Foreign collection project

Project summary

The aim of the Foreign Collection Project is to database 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 three-year project will focus on databasing dicotyledon specimens in families Winteraceae through to Polygonaceae (families 1–76 in the Cronquist system). It is hoped that additional funding will be secured to enable the remaining families to be databased.

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.

The specimens provide an invaluable record of past plant distributions. The project, which began in June 2014, has identified collections from all continents, except Antarctica. Notable findings include significant collections made by famous 19th-century collectors, including:

  • H.O. Forbes from Papua New Guinea,
  • 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
  • specimens used in Martius’ Flora brasiliensis, collected by M.A.P. zu Wied, A.F. Regnell and J.F. Widgren
  • collections from the African continent 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.

To date, 139 specimens have been identified as types; most of these have been from Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

Project team

Pina Milne (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)

Rita Macheda (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria)


  • Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation Victoria and Directors Circle