Documenting the Living Collection at Melbourne Gardens

The Southern China Collection—adding to the herbarium specimen collection housed in the National Herbarium of Victoria

There is currently a gap in the representation of voucher specimens from the Melbourne Gardens Living Collection in the State Botanical Collection. Until recently, there was no formal practice in place for collecting vouchers from the plants growing in the Gardens, except when researchers made requests for samples of leaves or pollen material for molecular analysis.

A pilot project to increase this representation of voucher specimens in the herbarium collection began in September 2017, using cultivated material from the Southern China Collection, a varied assemblage of plants grown at the Melbourne Gardens.

The Southern China Collection was selected for vouchering because the plants in the collection have provenance—that is, it is known exactly where they come from and where they were collected. In the 1990s, Terry Smyth (Horticulturist, Melbourne Gardens) was fortunate to travel to the forests of the Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan with botanists from the Kunming Botanical Gardens. On those trips she was permitted to collect plant propagules for the Southern Chinese Collection at Melbourne Gardens. Unfortunately, it was not always possible to represent all of the plant species collected as seed or cuttings with pressed specimens for inclusion in the herbarium.

The wild collected plants have grown on since they were introduced into the Gardens and are now well established in the Southern China Collection. Some have developed magnificently, while a minority have been lost as a result of drought or other local challenges.

Fifty three plant species have now been vouchered as part of this project. The project entailed the collection of plant material with buds, flowers and seed where possible. The plant material was pressed and dried, and supplemented with comprehensive collecting details and images. These vouchers, and those collected in the future, will further support the scientific credibility of the Living Collection, add to the number of specimens in the State Botanical Collection, document the current biodiversity of the Gardens, and provide another physical and permanent record of what is represented in the Living Collections.

Once the specimens are curated they will be a resource for future research, such as studies of flowering time in the Australian climate, even if the parent plants have perished.