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Library of the Gray Herbarium


Asa Gray at his Desk, circa 1875

When the history of the progress of botany during the nineteenth century shall be written two names will hold high positions; those of Professor Augustin Pyrame DeCandolle (Geneva) and Professor Asa Gray. One sank to his rest in the Old World as the other rose to eminence in the New. Both were great teachers, prolific writers, and authors of the best elementary works of botany in their day

Sir Joseph Hooker, 1888


Asa Gray (1810-1888) is well known as the "Father of American Botany" and champion of Charles Darwin. He was called to Harvard in 1842 as the new Fisher Professor of Natural History. At that point there was no herbarium, no library, and only a small greenhouse and garden. Whatever cash Gray could spare from his salary went into the cultivation of his library and herbarium, which soon took over his house.

In 1864 he offered his collections to Harvard with the stipulation that they build a suitable building to house them. That same year a small brick building was built and the collections were moved. At that point it is estimated that there were about 200,000 specimens in the herbarium and approximately 2,200 books and pamphlets in his library.

Today the Library of the Gray Herbarium specializes in botanical history, floras of the new world, and Linnaeana and pre-Linnean sources. It also has a rich archival component.

In 1954 the Gray collection was merged with the research materials from the Library of the Arnold Arboretum. With its emphasis on old world plants this merging helped make Harvard's botany collections extremely comprehensive.

The Gray/Arnold stacks are closed and the collections are non-circulating. Materials may be consulted in the Botany Libraries' main reading room, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

To obtain more information about the Gray Herbarium Library's collections or for a specific reference email us.


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Last updated May 2013
Copyright 2008 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

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