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Founded in 1761 by a member of the royal family, presented to the nation in 1841, and located on the Thames River west of London, Kew is one of the most famous botanic gardens in the world. Consisting of more than 117 hectares (289 acres), it has four museums, laboratories, a large herbarium, and numerous greenhouses. Several thousand plant species from throughout the world are grown both indoors and out. The most significant structure with regard to cacti is the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Officially opened in 1987, this remarkable structure contains a wide variety of plants, from tropical ferns and carnivorous plants to those of the dry tropics and subtropics. Cacti are prominently displayed and identified in the dry portions, one part of which includes a panorama backdrop of the Sonoran Desert. Kew also has a large collection of cacti in greenhouses that are dedicated to research; they maybe visited only by appointment. Collections by numerous English botanists, including D. R. Hunt, N. P. Taylor, and D. C. Zappi, are found at Kew.

Herbaria

Herbaria consist of dried, pressed plant specimens, attached to standard-sized herbarium sheets together with labels, and carefully filed and curated in permanent cabinets. The dried collections are often supplemented with liquid-preserved specimens and other special collections. Herbaria are often part of the collections at botanic gardens, research institutes, or universities, and are usually associated with library collections, all of which are needed for botanical research. The label on an herbarium specimen is usually placed at the lower right-hand corner of the sheet and bears the name of the plant, the location where it was collected, the elevation, ecological data, and the date, name, and collection number of the collector. Smaller annotation labels, added by later researchers, may bear additional data, especially on the identification and correct name of the plant. Data may be fewer, especially if the specimen is older, for early collectors were often unaware of the significance of details we now expect. For example, collections made in Mexico prior to later in the twentieth century often include only the state in which the plant was collected, or perhaps the city if one was nearby. Of course, better maps make the task much easier today, and currently collected specimens often now have the exact latitude, longitude, and elevation from global positioning systems. Herbaria are thus "libraries" of plant specimens containing surprisingly large amounts of information. Herbarium specimens remain essential for systematic work on cacti, though unfortunately, many early workers did not recognize the need for preserved material and did not bother to carry out the often difficult task of making herbarium specimens or preserving plants in alcohol.

Another important function of the herbarium is to serve as a repository for voucher specimens for laboratory studies. Whether the research be anatomical, scanning electron microscopy of pollen or seeds, or DNA analysis, for example, it is necessary that a voucher of the plant studied be deposited in an herbarium so that future researchers may confirm exactly what was studied. Type specimens, the actual individual plants upon which formal Latin scientific names have been conferred, must also be deposited in an herbarium. Taxonomic research on cacti, like that on most plants, is an international, collective endeavor, and the loan of specimens between institutions around the world is an important activity for most herbaria.

In most instances, cacti make up only a relatively small portion of each herbariums collection, which may amount to many thousands, even millions, of specimens. On the other hand, certain specialized collections, such as those of the Desert Botanical Garden and the Ziirich Succulent Plant Collection, have herbaria with a high percentage of cacti.

The following list includes many of the major herbaria that have important collections of cacti. The name of the institution is followed by the herbarium abbreviation that serves as the official designation of the International Association for Plant Taxonomy, and some of the major contributors of cactus specimens to each herbarium are listed.

Herbario, Instituto de Botánica Darwinion (SI) Casilla de Correo 22,1642 San Isidro, Buenos Aires, Argentina This important Argentine herbarium contains the cactus collection of R. Kiesling, his colleagues, and predecessors.

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