The System Garden and the University of Melbourne Herbarium have long been affiliated, sharing an historic and scientific relationship. Both are important in training botany, ecology and horticulture students about plant diversity and taxonomy. The System Garden provides a living collection of plants while the Herbarium provides a collection of preserved, data-based specimens for study and reference.

Gill Brown Unimelb Herbarium
Dr Gillian Brown inspecting specimens.

The University Herbarium was established in 1926 and is now the largest university herbarium in Australia, with an estimated 150,000 specimens.

It includes modern collections of plants, algae and fungi, type specimens and historically significant specimens such as those collected by Banks and Solander, as well as historic botanical objects and artwork.

The Herbarium plant collection is a focus for taxonomic research by staff and students; it is part of the network of Australia's registered herbaria, which provide online access to their plant collections as data bases that underpin biodiversity conservation. With the global concern surrounding environmental change and loss of biodiversity (impacting agriculture, food security, and habitat and species conservation), the imperative to maintain active research herbaria is recognised Australia-wide.

Our university herbarium, which has the unique capacity to train students, complements the National Herbarium of Victoria at the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), with which there is a strong collaboration.

What is a Herbarium?

National Herbarium
The National Herbarium of Victoria building, home of the State Botanical Collection. The curved extension was built in 1989.

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.1

1. National Herbarium of Victoria (website) https://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/science/herbarium-and-resources/national-herbarium-of-victoria

University of Melbourne Herbarium (Facebook) https://www.facebook.com/unimelbherbarium/

Visit the Botany Foundation: http://science.unimelb.edu.au/engage/giving-to-science/botany-foundation