There is only one thing better than a postage stamp rendered with a plant-inspired design, and that is a complete collection of postage stamps ever issued within a specific plant area. Thematically ‘plants’ is too wide an area to begin a foray into the most interesting OCD activity ever invented. It needs to be narrowed down a little. This can be done in one of two ways. Either search for one stamp with a plant species design for each of the current plant families of the world, or find every stamp ever issued for as many species as possible within one chosen plant family. Why use family? Good question.
To enable us humans to get to grips with all the known flowering plants in the world, taxonomists have grouped them together under the following ranks: Order, Family, Genus and Species. Order is not good for stamp collecting use, because it’s too broad, hard to connect to a plant, and no-body really cares about it anyway. Beneath family, well then the numbers get too large or too specific, depending on which way you take it: A single genus is generally too specialised to find many stamps, whereas one from each is too many – you can see this by visiting The Plant List’s genera website page and waiting for it to load. And with approximately 350,000+ species in the world, where would you start and end this collection? You could do it by country, but that’s not so exciting stamp discovery-wise. However, family is a great rank to search beneath or across. With the total number of plant families currently coming in at 413 under the APGIII classification system, it is a manageable target to aim for and exciting to see how many are represented on a postage stamp. Alternatively, species from one chosen family has the makings of a great stamp album too. How many stamps have been issued that contain an Asteraceae species design? As it is considered the largest family in the world, with approximately 23k species, our guess is hundreds. How many stamps issued for Gunneraceae? Not so many. A moderately sized and fairly well-known family is probably a good choice.
So with all this in mind, imagine Plant Curator’s excitement when it found a website that offered a head start. plantstamps.net lists all found stamps by plant family, in alphabetical order. Unfortunately it uses the Cronquist system of taxonomic classification (so some differences to APGIII) and it is in Japanese, which means that many of us are at the mercy of Google Translate. For example, in an attempt to learn about the sites creators, the first sentence of ‘About this site’ came out as follows:
“In this site, I am pleased to introduce the flowers and plants of the world depicted in the stamp. Than on the stamp, site content is the information center of the plant if anything.”
These are minor hurdles to overcome. Species names, often recorded by the website, and the stamps themselves, are both universally understandable. Plant Curator’s favourite family Gentianaceae has a rather good showing on the site. Five stamps. Now we know what we are looking for, all we need is to acquire the real things and keep looking for more. See below for some Q&A on how to do this.
What’s the point of all this? It’s the excitement of finding and seeing the plant art beautifully and diversely rendered by some of the world’s great botanical artists.
I have a stamp with a species name on it, how do I find out what family it belongs to?
The Catalogue of Life search box will help.
I have a stamp with a common name on it, how do I find out what family it belongs to?
You need to try to find the species name or at least the genus it is from. This shouldn’t be too difficult. Type the common name into google and see if you can find a match. Once you have this check the plants match as common names can refer to more than one species. From here Catalogue of Life or Wikipedia will give you a family name.
I have a stamp with a plant picture on but no name and I don’t know what it is?
Take a picture of it and send it to your local herbarium or an online plant identification forum like the Natural History Museum’s Nature Plus.
How do I find out how many species are currently in my chosen plant family?
Wikipedia has a page for every plant family and usually the number of species is the first thing it tells you. Otherwise you can go to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Website and look up your family but it’s slightly confusing for a novice. See bottom of page for the 40+ largest plant families.
Where do I find a list of the plant families found under APGIII classification system?
The seed site has a table showing them all.
How do I find stamps with plant designs on?
That is a good question. After you’ve exhausted plantstamps.net and all you can find on Google, its time to hit the philatelic databases and record books. Plant Curator hopes to pick the brains of a plant thematic postage stamp specialist in the not too distant future. Watch this space.
Largest Plant Families of the World (approx. species numbers)
Asteraceae or Compositae (daisy family): 22,750 species
Orchidaceae (orchid family): 21,950
Fabaceae or Leguminosae (bean family): 19,400
Rubiaceae (madder family): 13,150
Poaceae or Gramineae (grass family): 10,035
Lamiaceae or Labiatae (mint family): 7,175
Euphorbiaceae (spurge family): 5,735
Melastomataceae or Melastomaceae (melastome family): 5,005
Myrtaceae (myrtle family): 4,625
Apocynaceae (dogbane family): 4,555
Cyperaceae (sedge family): 4,350
Malvaceae (mallow family): 4,225
Araceae (arum family): 4,025
Ericaceae (heath family): 3,995
Gesneriaceae (gesneriad family): 3,870
Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (parsley family): 3,780
Brassicaceae or Cruciferae (cabbage family): 3,710
Piperaceae (pepper family): 3,600
Acanthaceae (acanthus family): 3,500
Rosaceae (rose family): 2,830
Boraginaceae (borage family): 2,740
Urticaceae (nettle family): 2,625
Ranunculaceae (buttercup family): 2,525
Lauraceae (laurel family): 2,500
Solanaceae (nightshade family): 2,460
Campanulaceae (bellflower family): 2,380
Arecaceae (palm family): 2,361
Annonaceae (custard apple family): 2,220
Caryophyllaceae (pink family): 2,200
Orobanchaceae (broomrape family): 2,060
Amaranthaceae (amaranth family): 2,050
Iridaceae (iris family): 2,025
Aizoaceae or Ficoidaceae (ice plant family): 2,020
Rutaceae (rue family): 1,815
Phyllanthaceae (phyllanthus family): 1,745
Scrophulariaceae (figwort family): 1,700
Gentianaceae (gentian family): 1,650
Convolvulaceae (bindweed family): 1,600
Proteaceae (protea family): 1,600
Sapindaceae (soapberry family): 1,580
Cactaceae (cactus family): 1,500
Araliaceae (Aralia or ivy family): 1,450