In 1924, when Taiwan had been under Japanese colonial rule for just shy of 30 years, the colonial authorities put up a building in Taipei’s botanical garden. Unlike some of the monumental buildings put up by the colonial authorities in Taipei, this was a simple brick building of two stories, not something built to impress. However, inside this building, an important project was underway- a project to identify Taiwan’s plants and plot their distribution. This was the Taipei Botanical Gardens’ herbarium. Teams of researchers were sent out across Taiwan on surveying missions, charged with collecting plant samples from across the island. The plants they brought back were sent here for treatment, identification, cataloguing, and storage.
Japanese rule ended in 1945 and the early search for economically useful plants has since given way to more academic concerns. But even today, the work of surveying Taiwan’s plant life and plotting what grows where is still ongoing. In 2017, well after this work had moved to a more modern facility, the old herbarium opened to the public as a monument to the leaders of early botany in Taiwan. Inside, visitors can see how plants were identified and cured and where samples were stored in a kind of plant library. They can also learn about the history of botany in Taiwan and especially about the lives of three botanists who contributed most to the understanding of Taiwan’s flora.