National Herbarium of Victoria

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A conservation collection

Stored safely in rows of metal cabinets, the National Herbarium of Victoria is an extraordinary collection of 1.5 million preserved specimens of plants, algae and fungi from around the world, including over 300,000 from Victoria. Collected by thousands of people over hundreds of years, each specimen is a record of the existence of an organism at a particular place and time.

The Herbarium collection underpins conservation efforts by providing an inventory of the state’s biodiversity from past to present that helps us monitor changes in species distribution and abundance. The pressed and dried plant specimens shown here are all rare and threatened species that RBGV scientists are monitoring as part of bushfire recovery efforts.

Projection image credits:

Specimen photos from the State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board. 

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Specimen photos from the State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board.

Species under threat

The world’s flora faces an extinction crisis, with 39% of plant species at risk of being lost forever. In Victoria, plants, algae and fungi are under threat from climate change, habitat loss, invasive weeds and overgrazing. The collecting data associated with Herbarium specimens can be used to predict how threatened species, like the two plants featured here, will respond to changes in their environment.

Pultenaea subalpina (Rosy bush-pea) is an endangered shrub in the pea family. It occurs only on a single mountain top—Mount William, in the Grampians—making it particularly vulnerable to environmental change.

Actinotus forsythii is a small herb in the same family as carrots and parsley (Apiaceae). In Victoria, it grows only in a small area on the Nunniong Plateau in East Gippsland and is listed as critically endangered. Although fire can threaten the survival of some plants, it can play a crucial role in the life cycle of others, like Actinotus forsythii, which needs soil disturbance or bushfire to promote germination and flowering. Its flowers can appear in vast swathes after fire, then disappear from the landscape for years.
 

Projection image credits:

Pultenaea subalpina (F.Muell.) Druce 

Photo: Ian Clarke, 2015, State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board. [two flower heads] 

Photo: Ian McCann, 1966, State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board. [close up] 
 

Actinotus forsythii Maiden & Betche 

Photo: Brian G, 2020, Flickr © Brian G. [single flower] https://www.flickr.com/photos/summitvista/50577932171/

Photo: Ruth P, 2021, Flickr © Ruth P. [two flowers] https://www.flickr.com/photos/stitchingbushwalker/50882946488/

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Photo: Brian G, 2020, Flickr © Brian G. [singleflower]
https://www.flickr.com/photos/summitvista/50577932171/ 

Insuring against extinction

 

RBGV botanists collect seeds from populations of wild plants, then carefully store them as insurance against extinction. Tucked away in the Herbarium basement, this stockpile of seeds from Victoria’s most vulnerable plants forms the Victorian Conservation Seedbank. Seed scientists check the condition and viability of gathered seeds using x-rays and microscopy before investigating their germination needs. Following viability and germination testing, the seeds are dried to a low moisture content to prepare them for long-term storage. They are then sealed in foil and parcelled away in special freezers until needed for conservation actions or research. The Seedbank currently holds almost 2200 collections of seeds, representing 1480 different plants at risk of extinction.
 

Projection image credits:

Craspedia aurantia J.Everett & Joy Thomps. 

Photo: Helen Barnes, 2009, State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board.  

Celmisia tomentella M.Gray & Given 

Photo: Helen Barnes, 2009, State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board. 

Geum urbanum var. strictum Hook.f. 

Photo: Robert Hare, 2017, State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board.  

Elachanthus pusillus F.Muell. 

Photo: Robert Hare, date unknown, State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board. 

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Elachanthus pusillus F.Muell. 

Photo: Robert Hare, date unknown, State Botanical Collection © Royal Botanic Gardens Board. 

Rejuvenating populations


Through documenting diversity and storing seeds for the future, the Herbarium and Seedbank collections help sustain life. Germinating seeds in a laboratory isn’t always straightforward. Some seeds, like those of Actinotus forsythii, need fire to stimulate germination, while others need rain, smoke, heat, scarification or digestion.

Our seed scientists undertake research on the germination requirements of seeds in their care, and regularly test their ability to germinate to ensure the Seedbank remains a viable conservation collection.
 

Projection image credits:

Photos: Daniel Williams, 2022 © Daniel Williams. 

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Photos: Daniel Williams, 2022 © Daniel Williams.