Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (MEL) has extensive holdings of fungi, with around 90,000 databased collections and several thousand more awaiting databasing held at the National Herbarium. Among these are about 45,000 lichens. Although they belong with the fungi taxonomically, lichens are stored separately in the Herbarium. See Lichens collections for more information.
The majority of MEL's fungi specimens were collected in Victoria, but we have significant holdings from all Australian states. Among the foreign fungi are numerous collections from Europe, particularly Germany, that came to MEL through the acquisition of the herbarium of Otto Sonder in 1883. Among these early fungi collections are specimens collected or determined by the noted mycologists Johann von Albertini, Elias Fries and Diederich von Schlechtendal.
Other fungal herbaria that have been incorporated into the collections include the fungi from the Monash University Herbarium (MUCV) and the CSIRO Division of Forest Products (DFP) N.E.M. Walters Fungal Collection.
The foundation of the MEL fungal collections was laid by Ferdinand von Mueller, who collected all groups of plants and fungi, and also encouraged an extensive network of collectors around Australia to submit specimens. Nineteenth-century fungal collectors include Mueller himself, his niece Marie Wehl, Charles French Jnr, James Minchin, Flora Martin (nee Campbell) and Henry Tisdall. Most nineteenth-century collections of fungi from Australia were sent overseas for determination, and the specimens never returned, especially those that were types.
More recent collectors of fungi represented at MEL include Gordon Beaton, George Crichton, Karamoana Healey, Bruce Fuhrer, Ian McCann, Neville Walters, Jack Warcup, Jim Willis, Nigel Sinnott, Genevieve Gates and David Ratkowsky. Recently, the Fungi Group of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria has been contributing well-documented collections of fungi.
Dried collections of fungi are an important permanent record. Microscopic characters, such as spores, can be examined on specimens several centuries old. However, details of the colour and form of the fruit-body are readily lost on drying for many fleshy macrofungi, such as mushrooms and coral fungi. Watercolour paintings were used in the nineteenth century to document the fresh appearance, and these days colour photographs are an important adjunct to the dried specimens.
The herbarium collections are fundamental to taxonomic studies, and include the type specimens of new species described. The specimens also act as a reference collection for identification of poisonous and wood-decay fungi. Herbarium collections have an important role in biosecurity, by establishing which fungi do and do not occur naturally in Australia.
Other fungal herbaria in Melbourne are the Herbarium, School of Botany, The University of Melbourne (MELU), which houses collections of Gordon Beaton, Ethel McLennan and Haring Swart, and the National Collection of Fungi, Knoxfield Herbarium (VPRI), which houses numerous collections of microfungi, including those of Daniel McAlpine and Ian Pascoe.
Distribution information for all databased fungi specimens can be accessed through Australia's Virtual Herbarium. If you would like to contribute fungi collections to the National Herbarium of Victoria, please see the guidelines for preparing herbarium specimens.