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No historical account of Hong Kong in the 17th and 18th centuries mentioned about forest. Most of the western observers who visited Hong Kong in those days had the impression of the Island being no trees, "much grasses". Mr. Richard B. Hinds, a surgeon of the H.M.S. Sulphur, collected plant specimens of 140 species in Hong Kong in 1841 and these were the first authentic records for plant specimen collection in Hong Kong.

During the first 30 years after the foundation of Hong Kong, a number of well-known botanists collected a considerable amount of botanical specimens on the Hong Kong Island. A number of plant species new to science were discovered during the period. However, plant specimens collected in such period were mostly brought out of Hong Kong. Proper curation of plant specimens has only been undertaken in Hong Kong since the establishment of the Hong Kong Herbarium in 1878. The Hong Kong Herbarium is the first public herbarium in China. It is listed in Index Herbarium which recognizes all public herbaria around the world. The Hong Kong Herbarium has been assigned with its acronym - HK, which is unique and internationally recognizable.

Hong Kong Island, North Slope, 1868
same locality covered with vegetation, 1996
same locality, 2013

Highlights of the Hong Kong Herbarium (by year)

Mr. Charles Ford, the then Superintendent of the Government Gardens and Tree Planting Department, made a suggestion in the annual report of 1872 that the Government Garden was a fitting place for the establishment of a herbarium for keeping dried plants specimens.
Mr. C. Ford reported that a public herbarium was in process of formation in Hong Kong. The herbarium was first established with his own collection in Hong Kong and South China. The Hong Kong Herbarium was the first public herbarium in China.
Further collections were added to the Herbarium including specimens collected in Hong Kong and during plant expeditions in Southern China by the Herbarium staff. Contributions and purchases from collectors in adjacent countries in the region were also received. Mr. S.T. Dunn, the then superintendent of the Botanical and Afforestation Department, stated in the Annual Report in 1904 that "the Herbarium is becoming more and more a centre of botanical enterprise in the Far East and a recognition of this is already being shown by the increasing number of requests for botanical information from different parts of China."
Flora of Kwangtung and Hong Kong (China) was published by Dunn & Tutcher, the then Superintendents of the Botanical and Forestry Department of Hong Kong, giving detailed accounts of flora of the southernmost part of China. The work served as a stimulus to local botanical enterprise and provided a foundation for the collection of materials for a more complete Flora.
The Herbarium was of sufficient international significance and special arrangements were made to send the specimen collections to Malaya for safe keeping prior to the Japanese occupation during World War II. During this period, they were cared for by the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
The Herbarium collections were brought back to Hong Kong but most of the books were unfortunately lost. The collections were temporarily housed in the Supper Room of Government House.
The Herbarium published the first stencil Check List of Hong Kong Plants which contained 1,767 species and 24 varieties of vascular plants native to Hong Kong.
The Herbarium celebrated its 100th anniversary. A centenary exhibition was held at the Hong Kong Museum of History.
Hong Kong Herbarium and South China Institute of Botany, Academia Sinica described Asarum hongkongense which is a new species first discovered in the world.
The Hong Kong Herbarium collaborated with the South China Institute of Botany, Academia Sinica to comprehensively review the specimen collection of the Herbarium. The Institute was responsible for organizing the botanists participated in the project.
The 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Herbarium. The “Herbarium Review” project completed with two publications, namely a revised edition of the Check List of Hong Kong Plants and the picture book Rare and Precious Plants of Hong Kong. The Herbarium also began the compilation of a new Flora of Hong Kong by inviting local plant taxonomists and collaborating with a team of Chinese botanists of the South China Institute of Botany.
The first volume of Flora of Hong Kong, edited by South China Botanical Garden (formerly IBSC) and Hong Kong Herbarium, was published in February 2007.
The Flora of Hong Kong (Vol. 2), edited by South China Botanical Garden (formerly IBSC) and Hong Kong Herbarium, was published in March 2008.
The Flora of Hong Kong (Vol. 3), edited by South China Botanical Garden (formerly IBSC) and Hong Kong Herbarium, was published in May 2009.
The Flora of Hong Kong (Vol. 4), edited by South China Botanical Garden (formerly IBSC) and Hong Kong Herbarium, was published in April 2011.

Specimen Collection

The Hong Kong Herbarium is the most comprehensive herbarium in Hong Kong. There are approximately 49,100 plant specimens for examination. The collection includes vascular plants (ferns, gymnosperms and angiosperms) collected mainly in Hong Kong, Southern China and other countries of Southeast Asia.

Within the collection, there are many historical specimens which are more than 100 years old. More importantly, there are about 300 type specimens (the specimens which were described and used for the designation of new species) making the Herbarium regionally important. Please visit Type Specimens for more details.

In the Herbarium, the arrangement of the plant specimens of the ferns follows the system of R. C. Ching (1978); that of the gymnosperms follows Kubitzki (1990); and that of angiosperms follows Cronquist (1988).

The plant specimens are pressed and treated under low temperature at -30℃ for 72 hours. They are then mounted and identified before they are stored in the steel cabinets in the Herbarium which are under 24 hours temperature and humidity control.

Reference Collection

The Herbarium has a reference library. Besides supporting the operation of the Herbarium, it is open to the public for studying the literatures, floras, text books and other reference materials on plant taxonomy. There are a number of classical reference materials in the library. These include:

  • Flora Hongkongensis (1861)
  • Flora of Kwangtung & Hongkong (China) (1912)
  • Flora of Guangzhou (1956; in Chinese)
  • An Enumeration of Philippine Flowering Plants (1925)
  • Flora Australiensis (1878)
  • Flora of India (1872-1897)
  • Flora of Hong Kong, Vol. 1 – 4 (2007 – 2011) & Master Index (2012)

The collections also include recent relevant floras of the region:

  • Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae (in Chinese)
  • Flora of China
  • Iconographia Cormophytorum Sinicorum (in Chinese)
  • Flora of China Higher Plants of China (in Chinese)
  • Flora of Guangdong (in Chinese)
  • Flora Hainanica (in Chinese)
  • Flora Malesiana
  • Flora of Taiwan

The Hong Kong Herbarium has been and continues to be a research centre for botanists. Its collections of specimens, associated field notes and botanical literatures offer good reference materials to botanists who wish to study the flora of Hong Kong and South China.


The Hong Kong Herbarium is responsible for collection, identification and management of specimens of plant species of Hong Kong in accordance with well-established classification system and international practice. Such specimens serve as authentic records of Hong Kong flora.

The Herbarium updates the Check List of Hong Kong Plants and produces educational leaflets on topics regarding local plants and flora conservation. The Herbarium provides assistance on matters related to plant taxonomy and responds to enquiry on Hong Kong flora to government departments, researchers, students and members of the public.

By prior appointments, interested persons are welcome to visit the Herbarium and study the reference books kept at the Herbarium library. Group visit up to 20 people for schools and other non-profit making organizations could also be arranged. Please contact us for detailed arrangement.

Rules for Using the Herbarium Collection

  • Plant taxonomists, professional botanists and other accredited research workers may make use of the Herbarium specimen collections and reference library with prior arrangement with the Herbarium staff.
  • Other visitors including students of tertiary institutions, school teachers, and workers from other related organizations, will be given access to the books in the reference library. They may use the Herbarium specimens only with prior arrangement and with the supervision of Herbarium staff. A letter from their organization summarizing the background of the project and purpose of using the herbarium specimens should be produced.
  • Photography of herbarium specimens could be made only by appointment and prior permission from the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation should be sought.
  • Herbarium specimens must be handled with great care. The Herbarium staff reserves the right to deny any access to herbarium specimens to those who do not properly handle the herbarium specimens.
  • Herbarium specimens must be kept inside the specimen room.
  • Plant specimens must be treated before they are brought into the Herbarium specimen room.
  • As insecticide made of camphor is used in the specimen room for preserving specimens, visitors who are allergic to camphor should not enter.



Virtual Tours

International Seed Exchange Programme

The Herbarium maintains contact with 200 sister herbaria and botanical institutions around the world, including the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (U.K.) and Missouri Botanical Garden (U.S.A.), through an International Seed Exchange Programme.

These institutions exchange seeds which are native to their own regions with each other for plant propagation, conservation and research projects.