National Herbarium of Victoria

What is a herbarium? by Mary Ward

Have a look at this wonderful article by Mary Ward, Friends' President and Herbarium Volunteer (specimen mounting) that was published in Botanic News Summer 2017-18. Click title above for link to article

The National Herbarium of Victoria

The National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL) houses a collection of approximately 1.5 million dried plant, algae and fungi specimens from all around the world. The majority of the collection is Australian, with a particular emphasis on the flora of Victoria. MEL's collection is rich in historical specimens and foreign-collected specimens: about half of the specimens were collected before 1900, and one third were collected overseas.

These specimens provide a permanent record of the occurrence of a plant species at a particular place and time and are an invaluable resource for scientists, land managers and historians. The Herbarium building also houses a library of botanical literature and artwork.

The Herbarium is a dynamic collection: new material is continually accessioned, and access to the collection is assured by ongoing curation and databasing.

A herbarium

A herbarium is a repository for dried plant specimens that underpin research on taxonomy, systematics and conservation. In many ways it is similar to a library, but the information is stored in biological form rather than in book form. The first herbarium was established in Kassel, Germany in 1569. Today there are herbaria in most major cities around the world.

Herbaria are vital resources for plant identification and provide a reference point for clarifying how plant names should be applied. The most important specimens within a herbarium are the types. A type specimen is the designated specimen to which a taxon name is permanently attached. Preservation of, and access to, type specimens ensures that plant names can be used unambiguously.

A herbarium specimen comprises the physical plant specimen and the associated collecting data. The specimens provide verifiable documentation of the past and present distribution of plant species. They can reveal valuable information about plant biology including flowering time, habitat preference and associated species. Herbarium specimens are also a source of DNA for molecular studies that elucidate the evolutionary relationships between plants.

Inside the Melbourne Herbarium

The National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL) collection consists mainly of pressed and dried plant specimens mounted on archival paper, but it also contains photographs, microscope slides and collections preserved in alcohol. The collection is housed in rows of metal cabinets and is arranged systematically.

The specimens are accessed by staff botanists and visiting researchers for taxonomic, historical and ecological research. A team of dedicated curation staff maintain the collection and coordinate a range of curatorial tasks including:

   -  mounting specimens
   -  databasing specimens
   -  protecting the collection
   - servicing loans and exchange
   - filing specimens

The Herbarium is not open to the public and access for researchers is by prior appointment only. Please contact the Collections Manager to arrange an appointment. Researchers wishing to use the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Library should make a separate appointment with the Librarian.  The Friends run regular behind the scenes tours to the Herbarium, please check their events list for the next tour.

The National Herbarium of Victoria

What is a Herbarium

#StateoftheArk Herbarium Discovery Campaign

Join the RBGV every Friday on a virtual tour as they delve behind the double doors of our National Herbarium of Victoria and uncover the #StateoftheArk.

They will be revealing all her secrets, which date back hundreds of years! The answers to biosecurity, medicine, climate change and our future may be in her hands...

Follow this link to find out more...