Peter Derek Sell

Peter Derek Sell (1929 – 2013)
Assistant Curator, Cambridge University Herbarium, 1972 – 1997.  Following Peter’s retirement in 1997, he continued working on completing his Flora of Great Britain and Ireland series until his sudden death in October 2013.

Peter Sell joined the Herbarium of the University of Cambridge’s Botany School – now the Department of Plant Sciences – in 1944, at the age of 14.  As a young boy, Peter preferred bird-watching to plants, however his job in the Herbarium developed to a life-long study of British and European flora.  Together with his colleagues and Herbarium Curators, Gina Murrell and (later Director of the Botanic Garden) Max Walters, Peter Sell has co-authored the five-volumed Flora of the Great Britain and Ireland. The first volume, Volume 5: Butomaceae – Orchidaceae was published in 1997.  This was followed by Volume 4 in 2006, and Volume 3 in 2009.  The final Volumes 1 and 2 are currently in production at the Cambridge University Press.

Peter was involved in the International Flora Europaea project, also published in five volumes (1964 – 1980).  In addition he has co-authored Flora of Cambridgeshire (1964) and Flora of the Maltese Islands (1977).

The Flora of Cambridgeshire, a survey of local plants was co-authored by Franklyn Perring, Max Walters, Harold Whitehouse and Peter Sell in 1964.  The book has broad appeal:  ‘Botanists, conservationists and naturalists will find this historic flora provides a valuable baseline for contemporary studies, including those focusing on biodiversity, extinction or the effects of climate change.


Peter Sell sitting in Professor Charles Babington’s (Professor of Botany 1861 – 1895) chair in the Herbarium Library, 2013.
Peter Sell’s prodigious knowledge of Britain’s native flora and his specialist interest in Hieracium (Hawkweed), led to invitations by Canon Charles Raven, theologian and Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge, to join Raven and his son, John, on botanical trips around Great Britain. Both Charles Raven and his son were keen botanical artists. Their sketches, undertaken between 1930 – 1955, have been published in Wild Flowers, a sketchbook, by Charles and John Raven, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, 2012.

Max WaltersUnder the mentorship of Humphrey Gilbert-Carter and Max Walters (left), Peter participated in European botanical field trips across Britain and Europe.  Peter was awarded a Masters in Botany.  Over the decades, Peter Sell and his colleague Gina Murrell collected plant specimens from across the country and Europe.  It is estimated that Peter’s herbarium collection now numbers over 25,000 specimens.  This collection includes flowers, trees and shrubs.

Henslow's primula 2

Henslow’s primula herbarium sheet, the Cambridge University Herbarium, now located in the Sainsbury Laboratory of Plant Sciences, adjacent to the Botanic Garden.

Peter Sell visited the Botanic Garden each morning until 1997, before starting work at the Herbarium.  During his early morning rounds, Peter collected specimens and observed the changes to the trees, shrubs and flowering plants over the seasons.

Garden Voices  Listen to Peter Sell talking about Botanic Garden Director and Herbarium Curator, Humphrey Gilbert-Carter (1921 – 1950).

Selected Publications
Sell PD and Gina Murrell, Flora of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1: Lycopodiaceae – Salicaceae Cambridge, in press
Sell PD and Gina Murrell, Flora of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 2: Capparaceae – Grossulariaceae, Cambridge, in press
Sell PD and Gina Murrell, Flora of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 3: Mimosaceae – Lentibulariaceae, Cambridge, 2009
Sell PD and Gina Murrell, Flora of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 4: Campanulaceae – Asteraceae, Cambridge, 2006
Sell PD and Gina Murrell, Flora of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 5: Butomaceae – Orchidaceae, Cambridge, 1996
Haslam SM, Peter Sell and PA Wolseley, A Flora of the Maltese Islands, 1977
Perring Franklyn, Peter Sell, Max Walters, Harold Whitehouse, A Flora of Cambridgeshire, 1964
Perring Franklyn, Max Walters, Peter Sell, Atlas of the British flora, 1962