Foreign Collection Project

Project summary

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

Prior to curation and databasing, 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 in June 2014 with a focus on databasing specimens in the first 76 families listed under the Cronquist taxonomic classification system. These include the families Winteraceae, Lauraceae and Polygonaceae, amongst others.

Donor funding has allowed the  project to expand to databasing all specimens in our global collection. Of the 434 plant families (flowering plants, ferns and conifers) represented in the global collection, 157 families have now been fully databased, including major families such as Myrtaceae, Rhamnaceae and Solanaceae. These records are now accessible on The Australasian Virtual Herbarium website.

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. These specimens also provide an invaluable record of past plant distributions.

The project  has identified plant collections from all continents except Antarctica. Notable findings include the following significant collections made by famous 19th-century collectors:

  • 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 from the global collection 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.

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)

Luke Vaughan (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)

Eugenia Pacitti (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria) 


  • 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