The extensive holdings of the National Herbarium of Victoria(MEL) include a collection of approximately 46,000 algae specimens. MEL's algae collection includes specimens from all continents and oceans. About two thirds of the specimens were collected in Australia.
The algae collection contains a number of important historical collections, including:
- over 1,000 specimens collected by the eminent Irish phycologist, William Harvey. Approximately half these specimens belong to Harvey's Travelling Set – a working set of specimens that he used to describe the algal flora of southern Australia. Harvey left these Travelling Set specimens with Ferdinand von Mueller when he visited Melbourne in the mid 1850s. The remaining Harvey specimens are from his Australian Algae Exsicatta, a set of which was received at MEL with the purchase of Otto Sonder's herbarium in 1883.
- 1,350 specimens collected by John Bracebridge Wilson around Port Phillip Bay. Wilson was headmaster of Geelong Grammar School from 1863 to 1895, throughout which time he assiduously collected seaweeds during school holidays.
All of the Australian algae collection (with the exception of some red algae types) has been databased. Collecting data for the databased specimens is available via Australia's Virtual Herbarium.
Among MEL's foreign algae collection are specimens collected by Friedrich Kützing in Europe, Wilhelm Georg Schimper in Africa and the Middle East, and specimens from Franz Binder and Carl Martius, who both collected in Brazil. Only a small proportion of the foreign algae collection has been catalogued.
An important contemporary addition to MEL's collection is the herbarium of Bill Woelkerling, a coralline algae specialist. His collection of mostly coralline algae was amassed over more than 30 years of research on marine macroalgae. The Woelkerling collection, which consists of several thousand specimens preserved in spirit, on rocks and mounted on microscope slides, is as yet uncurated. In addition to the specimens, Woelkerling donated a collection of about 9,000 algae reprints, which are housed in the Royal Botanic Gardens Library.
Other significant twentieth-century collectors include Doris Sinkora, who collected primarily along the Victorian coast, and Tim Entwisle, an expert in the identification and ecology of freshwater algae and current Director and Chief Executive of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne.
Due to the variability of algal forms, specimens are stored in a variety of ways: most seaweeds are floated on to herbarium sheets; microalgae are often stored in packets or mounted on microscope slides; and many coralline algae specimens are stored in ethanol to preserve their intricate and fragile structures.
The Herbarium collection is ever-growing, and new additions to the collection are received from a wide network of collectors. Please see the guidelines for preparing herbarium specimens if you are interested in contributing to MEL's collection.