The earliest herbarium in Denmark belonged to professor O. Worm. He acquired the Marcgrave herbarium from the Netherlands in 1653. The material of the Museum Wormeanum was later acquired by ‘Naturaliekabinettet’ at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, which was founded in 1759 and also received Forsskål’s collections. When ‘Naturaliekabinettet’ was closed in 1770, the plant material was delivered to the Botanical Garden at Amalienborg, and in turn moved to a new garden at Charlottenborg. Later the garden acquired several private herbaria after the death of the owners, and these collections were kept separate.

In 1842, the first assistant, Jens Vahl, was employed at the herbarium. In 1843 the director of the garden, J.F. Schouw, decided to reorganize all the herbarium collections into one herbarium of non-vascular plants and five herbaria of phanerogams and vascular cryptogams: A Danish, an Arctic, a General, a European and a Central American herbarium. The latter two herbaria were later incorporated in the General Herbarium. The old book-herbaria remained at the Botanical Library until much later.

In 1883, after the garden had moved to its present site, the herbaria got their own director, H. Kjærskov, and a new department, the Botanical Museum, was established and housed in a new building inside the garden at Gothersgade 130. Very quickly the collections grew too voluminous to be all accommodated in that building, and in 1984, the largest herbarium unit, the General Herbarium, moved to the former Polytechnic School at Sølvtorvet.

In 2004, the Botanical Museum was included in The Natural History Museum of Denmark along with the Botanical Garden, the Zoological Museum and the Geological Museum, and the former department is now again named 'the herbarium'. In the near future the General Herbarium will move to a temporary storage at Priorparken in Brøndby Municipality, together with almost all other herbaria, while we build Denmarks new Natural History Museum. The collections will still be open to visiting researchers during temporary storage.

Our oldest collection is perhaps a small book-herbarium that may have been prepared in Holland in 1610. The oldest accurately dated collections are the Marcgrave Herbarium and Heerfordt’s herbarium. The oldest specimens mounted on loose sheets are probably P. Osbeck’s plants from his Asian voyage in 1750–1752, and D. Rolander's plants from his journey to Surinam in 1754–1755. However, the most important early collection, Forsskål's material from the expedition to Yemen in 1761-63 was acquired earlier.

Photos of the botanical buildings at Charlottenburg and Gothersgade 130 in Copenhagen

Left: Main building at Charlottenborg (1832-1854). Right: The Botanical Museum at Gothersgade 130 (photo 1912)


The main building in the botanical garden behind Charlottenborg (functioned 1778-1874) was located along the southern side of Nyhavn from the north wing of Charlottenborg to the building with the street number Nyhavn 6. In the beginning there were greenhouses at ground level towards the garden in the whole building. The professor of botany (also director of the garden), had his residence in rooms towards the harbour in the western wing (towards the viewer). The head gardener lived in similar rooms in the eastern wing. The first floor of the middle part of the building housed the botanical library.

Later, separate greenhouses were constructed elsewhere in the garden, and the two residences expanded to fill the wings. Space for the preserved collections was always inadequate in the Charlottenborg garden. The herbaria were first kept on the first floor of the main building, but in 1832 an additional two-storey building was erected (seen behind a tree near the right edge of the painting). The ground floor of this building was occupied by a lecture hall, and the first floor housed dried collections (incl. samples of wood, useful plants and seeds) and spirit collections.

When Liebmann in 1843 came back from his expedition to Mexico (1840-1843) his large collections had at first to be kept in rooms at Christiansborg Castle. In 1854 a third storey was added to the additional building to accommodate the expanding herbaria, and after Liebmann’s death in 1856 the Director’s residence was abolished and that space also used for herbaria. The painting, by J.L. Jensen, belongs to the University of Copenhagen and shows the situation between 1832 and 1854.

The Botanical Museum

The establishment of the museum building at Gothersgade to keep the collections transferred from the Charlottenborg garden was fraught with difficulties from the very outset. According to the committee that organised the new Botanical Garden (lead by J.C. Jacobsen, founder of the Carlsberg Breweries and the Carlsberg Foundation) the museum building was initially to be erected along Gothersgade according to a design by the architect Christian Hansen, who had also designed the Municipality Hospital (1859-63), the Observatory (1859-1861) and the Zoological Museum (1863-1869). Christian Hansen’s design for the new museum was criticised by some of the botanists with the University, and the grant from the Parliament for the new garden did therefore not include funds for a museum building. The committee had a new design drafted, but Parliament again refused a grant because the design was considered too expensive to build.

Then a new design was proposed by the architects Vilhelm Dahlerup and Ove Pedersen (who in 1870 had designed the Royal Theatre at Kongens Nytorv). But in 1874 Dahlerup and Pedersen’s design was again rejected by Parliament with a request for a significantly cheaper design. The committee maintained that such reductions would be irresponsible, but in 1875 the Parliament granted a sum which it considered the building should cost. The committee refused to have further responsibility for the establishment of a museum building, and no architect wanted to design it under the given conditions.

Therefore, in 1876 a building was designed and built at Gothersgade by the Copenhagen master builder Hans Nielsen Fussing. The aesthetics of Fussing’s building is generally praised, but the economic constraints caused it to be completely inadequate. In 1881, the last collections from the Charlottenborg garden were moved to the building in Gothersgade, and already in 1895 an application for a new and larger museum was submitted to the government via the University. This was not granted, and nothing came out of repeated applications until the 1980s, when the General herbarium moved to newly redesigned rooms in Sølvtorvskomplekset, the former Polytechnical University, to where the collections of fungi and algae had already been moved previously.

Until the moves in the 1980s, large parts of the herbaria and museum collections were out-posted from the building in Gothersgade to rooms in buildings or basements belonging to the University near Frue Plads or to specially hired rooms in Linnesgade and Rømersgade. Lately, the building in Gothersgade has housed the herbaria with vascular plants from Denmark and Greenland and the moss Herbarium.