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Strahov Monastery Xylotheque (1825)
Volumes in a xylotheque in Lilienfeld, Austria
Interior of the Xiloteque Manuel Soler, in Dénia (Spain)

A xylotheque or xylothek (from the Greek xylon for "wood" and "theque" meaning "repository") is special form of herbarium that consists of a collection of authenticated wood specimens.[1] It is also known as a xylarium (from the Greek xylon for "wood" and Latin "arium" meaning "separate place"). Traditionally, xylotheque specimens were in the form of book-shaped volumes, each made of a particular kind of wood and holding samples of the different parts of the corresponding plant. While the terms are often used interchangeably, some use xylotheque to refer to these older collections of wooden 'books' and xylarium for modern collections in which some or all of the specimens are in simpler shapes, such as blocks or plaques with information engraved on their surfaces.[1] Many countries have at least one xylotheque with native flora, and some also house flora from other parts of the world. They are valuable to specialists in forestry, botany, conservation, forensics, art restoration, paleontology, archaeology, and other fields.[2]


Xylotheques date back to the later 17th century, when wood specimens began to appear in cabinets of curiosity.[3] Over time, they grew larger and more systematic, with hundreds of individual volumes in a single collection. The oldest extant collection was established in 1823 at the University of Leningrad, and by the middle of the century they had been established in many European countries.[1][3][4] Australia now houses 12 xylaria holding 11% of the world's wood specimens,[4] while the Oxford Forestry Institute's xylarium holds about 13%.[1]

In older xylotheques, the wooden volumes were typically made out of the same wood as the specimens inside and sometimes decorated with tree bark and associated lichens and mosses.[3] Each volume housed seeds, flowers, twigs, and leaves from the corresponding tree or bush, along with a written description hidden in a small compartment set into the inner spine. An alternative form of xylotheque found in Japan and elsewhere featured paintings of the plant parts rather than actual field specimens.[3]

Even a modest collection of wood samples has value, as each of its samples has a particular history. Xylotheques provide comparison samples for xylotomy, art historical studies, and scientific studies of the physical and mechanical properties of wood, such as durability and preservation. Xylotheques are also useful for anyone who needs to make a morphological-visual analysis of wood.

The xylotheque with the largest number of samples is the Samuel James Record Collection in the United States, which holds 98,000 samples. Formerly housed at the Forestry School of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, it was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory in 1969.[1][5] The second largest xylotheque belongs to the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, with 57,000 samples.[1] The Thünen Institute of Wood Research in Hamburg has more than 37,000 samples.[6]

Selected xylotheques[edit]

Xyloteque Samples
Xylarium Bogoriense, Bogor (Indonesia) 187,657[7]
Madison, Wisconsin (United States) 98,000[1]
Tervuren (Belgium) 57,000[1]
Hamburg (Germany) 37,000[6]
RBG Kew (UK) 34,000[8]
São Paulo (Brazil) 17,000[9]
Beecroft (Australia) 13,000[9]

In popular culture[edit]

For documenta 13 in 2012, American artist Mark Dion created a new hexagonal display chamber for the Schildbach Xylotheque at the Natural History Museum in Kassel, Germany. As part of the project, he created six new volumes made of wood from each of the continents (excluding Antarctica).[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Xylarium" Claude E. Phillips Herbarium, Delaware State University.
  2. ^ "Xylarium". Kerala Forest Research Institute.
  3. ^ a b c d Lovejoy, Bess. "Xylotheks: Wondrous Wooden Books That Hold Wooden Collections". Atlas Obscura, May 22, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Hopewell, Gaz. "The Queensland Government Xylaria". Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland Government.
  5. ^ "Forest Products Laboratory - USDA Forest Service". www.fpl.fs.fed.us. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  6. ^ a b "Service for Timber Trade Associations and Consumers". Thünen Institute.
  7. ^ "Ministry to name Bogor's Xylarium world's largest wood collection". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  8. ^ "Wood collection (xylarium)", Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.
  9. ^ a b "FAO Forestry Paper 71". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1986.
  10. ^ Brindley, Jack. "Mark Dion - The Schildbach Xylotheque 'Wood Library'". Open File, Aug. 6, 2012.

External links[edit]