Fern collections

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria's (MEL) fern collection housed at the National Herbarium spans a collecting period of four centuries and comprises approximately 36,000 specimens. About half of the specimens were collected in Australia and the remainder were collected overseas.

MEL's Australian fern collection includes approximately 650 taxa (roughly 75 per cent of known species in Australia) and over 200 Australian type collections.

Historically significant specimens include:

  • Over 100 ferns collected by Robert Brown during Matthew Flinders' circumnavigation of Australia (1801–1805).
  • Twelve collections made by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, the botanists on James Cook's Endeavour voyage in 1770.
  • Specimens of Marsilea drummondii (Nardoo) collected on the Victorian Relief Expedition, which recovered the remains of the ill-fated explorers Burke and Wills. The Yantruwanta people from around Cooper Creek used the spore capsules to make a damper-like bread. Burke and Wills tried to sustain themselves with Nardoo in their dying days, but the spores are toxic when not properly treated and prepared.

One of the more recent acquisitions is the herbarium of Betty Duncan. A prolific collector, Duncan amassed a fern collection comprising approximately 1,500 specimens from Australia, New Zealand and the Indian subcontinent. These specimens formed the basis of the descriptions in Ferns and allied plants of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia (1986), which Duncan authored with Golda Isaac.

MEL's Australian fern collection is fully mounted and databased. Specimens are filed systematically by family, according to a molecular (DNA)-based classification system (Smith et al. 2006).  

Within each family, specimens are stored alphabetically by genus and species. Specimen information for the databased collections can be accessed through Australia's Virtual Herbarium.  Australian fern type specimens are available for viewing online at JSTOR Global Plants.

The majority of MEL's foreign-collected ferns remain unmounted within strawboards. With most of the foreign specimens still awaiting cataloguing, the full significance of MEL's fern collection is as yet unknown.

A broad network of collectors contribute material to MEL's collection. Our guidelines for preparing herbarium specimens provide further information. To enquire about donating specimens to Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, please contact the Collections Manager.

Further information

Smith, A.R., Pryer, K.M., Schuettpelz, E., Korall, P., Schneider, H. and Wolf, P.G. (2006). A classification for extant ferns. Taxon 55, 705–731.