Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Herbarium collection

The collection of 1.2 million preserved plant specimens in the National Herbarium of New South Wales, and the data associated with them, represents a key primary botanical resource that underpins research on native and introduced plants, algae and fungi, not only for staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust and the Office of Environment and Heritage but also for universities and other research organisations nationally and internationally.  It is one of the most significant resources of its kind in the southern hemisphere and includes a significant heritage collection of Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander specimens collected in 1770 during the voyage of discovery captained by James Cook. In addition there are approximately 10,000 type specimens which are the primary specimens used in naming new plant species and numerous collections from Australia’s earliest explorers.

The Herbarium collection has been accumulated through staff collections as well as specimens from donations and exchange with other herbaria in Australia and overseas. The collection consists of nationally and internationally significant collections of plant specimens in the families Myrtaceae, Proteaceae, Cyperaceae, Poaceae, Lamiaceae, Fabaceae, Cycadaceae and Zamiaceae. The collection documents the 25,000 vascular plant species found in Australia, of which 6000 occur in NSW. The collection provides a definitive list of species and specimens on which identification of species is based and is a comprehensive and accurate record through time (as the flora changes) and space (representing the variation and distribution of species). The collection also includes marine and freshwater algae and fungi that are known to include many threatened and important species.

For some years, Office of Environment and Heritage and Trust staff have researched the biology of NSW plant species and, while much is now understood, much more still needs to be learnt and synthesised with existing information to meet the challenges facing vegetation in the future. This research can be achieved as Herbarium specimens, if properly cared for, remain useful for study for hundreds of years. Each specimen has a label recording its scientific name, location, when and by whom it was collected and other important notes about where the specimen was found. These specimens provide information for scientific research into plant relationships, and they are a record of past and present plant distribution. This information is essential for making decisions about the conservation of our natural heritage. The specimens preserved in the National herbarium of New South Wales provides a vital part of our scientific heritage and requires expert scientific research and technical curation. The scientific research is carried out by the Plant Biodiversity section and the technical curation is carried out be the Collection Section.

Herbarium databases

53% of the Herbarium collection, including all vascular specimens collected in New South Wales, has been entered into the herbarium database ‘NSW Collections’ as part of the specimen curation process. All data processed specimens - usually herbarium sheets - are given a unique barcode to assist with the management of the collection. All incoming collections made by staff, and outgoing specimens sent on loan to other institutions, are data processed.

The PlantNET database, replacing the publication ‘Census of New South Wales Plants’ (Jacobs & Pickard 1981), continues to be checked against other records and newly accessioned specimens so that it is a current reference for staff, of the known distribution of species.

Using and maintaining the Herbarium collection

Our aims are to

  • enhance the usefulness of the collection by documenting and identifying specimens
  • increase the comprehensiveness and diversity of the collection as a resource for research and reference
  • carry out research using the collection, to improve our understanding of the relationships of plants to each other, and of their place in our environment.

Collections Section Report 2012-2013

Dr Dale Dixon - Manager Collections

The Collections Section comprises the National Herbarium of New South Wales preserved plant collection, the Daniel Solander Library, Botanical Illustration Service, Herbarium Specimen Preparation Facility and the Red Box Gallery. Each area is staffed by specialised staff responsible for a specific area of the Collection. Key highlights of the section for 2012/2013 include; two exhibitions in the Red Box Gallery (The Garden of Ideas and the Margaret Flockton Award); the commencement of the Type Digitisation Project - Global Plants Initiative; the completion of the Daniel Solander Library Review and the commencement of the Business Case for the Redevelopment of the National Herbarium of New South Wales. Many staff across the organisation also continued to assist with the management of Drugstore Beetle (Stegobium paniceum) from the collection.

The Type Digitisation Project began this year and so far 1566 type specimens have been imaged. The first batch of just over 1000 images has been received by a not for profit digital library resource; JStor and are available online to all participating organisations.

The Global Plants Initiative is funded through the Andrew Mellon Foundation. Staff in both the Collection Management and Plant Diversity teams are involved in ensuring the project meets its objectives. All data associated with each type specimen is checked for accuracy prior to imaging.

During 2012/2013, the collection continued to expand with the addition of more collections donated by Dr Peter Michael from the University of Sydney and 2800 exchange specimens donated by our institutional partners world wide. As always we are ever grateful to our volunteers in the Herbarium Specimen Preparation Facility for processing incoming and outgoing specimens for incorporation into the main collection which included 1200 specimens processed for outgoing loans.

Significant changes have occurred in the Daniel Solander Library this year. The most significant being the retirement of the Senior Librarian after almost 10 years of service. As a result of this retirement and the Trust’s new Strategic Plan LIVING, the long overdue review of the library was completed in April/May. The review recommendations will assist with the development of the library as the Trust moves forward under LIVING. Donors have continued to be actively involved in providing funds to preserve and protect the Trusts collection of rare books, with all of the funds ($20K) this year being directed to the conservation of some of our older journals. Volunteers continue to be actively associated with the library and provide valuable assistance with day-to-day collection management and special projects.

This year, through the preparation of a preliminary business case, Science and Conservation Collection Management was successful in acquiring a small agency grant from NSW Treasury to develop a Business Case for the Redevelopment of the National Herbarium of New South Wales. In February Root Projects Australia were engaged to undertake an options analysis for the redevelopment. Scheduled to be completed in June 2013, the Business Case outlining the requirements for a new herbarium, will be submitted to NSW Treasury in October 2013 for consideration in the 2014/2015 budget allocations.
The drugstore beetle has continued to plague the collection, however the methods used to secure and isolate the collection from destruction have largely proved successful. Although Collection staff are still trapping the destructive insects, the numbers would only indicate a small residual infestation. Work is still being carried out in an effort to totally remove the pest from the collections.

Dr Dale Dixon is a member of DISNSW. This group includes representatives of all the major collection institutions in the greater Sydney Region. The group has been formed as a support group for its member institutions should there be a disaster within one of the Collections. The group is working towards providing disaster preparedness training for collection staff.

Volunteers in the Mounting Room

Jude Wright and Peta Hinton - Volunteer Coordinators, Mounting Room

The Mounting Program volunteers have again been very busy this year. In total, they have mounted 8595 herbarium specimens, including 345 Bryophytes. They have also data checked 1389 donated specimens.

A large proportion of specimens mounted were from the collection. Many of these were collected over 100 years ago by the likes of Ludwig Leichhardt, Allan Cunningham and Joseph Maiden. Unfortunately, on some occasions, the work has involved salvaging and cleaning up specimens damaged by the herbarium beetle.

The volunteers of the Mounting Program have also played a vital role in the Global Plants Initiative Type Digitisation project which began this year. They have taken great care in mounting Type specimens in preparation for digitisation, many of which are not only significant scientifically but also historically.

A highlight in December 2012 was the Executive Director’s Afternoon Tea for Volunteers held at Parliament House and hosted by the Honourable Robyn Parker, MP, Minister for the Environment and Heritage. A number of Herbarium volunteers received awards for long service including: Graham Shields - 10 years, Lydia Bell, Carol Bentley, Aileen Phipps - 15 years and Margaret Bell - 30 years! The volunteers also enjoyed a speech from the Executive Director; Professor David Mabberley, and a delicious afternoon tea. Everybody thoroughly enjoyed the occasion and a different view of the Domain. 



Banks & Solander specimen

Red seaweed



Phillip Kodela using HerbScan; Photo: Jaime Plaza

Margaret Bell receiving her 30 years volunteer certificate from the Honourable Robyn Parker, MP, Minister for the Environment and Heritage at the Government House morning tea.