Skip to content
1 Mar 2022

Dawn of a new era for volunteers

After 32 years, the volunteer specimen mounting program has ended at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney following the National Herbarium of NSW's move to a new purpose built facility at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.

The new climate controlled, fire-proof vaults will house the ever-growing collection, including specimens collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander in 1770, on Captain Cook’s Voyage of the Endeavour and others collected by our own scientists.

Sadly, the commute is not viable for many of the current volunteers, who have clocked up decades of service in the program.

One volunteer, Beverly Honey, has been participating since its beginning in 1989. Rosemary Varley and Julie Taylor have been attending for 28 years and the average attendance is 12 years.

The specimen mounting program run by volunteers.
Early days of the Mounting Program, when the mounting room was on level 1 photographer unknown c.1990

Mounting preserves the specimens, enabling scientists to work with the specimens into the future, without loss or damage, and also enabling their safe long-term storage.

Historically, specimens were stored loose in non-archival paper folders and were vulnerable to being damaged or separated from the crucial written records accompanying them. The volunteers secure the specimens to new archival boards using linen tape or by stitching with dental floss. They also help transfer all the specimen’s original labels to the new mounting board. This process should ensure the preservation of the specimens for hundreds of years to come.

Volunteers also mount the new collections made by contemporary botanists and collectors. Other mounting program volunteer projects have included mounting the marine algae and the bryophyte (mosses, liverworts & hornworts) collections.

Some volunteers also check the data accompanying specimens donated from other herbaria, comparing the specimen’s electronic record with its paper label to ensure the digital record has uploaded into our database accurately.

A volunteer with a specimen.
Julie Taylor working on marine algae. Picture: Jude Wright, 2013

While their task is technical, many volunteers have a talent for composition, transforming what can be a mess into an ordered but beautiful specimen. The work can be slow and monotonous, mounting numerous boxes of the same species.

Not always pretty, the specimens can be prickly, crumbly, dirty, or even smelly. The volunteers’ good humour, dedication and enthusiasm is greatly appreciated by our staff. One botanist even named a new species after one of our volunteers, Julie Taylor, Ceramium juliae.

In 2014,  nominated by staff,  the team won Volunteer Team of the Year for the Sydney City/East Region.

Over the past 32 years, not only have many friendships been formed, but our specimen mounting volunteers have been fundamental to helping conserve an important scientific resource.

A volunteer with a specimen.
Val Trigg mounting with dental floss. Picture: Peta Hinton, 2014

Their skill, dedication and efforts are very much appreciated by the National Herbarium of NSW and Royal Botanic Gardens’ staff.

We say a big thankyou to all who have contributed over the years and remember fondly those we have lost. We hope that some of our existing volunteers will be able to help train and mentor a new generation of herbarium volunteers to continue this significant legacy and vital scientific work at the new herbarium.

- Peta Hinton and Jude Wright have been supervising the volunteers for the last 14 years and also head the new volunteer program at Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.

If you are a journalist and have a media enquiry about this story, please click here for contact details and more information.