Seed Herbarium

Seed Herbarium

Beginning in the 1960s, Arboretum propagator Al Fordham created a seed herbarium to assist the growing of unfamiliar species. Collecting the seed of several hundred rare and unusual taxa, Fordham envisioned a unique resource for the identification and propagation of woody plants from around the world. Carrying forward Fordham’s vision, Arboretum greenhouse staff continued to collect, and today maintain a seed herbarium of more than 2,100 samples, of which 662 are drawn from accessioned plants in the living collection.

Seed Herbarium Image Project (SHIP)

In 2004, the Seed Herbarium entered the digital age. The Seed Herbarium Image Project (SHIP), made possible through the generous support of the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, Cabot Family Charitable Trust, and J. Frank Schmidt Family Charitable Foundation, employed high resolution digital photography to document the morphology of seeds. Whenever possible, associated fruit structures and seeds of closely allied species were also photographed. The resulting collection of images supports scientists, horticulturists, propagators, nurseries, and educators, particularly in conservation research and management of rare and endangered species. The digitized images of seed offer an important aid for teaching seed identification—a fundamental skill in plant propagation, hybridization, and distribution.

Search Seed Images

The Arnold Arboretum’s Seed Herbarium collections can be searched by entering the scientific name, family name, or Arboretum accession number. Seeds of the following genera are available through this resource: Abies, Acacia, Acer, Actinidia, Albizia, Alnus, Amorpha, Andromeda, Aralia, Arctostaphylos, Aronia, Berberis, Betula, Broussonetia, Buddleia, Carpinus, Carya, Elliottia, Enkianthus, Erica, Fagus, Ilex, Rhododendron, Stewartia, Syringa, Tsuga, Zabelia. Browse a gallery of closely allied species.

  • Use * or ] as a wildcard character.
    • For example, to search for all values starting with with Acer, enter acer* or acer].
  • Multiple search criteria should be separated by a comma.
    • For example, to look up both Acer barbinerve and Acer cappadocicum ssp. lobelii, enter Acer barbinerve, Acer cappadocicum lobelii.
  • Omit authorities or cultivar indicators eg. cv., or intraspecific epithet(s)
  • Entries can be either upper or lower case.

Records for this project are cataloged in the Arboretum’s collections management database, BG-BASE. Search functionality is hosted by the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Protocol for Measurements and Key to Abbreviations

Care has been taken to accurately document the overall size of the accessioned seed. In several genera, including Syringa, we have shown aspects of the plant parts, in many instances both longitudinal and transverse views.

Color and size of seed at the time of collection may differ from the time of digital capture. We have often grouped fruit and seed of species within a genus together, allowing side-by-side comparison. The following diagrammatic images provide key terms and measurement guidelines for select genera.


Upon a given image you may see a set of perpendicular lines. This is the delineation line. Within this area you will find an abbreviation. The abbreviation signifies the plant part as follows:

BR – bract NT – nut
CAP – capsule SA – samara
CN – cone SCL – scale
FR – fruit SD – seed
HSK – husk SG – seedling
ND – needle WS – winged seed