Filing specimens

There are approximately 1.5 million specimens held by Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (MEL) and housed in the National Herbarium of Victoria. These specimens are primarily used by botanists working in the fields of taxonomy, systematics, conservation and horticultural botany. As a working scientific collection, the specimens need to be filed in such a way that researchers can easily locate specimens and compare material from closely related species. Herbaria are generally arranged systematically according to plant family. There are a number of different systems for defining and grouping families, reflecting changing understandings of evolutionary relationships. At MEL, the flowering plants are organised according to Cronquist's classification, which is used in the Flora of Australia. The gymnosperms (conifers and allies) are also arranged according to the Flora of Australia. The most current classification systems are based on molecular data (DNA). The fern collection at MEL has been rearranged according to one such classification (Smith et al. 2006).

Within each family, Australian specimens are filed alphabetically and ordered by state or territory (designated by colour-coded folders). Cultivated material is separated from wild-collected specimens, and foreign-collected material is separated from Australian specimens.

Cryptogams are filed under the following major groups and arranged alphabetically by genus and species, and state or territory:

  • fungi
  • lichens
  • algae
  • mosses
  • liverworts and hornworts

Vascular specimens are generally pressed flat and mounted on sheets, whereas cryptogam specimens are stored in packets inside boxes. Type specimens are stored in special enclosed folders at the beginning of each plant family or group.

In addition to dried material, MEL has separate spirit and microscope slide collections. The spirit collection consists of over 9,000 jars containing plant material in 70% ethanol. These collections are stored in metal cabinets in a fire-proof room. The microscope slide collection contains over 4,000 slides, ranging from leaf cross-sections to pollen to algae, and is housed in special wooden cabinets with pull-out trays.

Further information

Cronquist, A. (1988). The evolution and classification of flowering plants, 2nd edn. New York Botanical Garden, New York.

Orchard, A.E. (ed.) (1998). Flora of Australia, vol. 48, Ferns, Gymnosperms and Allied Groups. ABRS/CSIRO Australia, Melbourne.

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