Resources of Australian Herbaria

K.J. Cowley and J.G. West (compilers)
Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research

On behalf of

The Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria (CHAH)


ANBG-CPBR > CHAH > Herbarium Resources > Introduction

Foreword to the printed version

All will welcome Resources of Australian Herbaria: A Guide to Herbaria Located in Australia as the most recent in a series of handbooks on national and regional herbaria that are being published as complements to Index Herbariorum, edition 8.

The need to provide detailed information on the extensive collections housed in Australian herbaria and on the staff associated with them was first identified by members of the Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria (CHAH), who saw that having these critical data readily available would provide the means to respond to many of Australia's national biodiversity objectives. The compilers of this information have succeeded in this goal by presenting these data in a user-friendly format and synthesizing them into several pie charts and histograms that will be meaningful for all who use herbaria, including conservationists, environmental consultants, wildlife and land managers and decision makers, students, and scientists.

Resources of Australian Herbaria presents in one place a detailed overview of the diversity of existing collections held in Australian herbaria, of the expertise of the staff associated with these collections, and of the status of electronic accessibility to the baseline information held in them. Congratulations to K.J. Cowley and J.G. West, compilers of Resources of Australian Herbaria, for their excellent and useful presentation on the herbaria of Australia, which in turn will make edition 9 of Index Herbariorum a more valuable international resource.

Patricia K. Holmgren
Senior Editor, Index Herbariorum
New York Botanical Garden
May 1999

Table of Contents



Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria

Quick guide for the intending users of Australian herbaria


Location Map

Code / Herbarium Name

AD State Herbarium of South Australia

ADT Australian Antarctic Division Herbarium

BRI Queensland Herbarium

BRIP Queensland Plant Pathology Herbarium

CANB Australian National Herbarium

CFSHB North Coast Regional Botanic Garden Herbarium

CSU Charles Sturt University, School of Agriculture Herbarium

DAR New South Wales, Plant Pathology Herbarium

DNA - NT Northern Territory Herbarium

GAU Gauba Herbarium

HO Tasmanian Herbarium

JCT James Cook University Herbarium

KPBG Kings Park and Botanic Garden Herbarium

MBA Queensland Herbarium (Mareeba)

MEL National Herbarium of Victoria

MELU The University of Melbourne Herbarium

MUCV Monash University Herbarium

NE N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium

NSW National Herbarium of New South Wales

PERTH Western Australian Herbarium

PRH Pilbara Regional Herbarium

QRS Australian National Herbarium (Atherton)

SYD John Ray Herbarium

UNSW John T. Waterhouse Herbarium

UWA University of Western Australia Herbarium

VPRI National Collection of Fungi, Knoxfield Herbarium

WAC Plant Pathology Culture Collection

WOLL The Janet Cosh Herbarium


Appendix 1 Institutions with predominantly vascular plant collections: >150 000 specimens

Appendix 2 Institutions with predominantly vascular plant collections: <150 000 specimens

Appendix 3 Institutions with predominantly non-vascular plant collections

Appendix 4 The National Collection: Taxonomic Groups (%)

Appendix 5 The National Collection: Taxonomic Groups and Institution Holdings (%)

Appendix 6 The National Collection: Institution Holdings (%)

Appendix 7 Collection database status

Appendix 8 Raw figures from questionnaires and those used for analyses

Contact Details

Index to Institutions by City

Index to Personnel (not included in the web version)


This book provides information about the scientific collections, expertise and information resources available in Australian herbaria, arising from a need identified by the members of the Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria (CHAH). Initially designed to include only the larger herbaria, the core members of CHAH, it was soon realised once data accumulation began that the users of the information would be better served by having access to the facts and figures relating to most herbaria in Australia, large and small. Thus, Resources of Australian Herbaria includes data for 28 herbaria across the country.

The herbaria fall into two main categories - those managed by State and Commonwealth agencies, and those within universities. The eight larger herbaria (all exceeding 150,000 specimens)1 - AD, BRI, CANB, DNA, HO, MEL, NSW and PERTH - function as the principal repositories of plant collections and taxonomic expertise for the respective State or Commonwealth government. These eight institutions are also those collections that have formed the core of CHAH since its inception in 1972. As the appendices summarise, the holdings of these collections are diverse and represent most groups traditionally referred to the plant kingdom (ie plants, algae, fungi and lichens). Regional herbaria administered by one of the larger herbaria and specialising in the flora of the particular region are included.

The university herbaria, established principally as teaching collections, are generally of more recent origin, and by their nature are smaller collections. Most Australian universities undertaking biological teaching maintain an herbarium collection - nine are included in this book.

The three herbaria maintaining major fungal collections of Australia (BRIP, DAR and VPRI) linked together in 1993 to form a distributed collaboration known as the National Mycological Collections; they hold fungal specimens almost exclusively.

The smaller collections listed in this volume should not be ignored by serious researchers. They often contain a large proportion of specimens that are not duplicated in the major herbaria, and often provide excellent regional coverage for at least a limited range of taxa.

Resources of Australian Herbaria will help communication and interaction amongst all those who use herbaria - environmentalists, botanists, students, conservationists, foresters, land managers, community groups, environmental consultants and decision-makers. The presentation of this information in one place will enable potential users of herbaria to plan more efficiently their use of the resources available through these institutions. For instance, a student of lichens may identify which herbaria hold the major lichen collections, who the main lichen experts are, the proportion of the collections on which data may be available electronically, and if the material is available for loan.

Resources of Australian Herbaria is intended to complement the information of Index Herbariorum (Holmgren, Holmgren & Barnett 1990), which is published under the auspices of the International Association of Plant Taxonomy. That publication contains the main contact details and basic information about the collections and staff. Resources of Australian Herbaria extends the information provided in two main areas: i) for each herbarium it contains data on numbers of specimens of the major plant groups, enabling users to determine which collections are the most important for them; and ii) information as to the status of computerisation of the collections. This provides a quick assessment of the proportion of any particular collection from which data is electronically available or accessible, and a sound base from which to assess the resources needed to complete this task.

Resources of Australian Herbaria will allow relevant agencies to assess the status of our national plant collections and to respond to some of Australia's national biodiversity objectives and obligations to international conventions.

Compilation of the data incorporated in Resources of Australian Herbaria contributes significantly to some of the actions identified in The National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity. The extensive collections housed in Australian herbaria underpin the whole existing (though incomplete) taxonomic knowledge base on Australia's plant biodiversity. Ready availability of this information is essential for the development of knowledge and understanding of Australia's biodiversity, and for its effective conservation and management. Section 4 of the National Strategy: `Improving our knowledge' identifies actions for the compilation of current knowledge, including:

"Undertak[ing] to coordinate, collate and synthesise available data and information from collections, survey results and geographic information systems to provide a basis for assessing research needs and priorities".

The National Strategy indicates that Australia is to give particular attention to

"(c) accelerating the activities of agencies and institutions involved in the development and networking of complementary environmental geographic information systems and databases and ensuring that there are adequate resources for the storage and maintenance of collections;".

Resources of Australian Herbaria provides the underlying data relating to the nation's plant and fungal collections.

CHAH trusts that Resources of Australian Herbaria will provide the information others need to use the herbaria, and will increase our efficiency in supplying the information.

Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria

The Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria was formed in 1972 to facilitate national communication and exchange of ideas relating to plant taxonomy and herbarium practice. This recognises the critical importance of national co-operative effort in achieving the aim of a scientifically sound and cost-effective approach to providing a taxonomic and floristic inventory of Australia's plant biodiversity. CHAH develops policy and establishes guidelines, as well as facilitating training courses and disseminating information to the botanical community. It has played a significant role in lobbying for infrastructure, maintenance of collections and resources for taxonomic research.

CHAH is composed of the eight larger State and Commonwealth herbaria, AD, BRI, CANB, DNA, HO, MEL, NSW and PERTH, and representatives from the University Herbaria and the National Mycological Collections. Representatives from New Zealand and Papua New Guinea herbaria are invited to attend meetings.

With the increasing need to improve efficiency of herbarium management and to improve access to scientific information in and pertaining to the collections, computers, communications networks and data management technology have become indispensable. A subcommittee of CHAH, the Herbarium Information Systems Committee (HISCOM) is a technical working group of information technologists and botanists from each of the major herbaria. It was established to advise CHAH on the directions and development of information systems. The foundation of HISCOM's activities is a vision of a `Virtual Australian Herbarium': a widely accessible integrated Australian flora information system - providing a single, integrated and flexible point of access to the combined knowledge base of the Australian herbaria and the Australian botanical community. Important HISCOM projects include the now internationally recognized HISPID (Herbarium Information Standards and Protocols for the Interchange of Data) electronic data exchange format, the automation of routine exchange of specimen data between herbaria, the on-line shared `Photographs of Type Specimens' database and the distributed maintenance of the Australian Plant Name Index. This includes on-line access to basic botanical data and a range of projects to access and interpret this information.

Quick guide for intending users of Australian herbaria

First-time users are advised to make early advance contact with the herbaria they wish to visit, or from which they are requesting loans or data. Government agency policies on data custodianship, and constraints on databasing, may mean some delays in gaining necessary permission for dispatch of loans or release of some classes of data. Enquirers and visitors are responsible for making early contact.

Permits: Australia has fairly close controls on the collection and export of wild plants, including herbarium specimens. Provisions vary between States, Territories, and Commonwealth (Federal) tenures, and in some tenures more than one agency may need to be contacted. Herbaria in Australia are not able to issue permits to collect flora. Visitors requiring permits should make application at least three months ahead of time to the issuing authorities. Any commercial aspects to the planned research should be declared in the application. A guide to current requirements is available from the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) website: "Permit requirements for the collecting of Australian plants and animals": [ed: no longer maintained]

Plant identification and enquiry services: Most of the larger herbaria offer identification services. These are usually free to the general public, with a provision for charging for services to commercial organisations and for large-scale enquiries. Some of these services are indicated in this book, but details may vary. In general those planning projects involving collection of specimens with the intention of utilising identification and/or voucher deposition services need to contact the relevant herbarium before embarking on the work to ensure specimen and data standards.

Visiting herbaria: Intending visitors should contact the Curator/Manager of the herbaria they wish to visit, and any specific staff members they wish to consult, well ahead of time. For extended visits, or where significant resources of the herbarium are drawn upon, bench fees or other fees may be applicable. The smaller herbaria may have very few staff, and intending visitors should not assume that an unannounced visit will be possible.

Taxa under active research: Before request of loans, or the initiation of research projects on Australian plants, it is advisable to consult the current edition of Plant Systematics Research in Australasia (C.F. Puttock & K.J. Cowley, eds, 6th ed. 1997, CHAH, ISBN 0642 27095 3). This outlines current and planned systematic research by a wide range of Australian and overseas botanists, and is useful in avoiding undesirable overlaps between projects and conflicting demands for loans.


We gratefully acknowledge all the work done by Carl Davies of the Visual Resources Unit, CSIRO Plant Industry. His expertise in layout and graphic design were invaluable in preparing the printed version, and we greatly appreciate all the time, effort and care he took, especially with the appendices.

We also, naturally, appreciate the cooperation of all those contacted in each of the institutions here represented. Without this cooperation, and subsequent information, this booklet would not be as comprehensive as it is.

Thank you must also go to CHAH and CSIRO Plant Industry who have supported us in the production of the booklet.

The data are compiled from a questionnaire that was sent out between July & August 1998 and have been incorporated as originally supplied by the Herbaria. Some changes for consistency have been made but the actual information has not been altered.



Location of herbaria in Australia showing internationally recognised herbarium acronyms

location map


Prepared for the web by Murray Fagg, last updated 26 April, 2006