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The forgotten Hermann Herbarium: A 17th century collection of useful plants from Suriname

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The National Herbarium of the Netherlands houses a 17th century, bound herbarium containing 51 dried specimens from Suriname, which was composed by the well-known botanist Paul Hermann (1646–1695). This is considered as the oldest documented herbarium collection not only for Suriname but for the Guianas region. Most specimens are accompanied by (pre-Linnaean) Latin or vernacular names and sometimes by Latin descriptions of the plants and their uses. To assess the importance of this collection for the present-day flora and ethnobotany of Suriname, we identified all specimens (one by using ancient DNA analysis), translated the Latin texts, traced back the origin of the herbarium in national archives, 17th century and modern literature and compared plant names and uses with present-day ethnobotanical data. We digitized the entire herbarium and made it available online ( The specimens were probably collected around 1687 by a certain Hendrik Meyer, who had a keen interest in botany and indigenous plant use. The 48 species in the herbarium are almost all useful plants: cultivated crops, wild edible fruits, medicinal plants, timber trees, fish poison, colorants and roof thatch material. Most species are used similarly today, and more than half of the vernacular names still exist in the region. The presence of Abelmoschus esculentus and Sesamum indicum in the herbarium prove the early establishment of African food plants in the emerging plantation economy of Suriname. Unlike Hermann's collections from Ceylon and the Cape, this herbarium was never seen by Linnaeus and therefore does not contain any type specimens.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden University, P.O. Box 9514, 2300 RA Leiden, the Netherlands;, Email: 2: Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden University, P.O. Box 9514, 2300 RA Leiden, the Netherlands 3: National Herbarium of the Netherlands (Naturalis BC), Wageningen University, Gen. Foulkesweg 37, 6703 BL Wageningen, the Netherlands

Publication date: December 14, 2012


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