Paleobotany Collections

With approximately 60,000 specimens, the Burke’s collection of fossil leaves, flowers, seeds and fruits, wood, plant microfossils (pollen, plant silica or phytoliths), and fossil insects are the second largest on the West Coast.

Although plant fossils from all over western North America are represented, the focus of these collections is primarily the Cenozoic of the Pacific Northwest. For example, they encompass Eocene macrofossils and insects from Republic, WA, and other Okanagan Highlands floras, and Miocene permineralized wood. The fossil phytolith collection is among the largest in the world, and includes over 6,500 mainly Cretaceous and Cenozoic assemblages.

Apart from fossils, comprehensive reference collections of modern leaves, wood, pollen and phytoliths exist to aid in identification of fossils.

Collection Details

Paleobotany specimens with imprints of leaves arranged in individual trays
Photo: Richard Brown Photography

Highlights: Compression floras (and associated insects, fish, and bird feathers) from the Eocene of Washington and BC (e.g., Republic, McAbee, Princeton) providing unique windows into the warmest period on Earth in the last 65 million years; Miocene compression floras (and associated pollen, phytoliths, diatoms, and insects) from the Miocene of Idaho (e.g., Clarkia), deposited in lakes that formed when the Columbia River Basalts dammed a basin.

The paleobotany megafossil collection includes specimens, mainly from North America, that range from the Devonian to the Pleistocene but with a focus on the Cenozoic. In particular, the Burke holds one of the world’s largest collections of Cenozoic floras for the Pacific Northwest region (Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia). Many of these floras are considered as lagerstätten because of their exceptional preservation, and have produced 57 holotypes.


Cross section of permineralized wood on a black background
Photo: Burke Museum
Permineralized Wood

Highlight: Miocene of Washington (e.g., Vantage).

The collections consists primarily of permineralized wood formed during the Early to Middle Miocene when extensive Columbia River flood basalts covered large parts of the Pacific Northwest. This includes collections made by G.F. Beck. Thin-sections have been made of many of these specimens.


microscopic image of phytoliths
Photo: Burke Museum

Highlights: Cenozoic of North America (e.g., Great Plains, northern Rocky Mountains, and Pacific Northwest); Cenozoic of southern South America (e.g., Gran Barranca); late Cretaceous of India

The phytolith collection consists of slides and vials of biosilica (phytoliths, diatoms, sponge spicules, chrysophyte cysts) extracted from Cretaceous to Pleistocene sediment samples from all over the world (North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Antarctica). Many of the sediment samples were collected from faunal sites.


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Cleared Leaf

Burke paleobotany hosts a small cleared leaf collection featuring temperate hardwood forest leaves.

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Highlights: Exemplars of wood from 150 families worldwide, donated by University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences; Professor Emeritus Minze Stuiver’s reference collection of wood, with which he pioneered using radiocarbon in tree-rings to study solar activity.

The large collection consists of over 5,000 hand specimens of wood from 150 plant families worldwide.

Looking up in a forest, tree trunks, branches, and leaves converge in the center
Photo: Melanie Connor
Phytolith Plant and Soil Assemblage

Highlights: Plant genera and families present in North and South American today; grasses, sampled broadly across the Poaceae phylogeny, and their closest living relatives; soil samples from a range of vegetation types from Costa Rica and New Zealand.

The phytolith plant collection consists of nearly 2,000 slides and vials of phytoliths extracted from modern plant taxa, with leaves, reproductive structures, stem/wood and roots extracted separately. A little less than half of the samples are from grasses (Poaceae); the rest are from a wide variety of mainly land plants (e.g., ‘bryophytes’, ferns, lycopsids, horsetails, conifers and cycads), with a major focus on angiosperms.

Our small phytolith soil assemblage collection features phytolith assemblages extracted from soil samples from mainly North and South America.


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Highlight: Jane Gray’s modern reference collection focused on taxa from temperate forests of North America and East Asia.

Our extensive collection of modern pollen consists of over 6,000 slides and vials of pollen from a wide range of taxa from the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

Collections-Related Services

For more information about specimen loans or visiting the collections, see the Services and Policies page.

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