Researching your collection

Research into a collection could include verifying plant names, historical research or focused scientific inquiry.

This page provides a starting point for those new to plant research.

Plant naming

See the Understanding Plant Names page for an overview of how plants are named.


Holders of National Collections can get free access to JSTOR, which is an online digital library of academic journals, books and primary sources. Please contact us for a login.

Online plant databases

For cultivar research, the RHS maintains a database of plants in UK horticulture, which includes availability through the Plant Finder. Many genera have an International Cultivar Registry (ICRA) who maintain a list of all the cultivars registered in that genus. Many historic nursery catalogues have been digitised and can be found via google books

For researching species, Kew Plants of the World is a good, up-to-date reference, though mainly focussed on seed bearing species. World Flora Online aims to be the first online flora for all known plants and includes links to many national floras, but it is still a work in progress. The BGCI maintain a database of plants in botanic gardens around the world.

Watch this video from an online research workshop in Feb 2023 for an overview of the main plant species databases:

General online research resources

There are many online resources which you may find useful, ranging from scanned archives of old nursery catalogues, to botanical floras from around the world. Click here for a list of online plant research resources compiled by the conservation team as the result of a workshop held in 2023.

This blog post also outlines useful websites for finding plants in UK botanic gardens.

Finding rarity and threat status

If you are wanting to research the rarity, or threat status of a species, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has an online search facility. For finding out the rarity and threat status of cultivars, see the work being done by our Threatened Plants Programme. 

Library research

The RHS libraries at Wisley, Rosemoor, Hyde Hall, Harlow Carr and Central London are open to anyone by appointment. They hold a huge amount of horticultural literature between them, including around 28,000 UK nursery catalogues from over 2000 nurseries for reference. You can search these online and some of their historic nursery catalogues are being digitised. International nursery catalogues are kept at Kew and many other institutions hold a selection.  

Herbaria can be an excellent source of plant specimens for comparison. 'Type' or 'Standard' specimens are the original point of reference for a species or cultivar. Kew, Wisley, RBG Edinburgh, the Natural History Museum, botanic gardens, local museums and many universities all have herbaria.

The physical sheets can be viewed by appointment, but many are digitised and available for anyone to search and view through JSTOR. See herbaria page for more information about contributing to a herbarium.

We have a produced a basic guide here outlining the correct way to write plant names.

"A plant without a name, or with an unreliable name or a synonym is of little use. A National Collection full of plants with unreliable names and synonyms is a nightmare!"

To read an account of one collection holders research into the plant names of their collection, click here.

Macro alias: ImageWithCaption

eg: plant genus, common name, county, collection holder name.