelands.  

Hops is a climbing vine that can live 10-20 years.  The name hops is drawn from its scaly, cone-shaped fruits. These fruits are covered in glandular hairs possessing a resinous bitter principle, the reason for their extensive utilization in brewing and herbal medicine.

This exhibit presents early works from 1491-1907 from the combined collections of the Botany Libraries.

View the Humulus lupulus exhibit.

Web Exhibit Created 2011.

Additional Information & Images:
American Hop Museum.
Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) Humulus lupulus. Common Hop.
Natural History Museum, London Hops.

In the Field: Botany in the Wild

Fieldwork, while extremely important to the study of botany, is not always pleasant. Botanists put themselves in many difficult situations when going into the field to collect. They face dangerous terrain, unpredictable weather, annoying insects, uncomfortable travel conditions, and exposure to disease.. Botanists venture into new territories, scale giant trees, hang off rocky cliffs, and even dive underwater in search of new plants.

Botanists take to the field to bring home new varieties of plants for study. New discoveries can provide alternative food sources and medicines. All provide insight into the complexity of the living world. As Thomas Jefferson noted: "The greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture..." [The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, 1900].

Besides the possibility of agricultural or medicinal value, there is also an element of excitement in being the first to find and identify a new species of plant. Roland Thaxter (1858-1932), Professor of Cryptogamic Botany and Curator of the Farlow Herbarium, stated in a diary entry from his 1905 collecting trip to South America, "The heart of Smith, poor man, could not beat in unison with the sensation of a botanist at the moment of his first contact with a wholly strange flora."

View the In the Field exhibit.

Web Exhibit Created 2002, Updated 2011.

Life and Works of Theodor Holmskjold

Fifty-seven newly named fungi, five new combinations, and 52 new taxa are only part of the significance of Johan Theodor Holmskjold's Beata Ruris Otia Fungis Danicis Impensa,  [Happy Resting Periods in the Country Studying Danish Fungi].

The stunningly rendered and impeccably accurate illustrations in the two-volume work led Swedish botanist Anton Jahan Retzius (1742-1821) to call it "the most brilliant work which had appeared up to that time." C. H. Persoon (1755-1837), father of systematic mycology considered the work of great value and the illustrations the most beautiful he had seen.

View the Theodor Holmskjold exhibit.

Web Exhibit Created 2007, Updated 2011.

Photographs by Carleton Watkins

This exhibit highlights the mammoth albumen photographs of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove by Carleton Watkins.  Carleton Watkins was a distinguished award winning nineteenth century photographer of the American West. Best known for his photographs of Yosemite, San Francisco, the Pacific Coast, Arizona and Nevada, it has been estimated that he produced tens of thousands of photographs of mines, railroads, cities, estates and landscapes during his lifetime.

In 1999 the 22 prints in the Watkins Archives were examined and treated by Boston Art Conservation. The objects were photographed both before and after treatment to document condition.  The Watkins photographs were placed in a custom cut mat constructed of 4-ply mat board. Corner pockets to hold the photograph in place were designed using a heavy weight, high alpha cellulose paper. The matted photographs were covered with a thin, translucent interleaving paper and placed in custom designed boxes.

View the Carleton Watkins Photograph exhibit.

Additional Information:
Friedel, Megan K. “Guide to the Carleton E. Watkins Photographs 1861-1885.” Northwest Digital Archives. 2007. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. Retrieved from

A Wreath for Dr. Farlow: The Creation of Icones Farlowianae

The creation of Icones Farlowianae: Illustrations of the Larger Fungi of Eastern North America was a long and complex journey. It involved no less than four botanists, two professional artists, two commercial printers, one warehouse, and numerous photographers and editors. The work spanned more than forty years and cost an estimated $50,000 at a time when a lavish new house cost less than $9,000.

Icones, from the Latin “icon,” meaning an image or figure, is a collection of illustrations representing a specific object or subject. Icones Farlowianae was an important project for Professor William Gilson Farlow who, although carrying a full teaching and administrative schedule for most of the years he labored over it, believed that it would serve as a much needed guide to the fungi of eastern North America, especially for those who did not possess a large collection of fungi to use in conjunction with identification.

View the Icones Farlowianae exhibit.

Web Exhibit Created 2000, Updated 2003.