Identification Services

Please note: As part of measures to ensure that the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne remains free of Myrtle Rust, please ensure that all specimens submitted for identification, either by mail or in person, are in sealed plastic bags. If you suspect that your specimen is infected with Myrtle Rust, please do not submit it to the RBG. Any suspected incursions should be reported to DPI Victoria. 2013-05-29

Biological sciences are underpinned by the correct identification of the relevant organism. Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne provides a range of identification and information services, including identification of wild and cultivated plants and fungi, as well as information from the collecting data associated with herbarium specimens.

We are able to provide accurate plant and fungi identifications because Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is the centre for plant and fungi biodiversity research in Victoria and our staff includes a number of botanists with taxonomic expertise. Success in identification relies on access to the extensive botanical library and the comprehensive dried plant collection in the National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL), which is the chief repository of dried plant specimens from the state, including wild, naturalised and cultivated taxa.

Plant Identification and Information Service

The Identifications and Information Service is housed in the National Herbarium building, on Birdwood Avenue, near Gate F of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Go to the East door and contact reception via the phone near the door. The Service is open for across-the-counter service 10 am to 1 pm, Monday to Friday however it is advisable to phone the service on the day you wish to attend to ensure someone will be available. Fees apply for this service. For further information please phone (03) 9252 2315. Outside these hours or if the Identification attendant is unavailable, specimens can be left with the receptionist at the Visitor Centre.

The Plant Identification and Information Service provides plant identifications, with emphasis on the wild and cultivated plants of Victoria. Organisms that we are able to identify include vascular plants, bryophytes and macrolichens. There is a separate Fungi Identification Service.

The Plant Identification and Information Service also provides information on plant nomenclature, classification and distribution. Requests for herbarium specimen data should be made directly to the Collections Manager.

The Plant Identification and Information Service is used by a range of clients including the general public, government agencies and consultants. Information provided is used by private and public land managers to protect native vegetation and control weeds.

Our ability to provide identifications depends on the quality of the plant material and associated information we receive. For more information on what we require see the guidelines for preparing herbarium specimens. The identification of specimens involves much time and effort. Well-collected and prepared specimens are essential and are more likely to result in an accurate identification.

The Identification and Information Service does not provide:

  • medical advice. However, we will attempt to identify plants suspected of poisonings.
  • identifications based on images alone
  • identifications of agricultural plant cultivars
  • identifications of wood and timber
  • identifications of plant pests and diseases
  • identifications of tree roots
  • advice on weed control and herbicide use
  • general gardening advice
  • commercial recommendations such as in relation to plant availability.

Submitting plant specimens by mail

Wild or cultivated plant specimens for identification can be sent to:

Identifications and Information Service
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
Private Bag 2000
South Yarra 3141.

Specimens should be accompanied by a covering letter clearly indicating what you require.

Please provide clear contact information for communication of results, and an address for correspondence and invoicing. Fees apply for this service. Please state clearly who the invoice is to be made out to.

Please note that large batches of specimens (ten or more) will only be accepted for identification after prior arrangement has been made with the relevant Identification Botanist.

Please assist us by providing specimens that are as complete as possible. Features such as leaves, flowers and fruits are important. Images are useful in augmenting the specimen, but should not be submitted without a specimen. We do not provide identifications based on images alone.

Each specimen should have a separate label.

Specimens can be sent either fresh or dried. If sending fresh material place the specimen inside a sealed plastic bag, and place the bag inside a padded envelope, box or mailing tube. If the plant requires moisture (e.g. aquatics or delicate herbs) add a moistened tissue or paper towel to the plastic bag, but do not saturate the specimen.

If sending a dried plant specimen ensure that it is dried under pressure in a plant press and not left lying around to dry. Specimens should not be mounted in any way, e.g. do not use adhesive tape.

If sending fresh specimens by mail please ensure that the specimens are placed in the post early in the working week as they can deteriorate beyond recognition if delayed.

We reserve the right to reject or discard poor specimens or specimens submitted with insufficient information. We also reserve the right to retain all specimens of scientific interest as donations for the Herbarium collection. Specimens not required as donations will be discarded. We do not return specimens. If you require a specimen of your identified plant please retain a duplicate from the outset (ensure that the sample that you send us is from the same plant that you retain).

Fungi identification service

Fungi identification and information enquiries should be directed to the Mycologist on Duty, through Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne reception (03 9252 2300).

Due to the fact that many species of Australian fungi are yet to be formally named, and the difficulty of identification, it may only be possible to provide identification to genus or to groups of species.

The focus of mycological research at Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is on the macrofungi, which are the fungi with readily visible fruit-bodies such as mushrooms, coral fungi, bracket fungi and truffles. The fungi identification service only covers macrofungi. We do not handle enquiries about microfungi such as moulds or diseases of cultivated plants.

We do not provide advice about the edibility of fungi. The only safe way to consume wild fungi is to recognise with absolute certainty the small number of distinctive edible species. Where poisoning by fungi is suspected, contact the Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26) who will arrange for identification of specimens as necessary.

Specimens may be submitted by mail, but only by prior arrangement with the Mycologist on Duty. Do not send fresh specimens of fungi by mail. Specimens submitted by mail must be thoroughly dried.

Charges apply for fungi identifications.

Accessing herbarium specimen data

The collections of the National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL) are a great resource for botanical, historical and anthropological research. Approximately 90 per cent of the Australian collections and 10 per cent of the foreign collections have been databased, providing easy access to the collecting data associated with these specimens. The potential uses of herbarium data are many and varied and include:

  • mapping species distribution data
  • predicting the impact of climate change
  • tracing the course of exploring expeditions
  • researching the lives and activities of botanical collectors.

Basic collecting data for databased collections in the National Herbarium of Victoria (including taxon name, accession number and generalised latitude and longitude) can be accessed through Australia's Virtual Herbarium (AVH). AVH is a national collaborative project that provides online access to the species distribution data held in Australia's major herbaria. Requests for more detailed specimen information (including collector, collecting date and detailed locality description) are serviced at the discretion of the Herbarium and charges may apply. Requests for specimen data should be sent to the Collections Manager.