Nothing gets abandoned or discarded here. Every plant is conferred with an identity and carefully preserved. The birth certificate is archived for posterity. The National Herbarium set deep within the Peradeniya Gardens has a lot on its hands. It is as charming as its verdant surroundings.
The building, a pristine white edifice, has an interior fitted with wooden cupboards, glass-showcases and numerous shelves nestling specimens of each and every plant or tree in the country. The National Herbarium has a massive collection of 148,000 dried specimens reported from all over the country, even the remotest corner, meticulously preserved with the specimens tagged with details on where and when the plant was collected, its habitat, colour and the name of the collector.
National care centre for plants
A national centre with a valuable floral catalogue (some of the specimens at this national bio-repository are nearly 200 years old), the National Herbarium catalogues and maintains the “birth certificates” of plants. Exploration, identification, specimen preparation and documentation and revision of the floral wealth of the country are important tasks performed at the herbarium.
Some plants date back to the 19th century. “Native” plants are colour-coded red, while green is for cultivated plants and brown for exotics or aliens. If a plant is not at the Herbarium either it is new to Sri Lanka or it has not been named yet.
A herbarium is vital to study plant taxonomy (coming from the Greek taxis, or “arrangement”, it means the practice and science of classification), the geographic distribution of plants and also their nomenclature. Flowers, stems, leaves, seed and fruit are preserved alongside each specimen.