Beckler's Botanical Bounty Melbourne Odds and Ends

At the Herbarium

With all my prattling here on the blog, I don’t think I have told you about my Tuesday mornings at the Herbarium.Today I just want to fill you in on the importance of herbaria; next time I will be a little more personal.

A herbarium is a scientific institution that houses dried specimens of plants collected in the field ~ not a place where herbs are grown! The following quotes are from the website of the National Herbarium of Victoria

A herbarium is a repository for dried plant specimens that underpin research on taxonomy, systematics and conservation. In many ways it is similar to a library, but the information is stored in biological form rather than in book form. The first herbarium was established in Kassel, Germany in 1569. Today there are herbaria in most major cities around the world.

The State Botanical Collection at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria (MEL) comprises a collection of approximately 1.5 million dried plant, algae and fungi specimens from all around the world. The majority of the collection is Australian, with a particular emphasis on the flora of Victoria. MEL’s collection is rich in historical specimens and foreign-collected specimens: about half of the specimens were collected before 1900, and one third were collected overseas.

These specimens provide a permanent record of the occurrence of a plant species at a particular place and time and are an invaluable resource for scientists, land managers and historians. The State Botanical Collection also includes a library of botanical literature and artwork.

Collectively, the dried specimen collections and the library collections comprise a rich cultural and scientific resource in the State Botanical Collection and is a dynamic collection with new material continually accessioned, and access to the collection is assured by ongoing curation and databasing.

A cultural and scientific treasure! A potted history of the Herbarium is

The National Herbarium of Victoria at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is the oldest scientific institution in the state. It was founded by Ferdinand von Mueller in 1853 when he was appointed the first Government Botanist of Victoria. Mueller was an outstanding botanist and a prolific collector. He named and described more than 2,000 new species, and acquired over half of MEL’s existing collection.

The first Herbarium building was situated in Kings Domain near the Shrine of Remembrance. It was built in 1861 after Mueller repeatedly petitioned the government for space to house his collection of 45,000 specimens. The new building had room for 160,000 specimens, but was filled within a year of its construction.

The Domain building was used until 1934 when it was demolished. The collection was transferred into the current building within Melbourne Gardens, which was a gift to the state from Sir Macpherson Robertson to mark the centenary of Melbourne. An extension was added in 1989 to house the ever-growing collection.

And so ….

Among the Australian collection are plants collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander at Botany Bay in 1770. Other historical riches include over 2,000 specimens collected by Robert Brown during Flinders’ circumnavigation of Australia (1801–1805), and several hundred specimens collected on Burke and Wills’ expedition. Important twentieth-century acquisitions include the herbaria of Raleigh Black, Cliff Beauglehole and Ilma Stone, and a collection of wood-rot fungi from CSIRO.

The bust of von Mueller in the Royal Botanic Gardens


(Von Mueller is one of my scientific heroes. However, like all of us, he did make some booboos. Apparently as he walked the bush he spread blackberry seeds!)

This short video shows how the specimens are processed, and also touches on some of the ways the Herbarium makes the information from the specimens available for wide use.

Plants are collected in the field, pressed and labeled on site. Detailed information about location, habit, habitat, soil type and so on is also collected, and accompanies the specimen to the herbarium. I know this because part of our work with the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project is collecting the plants we are painting. The specimens have to be collected to the high standards set by the National Herbarium of Victoria. We were delighted to hear that all of our specimens have been accepted into the Herbarium.

Here are some links to other aspects of the Herbarium and research, if you are interested in finding out more.

Australia’s Virtual Herbarium is a fascinating site that allows you to search for specific plants, including being able to find the plants collected on different historical expeditions.

The Atlas of Living Australia is another fascinating site, and it includes Australian fauna.

The Biodiversity Library is the website of a project to digitalise all biodiversity literature. It is especially rich in publications from the 1800s.

The Herbarium’s website has more information about mounting specimens and protecting the collection.



Botanic Art My art work

My painting was accepted!

I was so chuffed to pick the painting up and see that little blue dot on it, showing that it had been accepted for the exhibition, “The Art of Botanical Illustration, 2014”. Big hugs to everyone who wrote messages of support, or even just thought them. I think they made the difference!

So now my painting of the plant Cullen pallidum is at the framers, being dressed in all its finery!

So, if you are in Melbourne or happen to be passing through, make sure you get to the exhibition. If you are a fan of botanical art, you will be in seventh heaven, because the standard of works is always very high.

Twelfth Biennial Exhibition of Botanical Art

Presented by The Friends of the Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne

When:  25 October to 9 November 2014 
week days 10 am – 4 pm weekends 10 am – 6 pm (9 Nov 10 am – 4 pm)
Where: Domain House Gallery, Dallas Brooks Drive, Melbourne 3004

Cost:    Gold Coin donation

Now I can focus on getting ready for my next adventure…..


Melbourne Odds and Ends Plants

A wander through the Royal Botanical Gardens

It struck me the other day that after my house and my Mum’s house, I spend the next largest chunk of my time in and around the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. About 8 years ago I started botanic art classes. Classes are held in the Whirling Room in the Observatory complex at the top end of the gardens. Now I go to weekly art sessions, but more about that in a later post.

A couple of months ago I started doing volunteer work at the Herbarium, which is also up that top end of the gardens. (Near the Shrine, if you know the gardens.) And more about that in a later post too.

I have been walking in the gardens between the art session and my time at the Herbarium. The gardens are a real Melbourne treasure and I thought you would like to join me on my wanderings through them.

The RBG was designed in the mid 1800s and has those iconic features of broad, sweeping lawns, ornamental lakes and views to the city.

There is a wonderful fern gully and newly planted bamboo forests, and some whimsical topiary near the Children’s Garden.

We have had some very wintery weather in Melbourne lately. Because of the gale force winds on Tuesday the gardens were closed. I thought it would be the Autumn leaves providing the only colour…..

… I was surprised by the flowers that were out.

Lastly, I wish you could smell this Wintersweet bush. The perfume stopped me in my tracks, but I had trouble finding the insignificant flower that was smelling so heavenly.


Thanks for wandering with me. You have to admit, there are many worse places to spend time!

Plants Texture

More bunya bunya pines

You seemed to be interested in the story of the bunya bunya pines that I posted last week. Today, when I went into my art session, which is held in the Botanic Gardens, I saw this display of the cones.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

They have been brought into the room for artists to paint. We are not allowed to bring non-Bot. Garden material, for fear of spreading the myrtle rust disease into the gardens. So, the gardens provide material for classes to use.

I was able to get some close ups of the nuts. I didn’t realise that they were so big. No wonder Aborigines feasted on them.

The nut is on the right. On the left you can see how the nut nestles into its casing. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
The nut is on the right. On the left you can see how the nut nestles into its casing. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
There seems to be another shell around the actual nut, a bit like an almond. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
There seems to be another shell around the actual nut, a bit like an almond. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

These other photos are just general shots. You can see how the casings fit so neatly together around the central core of the cone. Wonderful patterns!


(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)


Melbourne Plants

Bunya bunya cones

I guess there must be bloggers out there who struggle to find something to write about. I am not one of them 🙂  I have a mental list a mile long that I intend to write. But then things just pop up and I want to let you know about it. Well, to be truthful, I want to write about it, and I just hope that you want to know! Today was one of those times.

I have a regular Thursday painting time in the Botanical Gardens, up near the Shrine. I parked, put money in the meter, went to pick up the key to the room and …..oops,  I forgotten that it wasn’t on today. So I had some “free time”. I had paid for the parking space. Can’t waste that $4. Off I went for a walk into the glorious Botanic Gardens. (I must add The Botanic Gardens to my I-must-blog-about-this-list.)

First I found this lovely fern garden in the Kings Domain, just outside the gate to the gardens.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

Then I came across something that piqued my interest.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

The gate was closed because gardeners were doing tree work, on the very large bunya bunya pines. These are native to Queensland and grow tall and straight.

Tall trees...... (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
Tall trees……
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
....with thick trunks  (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
….with thick trunks
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)










However, they have enormous pine cones, which need to be removed. If they were to fall on someone’s head…….

This is the size of the cone

The pine cone, with my car keys to give scale. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
The pine cone, with my car keys to give scale.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
You can see how solid they are!  (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
You can see how solid they are!
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)









I don’t know how many were on the tree, but there must have been a lot, because these are the ones the gardeners have picked up. And the chap was still up in the tree, cutting away at cones.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)








The nuts are quite edible — or so I am told! These ones were not ripe, but you can see how many nuts there would be tucked into the creases of the cone. Aborigines would celebrate the ripening of the nuts with feasts and gatherings.

Wikkipedia has this to say about Aboriginal tribes in the Bunya Mountains:

As the fruit ripened, locals, who were bound by custodial obligations and rights, sent out messengers to invite people from hundreds of kilometres to meet at specific sites. The meetings involved ceremonies, dispute settlements and fights, marriage arrangements and the trading of goods.

Indigenous people had a number of uses for the nuts, again from Wikipedia

Indigenous people eat the nut of the bunya tree both raw and cooked (roasted, and in more recent times boiled), and also in its immature form. Traditionally, the nuts were additionally ground and made into a paste, which was eaten directly or cooked in hot coals to make bread. The nuts were also stored in the mud of running creeks, and eaten in a fermented state. This was considered a delicacy.

The cones I saw came from one tree. Imagine how many there would be to eat and share in the natural habitat!

Sorry, I can’t offer you a taste of the nuts. You will have to be content with some photos of a lovely end-of-summer border.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)