NCW Beadle Herbarium
On the afternoon of Sunday 26 March 2006, a small group of us enjoyed a tour of the Herbarium at the University of New England (UNE) Botany Department. Ian Telford was our host and was later assisted by Lachlan Copeland. As we found out, a herbarium is a collection of pressed preserved plants that serve as a reference for the identification of specimens found on fieldwork.
Over the years UNE Herbarium has had a chequered career especially with the disastrous fire that destroyed it in the 1950s. It has since been recollected and in the past decade housed in a new building to enhance the collection.
At present, it houses about 88,000 specimens. That is small by State and National herbaria sizes, but is significant as a repository of local flora of Northern New South Wales. Because of Jeremy Bruhl's interest in cyperaceae it houses a large collection of these plants as well as national and international examples of this plant group that Jeremy has built up on collecting and plant exchange programmes.
The Herbarium is temperature controlled (at about 15°C) so bring your jumper if from out of Armidale or your summer gear if from Armidale. Specimens are treated to remove any potentially destructive insects before being included and are regularly treated to prevent any potential damaging pests. Specimens being brought to the herbarium to work on are placed in the deep freeze for a day or two to kill any contaminating insects.
Pressed specimens are mounted on acid-free paper to ideally display the plant's characteristics. A label detailing the name, date and site of collection with a description of the growing site features (type of soil, aspect, other plants present) as well as the name of the collector are added. As we saw, dried and pressed specimens can last for centuries and we viewed some specimens collected by Thomas Mitchell over 200 years ago that remain in good condition.
There is a ready exchange of specimens around the world between Herbaria. Ian is currently working on a plant family for Flora of Australia and had several 'type' (original naming specimens) from Kew Gardens and other Herbaria.
We had a look at several of the new species that have recently been found and most yet to be named including three paper daisies (Xerochrysum) and two new Wahlembergias from Point Lookout. The Azothamnus group has been dramatically expanded in recent years to over twelve species for New England. A new Cheiranthera (Cheiranthera telfordii) has great horticultural potential.
Finally we had a look at the computing for the facility. Each specimen has its site of origin noted and a list of species collected at sites around New England can be obtained by the flick of a computer key. Ian showed us some of the National and International Web sites useful for the work of the Herbarium.
There remains a backlog of specimens to be identified, mounted and stored but inroads are being made into it. For anyone interested, the work of volunteers to assist in this work is welcomed (speak to Kath Wray or Ian Telford).
We had demonstrated to us the use of a binocular microscope in identifying plants. The Wahlembergia from Point Lookout had different appearing patterns on their seeds compared to the more ubiquitous Wahlembergia stricta.
Finally we had a look over the gardens around the Botany Department where efforts are being made to grow examples of new local flora. We saw many Menthae, Homoranthus and other species newly described and growing there including Asterolasia dungowan that Warren Sheather has proposed as a floral emblem for the Tamworth local government area.
All in all, an interesting afternoon that opened up new aspects of the work of the Botany Department and plants of New England. Thank you Ian (and Lachlan) for showing this to us.
John Nevin, Armidale, 26 March 2006.