Foreign Fabaceae Project

Project summary

The aim of the Foreign Fabaceae Project was to curate and database all specimens in the legume family Fabaceae held at the National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL). Prior to being curated and databased, these specimens were largely inaccessible; many were housed in old strawboards and in some instances had not been examined since they were received as part of the Sonder herbarium in 1883.

Having these specimens mounted and databased facilitates access by botanists for taxonomic and systematic research, and enables determination of plant types and genetic histories. Environmental planners and conservationists are now able to use the information to inform judgements on conservation strategies, and government agencies can use the information for biosecurity purposes.

The collection forms an invaluable record of past plant distributions. The project, which began in February 2010, has identified collections from all continents, except Antarctica. Notable findings include significant collections made by famous 19th-century collectors, including:

  • Ecklon and Zeyher in South Africa
  • Welwitsch in Angola
  • Schimper in Ethiopia
  • Livingston on his Zambesi Expedition (J. Kirk and C.J. Meller) in tropical Africa
  • Wallich on the Indian Peninsula
  • M.A.P. zu Wied in Brazil.

In addition, 320 specimens were identified as types, with the highest number from South Africa, Angola and Ethiopia.

The Foreign Fabaceae Project was intended as a 'proof of concept' to inform databasing practices for the approximately 400,000 foreign specimens in MEL's collection. Although almost all MEL's Australian holdings have now been databased – and the related specimen information made available online through Australia’s Virtual Herbarium – only a very small component of the foreign collection has been databased. Databasing the foreign collection presents its own unique challenges, such as labels written in foreign languages and collecting localities whose political boundaries have changes since the time of collection. This project allowed us to develop standards and protocols for databasing the remaining foreign-collected specimens and helped reveal the significance of MEL's foreign collections.

The Foreign Fabaceae Project was completed in February 2011.  

Project team


  • The CASS Foundation (Contributing to Australian Scholarship and Science)