Vegetation History

Reconstructed view of late Carboniferous coal swamps of South Wales.  Artwork by A. Townsend.

Reconstructed view of late Carboniferous coal swamps of South Wales. Artwork by A. Townsend.

This is the study of the plant life of the past as preserved in the fossil record, including the spore/pollen record.

Plant biodiversity is very sensitive to environmental change, especially climate change. The study of vegetation history is a powerful tool for revealing how our world has changed through time.

The fossil record also helps us understand the evolutionary history of plant life, and the relationships between different groups of plants. Such work therefore complements the study of modern plant biodiversity, giving it the fourth dimension of time.

The Section focuses on the vegetation during the two most recent times in Earth's history when there was substantial polar ice: late Carboniferous and early Permian times (310-290 million years ago) and Pleistocene and modern times (about the last 2 million years). The fossil history of plant life from these two time intervals is particularly well represented in Wales.


Prints and drawings

A superb collection of some 9000 prints and drawings, from professional engravings to amateur watercolours. It includes works by masters of botanical illustration such as Ehret, Redouté and Fitch. The collection is well documented and conserved and there is a high level of expertise within the Department. A comprehensive catalogue is being prepared. Current research is concentrated on the strengths of collection, notably work by female botanical artists and also the unique Bute Botanical Tables by John Miller.

Photographic transparencies

Some 47,000 35mm and medium format photographic transparencies. The strengths of this collection are the Welsh flora and environment, alpine plants and botanical illustrations.

Botanical philatelic collection

Over 23,000 stamps, miniature sheets, first day covers and maxicards from around the world, illustrating a wide range of plants, fungi and plant fossils. These are used for exhibitions and displays.


The section as part of a public-funded institution will carry out identifications of plant fossils free of charge subject to status. We reserve the right to decline this service if the request is unreasonable, e.g. too large, too time-consuming, or because we lack relevant expertise. The section will undertake identifications on a commercial basis under contract. Prospective clients should detail the project and request costed proposals from a member of section staff.