Foreign Collection Project

Project summary

The aim of the Foreign Collection Project is to database herbarium specimens collected outside of Australia and held at the National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL). It is estimated that this collection, which was predominately collected in the 19th century, is in excess of 400,000 specimens.

Prior to being curated and databased, these specimens are largely inaccessible; many are housed in old strawboards and in some instances have not been examined since they were received as part of the Sonder herbarium in 1883.

This project began with a focus on databasing dicotyledon specimens in families Winteraceae through to Polygonaceae (families 1–76 in the Cronquist system). Donor funding has allowed the breadth of families to be databased to be extended to family 102 Malvaceae.

Having these specimens mounted and databased facilitates access by Australian and overseas botanists for taxonomic and systematic research; enables determination of plant types and genetic histories; and makes the collecting information available for government agencies to use for biosecurity purposes.

Currently all specimens in families 1 Winteraceae (winterbark, winter cinnamon) through to 61 Fagaceae (oaks and beech) and 77 Plumbaginaceae (Plumbago) to 85 Theaceae (Camellias) are databased and records are now available on The Australasian Virtual Herbarium. These specimens provide an invaluable record of past plant distributions.

The project which began in June 2014, has identified plant collections from all continents, except Antarctica. Notable findings include the following significant collections made by famous 19th-century collectors, among them:

  • H.O. Forbes from Papua New Guinea,
  • O. Beccari from Sumatra, Indonesia
  • Dr King’s Collector (H.H. Kunstler) from Malaysia
  • N. Wallich, J.D. Hooker and T. Thomson from India
  • G.H.K. Thwaites from Sri Lanka
  • F.W. Sieber’s exssicatae sets from around the world
  • N.S. Turczaninow collections from eastern Russia
  • J.N. Szovits from Iran and Azerbaijan
  • C.G. Pringle from Mexico
  • F. Buchanan-Hamilton from Nepal
  • specimens used in Martius’ Flora brasiliensis, collected by M.A.P. zu Wied, A.F. Regnell and J.F. Widgren, and
  • African continent collections made by C.F. Ecklon and C.L.P. Zeyher in South Africa, F.M.J. Welwitsch in Angola and G.H.W. Schimper in Ethiopia.

All known type specimens collected outside of Australia have also been databased as part of this project. Most of these are from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Papua New Guinea. These type specimens have been digitised and a high resolution image of each specimen has been delivered to Global Plants on  JSTOR. Databasing of algae type specimens collected outside of Australia is in progress.

Project team

Pina Milne (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)

Wayne Gebert (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)

Rita Macheda (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)

Miranda Boyle (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)

Hanna Kapuscinski-Evans (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)

Amy Ahmet (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, May - September 2016)


  • Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation Victoria and Director's Circle
  • Edward M. Wilson Trust
  • Erica Foundation
  • Maud Gibson Trust
  • Meg Bentley
  • Marian Brookes
  • Mark & Tamara Boldiston