Filing specimens

The National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL) houses over 1.2 million specimens. These specimens are primarily used by botanists working in the fields of taxonomy, systematics, conservation and horticultural botany. For researchers to use the collection effectively they must be able to quickly locate individual specimens. It is important that the collection is organised logically and that specimens are carefully filed in the right place.

Most herbaria file material according to plant family. There are a number of different systems for defining and grouping families, which reflect changing understandings of their evolutionary relationships.

At MEL, the flowering plants are organised according to Cronquist's classification, which is used in the Flora of Australia. The pteridophytes (ferns and alies) and gymnosperms (conifers and allies) are also arranged according to the Flora of Australia treatment.

Cryptogams are filed under the following major groups:

  • fungi
  • lichens
  • algae
  • mosses
  • liverworts and hornworts.

Specimens within these groups are stored alphabetically by genus and species as there is little consensus about family classifications.

Within each vascular plant family, the Australian specimens are ordered by state or territory, using a system of colour-coded folders. Cultivated material is separated from wild-collected specimens, and foreign-collected material is separated from Australian specimens.

Specimens in the non-vascular groups are also filed alphabetically by genus and species, but the foreign-collected and Australian specimens are stored together. The majority of these specimens are stored in packets inside boxes.

Type specimens are stored at the beginning of each plant family or non-vascular group. Types are stored in enclosed folders that provide greater protection and allow them to be easily recognised as type specimens.

In addition to dried material, MEL has spirit and microscope slide collections. These are stored separately to the main collection. The spirit collection consists of over 9,000 jars containing plant material in 70% ethanol. These collections are stored in metal cabinets within a fire-proof room. The microscope slide collection contains over 4,000 slides and is housed in wooden cabinets with special pull-out trays. These preparations vary from leaf cross sections to pollen to algae.

Further information

Cronquist, A. (1988). The evolution and classification of flowering plants, 2nd edn. New York Botanical Garden, New York.

Orchard, A.E. (ed.) (1998). Flora of Australia, vol. 48, Ferns, Gymnosperms and Allied Groups. ABRS/CSIRO Australia, Melbourne.