Protecting the collection

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria's (MEL) collection of approximately 1.5 million specimens held at the National Herbarium is an invaluable botanical resource that requires long term preservation. Many of the specimens in the herbarium are over 200 years old. These specimens are an irreplaceable record of plant biodiversity and are used by botanists involved in the fields of taxonomy, systematics, conservation and horticultural botany.

To preserve and protect individual specimens, they are mounted on archival card or placed in a packet. Sheets are filed in folders, and packets are filed in boxes.

Specimens are stored in metal cupboards, designed to minimise exposure to light and temperature fluctuations. To protect against fire, the collections area is fitted with a highly sensitive smoke detector system. A detailed Emergency Recovery Plan outlines procedures to protect and salvage the collections in the event of an emergency.

The destruction of specimens by insects is one of the greatest threats to the collections. Left unchecked, insects can quietly destroy vast amounts of herbarium specimens. We have a number of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies in place to reduce the risk of specimen damage.

Freezing is the main method of insect control and is the safest and most effective treatment. All material entering the collection is treated in the walk-in herbarium freezer at -23 °C for 7 days to kill any insects or other pests.

Cigarette beetles (Lasioderma serricorne) are of particular concern. These destructive insects have been known to cause major damage to herbarium specimens, rendering them useless. Blunder traps containing pheromone lures that specifically target this beetle are placed in areas known to be frequented by this insect. Electronic insect ‘zappers’ have also been installed to assist in keeping the herbarium free of cigarette beetles and other flying insects. Additional insect control measures include systematically removing insects such as carpet beetles from known hot spots using a handheld vacuum. Insect blunder traps are distributed within and atop specimen cupboards and are monitored on a regular basis.

To control insects in some areas of the building, domestic-grade insect control bombs are released each year. The product contains a contact insecticide and an insect growth regulator that is effective for up to three months. The control bombs are used against silverfish, carpet beetles, cockroaches, fleas, spiders, moths and ants. They are activated before a holiday period to minimise exposure to staff.

Insect sightings within the herbarium are fully documented. These records can be used to identify patterns in insect activity, which help us develop more effective strategies to prevent and control insects.

Further information

Pests and Diseases Image Library (PaDIL)