The University of Melbourne Herbarium (MELU) was established in 1926 and, with an estimated 150,000 specimens, is now the largest university herbarium in Australia.
The collection includes specimens collected by Banks and Solander, as well as historic botanical objects and artwork. MELU is a vibrant and active teaching and research collection of international significance, with specimens of all major plant groups represented in the collection. We are best known for our bryological and phycological collections. Our herbarium complements the National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL), Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, with which we have a strong collaboration.
MELU is an invaluable resource for scientists, underpinning research on taxonomy, systematics, ecology and conservation. We contribute to national and international biodiversity data through Australia's Virtual Herbarium (AVH) and Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), which feed into international biodiversity data portals such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The collection is also a significant research archive for the University and record depository. MELU facilitates research of postgraduate students, staff and associates in the School of BioSciences and the University.
We lend specimens nationally and internationally to registered scientific institutions for research purposes, and welcome the use of the collection by visiting scientists. Through undergraduate courses and a volunteer program students can learn about herbaria and assist in the maintenance and expansion of the facility. If you would like to use the facility or find out more, please read about accessing the collection or contact us.
Researchers associated with the collection
Supporting the herbarium
If you would like to support the herbarium through a tax deductible donation to the Herbarium Fund (download our flyer to find out more), please visit the The University of Melbourne Botany Foundation website.
The Herbarium Fund was profiled in the 2017 Botany Foundation Annual Report. Download this article to read more about the potential impacts of the Herbarium Fund.
MELU Herbarium Database
Herbarium specimens contain valuable information about the distribution of the flora, taxonomy and collecting history. Databasing our specimens not only creates a complete catalogue of our collection, it also makes our specimens, and the data associated with them more widely available. You can access the MELU specimen data through the AVH.
During 2013, with the help of staff at the National Herbarium of Victoria, the MELU Herbarium Database was migrated to the Specify6 platform, which was specifically designed for herbarium and museum collection data. At present approximately 13% of the MELU collection has been databased, and we continue to capture data. Most data entry is currently performed by casual staff funded by small grants or crowdsourcing projects through the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) volunteer portal. If you think you could help us with databasing the MELU specimen information, through financial or other contributions we would like to hear from you; please contact the Curator.
Curation initiatives in 2017 included digitising part of the fern collection (supported by the Botany Foundation) and digitising the algal collection (supported by a Miegunyuh Fund grant). Read the article detailing our curation work on the fern collection in the 2017 Botany Foundation Annual Report.
Requests for loans are to be addressed to the Curator, and can be sent either by email or on institution letterhead. Loan requests on behalf of staff or students should come from the Director or Curator of a registered herbarium. Loans of all scientific specimens can only occur between scientific organisations registered with either the Australian Government or CITES.
MELU acknowledges the changing needs of the scientific community, and endeavours to support a wide range of botanical research. However, preservation of herbarium specimens is vital. Therefore, high resolution images are our preferred way to share specimens of Types and other historic and significant specimens. In addition, removal of material from specimens (i.e. destructive sampling) for research purposes other than routine taxonomic examination requires prior written authorization from the Curator. Please download and complete our destructive sampling request form along with your loan request.
MELU Loan Conditions
- A copy of these loan conditions must be given to the botanist using the loan.
- Loans are initially for 12 months. If necessary, an extension will be granted upon written application.
- The removal and dissection specimen parts is not permitted without completing a destructive sampling request form and the signed consent of the MELU Curator. When approved this must done judiciously and only when sufficient material is present. Dissection of type material is not permitted.
- All material removed or dissected from specimens, and any loose fragments, should be placed in a suitable envelope or polyethylene bag and attached to the specimen sheet. Any slide preparations are to be sent to MELU when the loan is returned. No material may be removed and retained permanently without prior written approval.
- The botanist examining the specimens must annotate these with the name of the plant, the botanist's name, the date, and any relevant comments. Determinavit or confirmavit slips must be typed, or written in permanent ink (not ball-point pen), and affixed to the specimen with an archival paperclip only. Slips for bryophyte or fungal specimens must be placed inside the specimen packet.
- Loans being returned should be insured or registered, and packed carefully to minimise damage during transit. Whenever possible, the packing in which the specimens were received should be utilised.
- When returning specimens, to allow easy passage through Australian Quarantine, please ensure that the following is clearly visible on the outside of all parcels:
- CITES codes of both the sending and receiving institutions (MELU CITES code: AU043),
- if specimens are fungi, cryptogams or not fully prepared vascular plants, a copy of MELU Import Permit or MELU Import Permit number (contact Curator for current permit details),
- copies of the loan/exchange documentation and a list of all species names and acquisition numbers (if accessioned),
- ATTENTION QUARANTINE label (printed on yellow paper), and
- if appropriate, documentation detailing special treatments and/or preservation techniques that have been carried out on the specimens (e.g. heat, methyl bromide, etc.), and dates these were conducted.
Strategic Plan and Acquisitions Policy
To support and facilitate teaching and research in plant sciences at the University of Melbourne.
- To manage a scientific collection of the Victorian flora and representative specimens from elsewhere in Australia and around the world
- Train the next generation of plant scientists, ecologists and conservation biologists in the importance, and preparation of voucher specimens and the use of herbaria
- Serve as a repository for voucher specimens documenting research by University staff and students
- Engage with students and the public to promote the significance of biodiversity, plant science and herbarium collections
- Be an active member of the Univerisity’s Cultural Collections, and the Australasian Herbarium community through the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (CHAH).
The Herbarium will acquire individual items or entire collections according to the following policy:
- Clear legal title passes to the University of Melbourne
- The acquisition is consistent with the mission of the Herbarium
- Specimens are of a high quality such that they have potential for reference, research, or teaching (see specimen quality guidelines below)
- Specimens not deemed to be of high quality will not be incorporated into the main collection, but can be stored outside of the main collection area for a minimum of 5 years to meet the University’s research data compliance guidelines
- The curator should be consulted prior to collecting and requesting to lodge batches of specimens (≥10)
- Specimens may be acquired by donation or exchange subject to the disposal policy below
Specimen quality guidelines
- The minimum data to be provided electronically with the specimen, is collector’s name and number, date of collection, precise location, and geocode. Note: these may be waived for historic specimens but not for recently collected specimens.
- The physical specimen should have vegetative and reproductive parts, which have been dried to show the diagnostic features clearly
- As a general rule, specimens without reproductive parts are of low value to the Herbairum and are discouraged
- High quality specimens are specimens that add significant taxonomic, geographic, ecological or historical value to our collection
Deaccessioning and disposal
- No significant or substantial component of the collection is to be disposed of without prior consultation with the Vice-Chancellor, via the Cultural Collections Committee, after approval by the Head of School. Any such component to be disposed of is to be offered free of charge to an appropriate institution. These would normally be, first, The National Herbarium of Victoria, and secondly, any other Australian herbarium via the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (CHAH).
- Individual items may be deaccessioned if they are of poor quality or are otherwise deemed by the Director to no longer fill the mission of the Herbarium.
- The Herbarium may dispose of specimens received by donation or exchanged to us, prior to accession that do not fill the mission of the Herbarium. If donation/exchange specimens are not accessioned, the Herbarium will inform the donating institution so they can update their records.
Plant Collecting Permit
Scientific research undertaken on public land (and water) in Victoria must have the approval of the land manager and meet legislative requirements under a number of acts, including the Wildlife Act 1975, the National Parks Act 1975 , the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and the Reference Areas Act 1978 . The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DEPI) is responsible for administering the research permit process in Victoria to ensure compliance with biodiversity conservation and legislative requirements. Similar requirements apply to other States.
The School of BioSciences is committed to ensuring it is compliant with these requirements.
The School of BioSciences has developed procedures to ensure that all staff and students are aware of, and comply with, requirements of collecting and research on public land.
- A plant collecting permit officer (appointed by the Head of School) monitors compliance on all permit issues.
- All Victorian plant collecting permit applications must be processed via the permit officer.
- All staff and students wanting to use the School of BioSciences plant collecting permit must be signed onto the permit by the permit officer to obtain a copy.
- All activity conducted under a permit must be recorded by the permit holder, and a summary of the activity appended to the report on expiry of the permit.
- Authorized staff and students must supply their activity on the proforma provided by the plant collecting permit officer.
- A report must be submitted to the Permit Issuing Authority via the School's plant collecting permit officer within 30 days of expiry of the permit.
- The plant collecting permit officer reports on permit issues to the Herbarium Committee, which in turn reports to the Head of School via the Departmental Committee.
- Corrective Actions are reported to the Herbarium Committee and resolved by the plant collecting permit officer.
- Serious Breaches of Compliance are reported to the Head of School for appropriate action.
- Copies of all other plant collecting applications and permits (e.g. for other states) need to be supplied to the plant collecting permit officer to be held in a central file in The University of Melbourne Herbarium. These are summarized in a permits register.
Permit Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the School of BioSciences Plant Collecting Permit Officer? Andrew Drinnan (Director, University of Melbourne Herbarium)
What are the responsibilities of the School of BioSciences Plant Collecting Permit Officer?
- Advise School of BioSciences staff and students on permit issues.
- Liaise with DEPI regarding BioSciences permit issues as necessary.
- Administer the School of BioSciences general plant collecting permit.
- Maintain a central record of authorized collectors, applications and permits for plant collection.
- Ensure reports are submitted to DEPI on expiry of permits.
- Report on permit applications, approvals, expiries, and reports to the Herbarium Committee.
Does the School of BioSciences have a general collecting permit?
Yes. The School of BioSciences has a permit issued under the National Parks Act 1975 and the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 for the collection of "herbarium specimens and minimal quantities of seed and propagation material" from all public land and waters in Victoria, including National Parks and reserves. This permit is issued to the Head of School, who has the authority to authorize specific staff and students to operate under the conditions of the permit
What sort of activity does this permit cover?
This permit allows for the collection of:
Taxa: all except members of the Orchidaceae family and threatened taxa (Schedule 2 or Section 10 of Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988)
Plant parts: herbarium specimens and minimal quantities of seed and propagation material.
Quantity: up to 10% of reproductive material or 5% of cutting material from any one plant and up to 25% of any taxon per population.
This largely restricts the use of the permit to activities that have a short duration, sporadic frequency, and minimal impact on the population or environment, such as systematic studies, sampling small amounts of material for DNA extraction, or collecting cuttings to establish plants for a glasshouse experiment. This permit is particularly amenable to projects with a broad geographical scope where it may be necessary to sample a species in a particular National Park on only one occasion.
How can I use this permit? Contact the plant collecting permit officer and explain your proposed activity. If it falls within the conditions of the School of BioSciences permit they will organize your authorization and give you a copy of the permit.
What if my proposed research activity falls outside the conditions of the permit? If your proposed activity involves an extensive and sustained field component, and if it is based substantially in one or just a few locations then you should apply for an individual permit specific to your research project. For example, this would apply to an ecological study where sustained experimentation and data collecting is necessary. Contact the plant collecting permit officer and they will advise you as to the appropriate permit. Copies of all permits must be lodged with the permit officer.
What are my responsibilities regarding collection on public land?
- Ensure that you are authorized for collecting/research under an appropriate permit.
- Seek the necessary approval of the appropriate local land manager (e.g. Ranger-in-Charge of National Park)
- Comply with the permit conditions
- Document all activity conducted under permit
- Lodge a copy of all records/documents with the School of BioSciences plant collecting permit officer
- You must carry a copy of the permit with you
Record all your activity under the permit in your field notebook so that it can easily be summarized for inclusion in your final report. If you are collecting on the School of BioSciences general plant collecting permit, you will need to forward this information to the plant collecting permit officer as soon as possible after the collecting has taken place.
Where possible, avoid collecting on Parks Victoria managed land. If you are collecting on Parks Victoria managed land, arrangements must be made in advance with the Ranger-in-Charge. Be sure to explain carefully what you want to collect, and quote the permit number and conditions. Keep all records of these arrangements (e.g. correspondence, notes in your field notebook of dates of phone calls and who you spoke to) as evidence that you are complying with the permit conditions; summarize these on your report to the plant collecting permit officer.
Where can I get further information about permits?
See the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning web site for information on all permits for Victoria, and to download an application form for a permit to take protected flora.
- Other useful links for Victoria
An important component of these courses is training students in plant identification, the use of a modern herbarium and an understanding of why you might need to access herbarium specimens or collect your own. University herbaria play an important role in highlighting the need for voucher specimens and an understanding of what makes a good specimen. To assist with this, we have developed some documents and guidelines for our students that may also be of use to others. These include:
- How to Make Your Own Herbarium Specimens
- Specimen label proforma
- Guidelines for collecting herbarium specimens during ecological fieldwork (describes what is a voucher specimen and why you should collect them)
The University of Melbourne Herbarium supports postgraduate research within the School in a number of ways. For example, students examine and sample from specimens for phylogenetic, ecological and physiological studies, loan specimens from other institutions for study, and use the collections to help them identify species. The collection also supports postgraduate students more broadly across the university, for instance Masters students from the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation have been conserving the herbarium’s botanical models for their major project.
Volunteer tasks are varied and can include, mounting/repackaging specimens, specimen data capture, assisting with specimen imaging, incorporating/filing specimens. All training is provided on the job so all you need is an interest in and desire to learn about plants. Each volunteer is allocated a weekly timeslot. Every effort will be made to enable volunteering around your other commitments; however, due to the popularity of the program and supervisor availability your preferred timeslot may not be available.
If you're interested in joining the program, please complete the application form and email it, along with an electronic copy of your current curriculum vitae to the Curator for assessment. If you are accepted into the program, we will then discuss available projects and organise a safety induction prior to starting in the Herbarium.
Semester 1 intake – Applications close the third Friday of February
Semester 2 intake –Applications close the second Friday of July
The Grimwade Plant Collection
In 1938 botanist Percival St John was commissioned by Sir Russell Grimwade to make a census of the flora of Mt Buffalo National Park in north-east Victoria.
St John’s census included a collection of 136 herbarium specimens, representing 133 species, collected in November 1938 and January 1939. These have been housed variously at the Mt Buffalo Chalet and at the Parks Victoria Office on Mt Buffalo. The specimens are mounted on paper with hand-written labels, including a sheet number, species name, common name and notes on distribution both on Mt Buffalo and nationally. They are stored in four folios, in a four-drawer metal cabinet.
In 2006 The Miegunyah Foundation commissioned botanists from the University of Melbourne to move the original collection from the Chalet to the School of Botany herbarium at the University of Melbourne, where it could be properly conserved and databased for future reference. Following relocation the collection has been databased, photographed and repaired; some specimens had been badly damaged by decades of public use. The identity of the plant species in the collection has also been verified/corrected using current taxonomy.
These web pages present a catalouge of the Grimwade Plant Collection made by Percival St John. They include photographs of the specimens and, where possible, photos of the same species growing in the wild on Mt Buffalo. There are notes on the common name, plant family, distribution and original identification of all species in the collection. The main pages are arranged by species name and accessed through the alphabetical index at the top of each page.
Alternatively, you can download all specimen details from the University of Melbourne Herbarium (MELU) database in Microsoft Excel format.
In 2006/2007 a new collection of plants from Mt Buffalo National Park, representing most of species in the original Grimwade Collection, was made by botanists from The University of Melbourne. This new collection includes two sets of specimens. One set is for Parks Victoria at Mt Buffalo, to be put on public display. The other set is held at the herbarium of The University of Melbourne.
A report (pdf, 1.4 MB) is available that includes a list of specimens in the new collection, together with an updated list of the vascular plants occuring in Mt Buffalo National Park.
This work on the Grimwade Plant Collection was carried out by Dr Alison Kellow, Dr Michael Bayly and Prof. Pauline Ladiges, School of Botany, The University of Melbourne. They are grateful to The Miegunyah Foundation for providing funds to make this possible. Staff of Parks Victoria and The Mt Buffalo Chalet assisted with re-location of the collection. Staff of Parks Victoria were also very helpful at a difficult time, during the 2006/2007 fire season, when the new collection of replacement specimens was being made. Jeff Jeanes, Kevin Rule and especially Neville Walsh, of the National Herbarium of Victoria, provided much advice and assisted with plant identifications. Members of the Mt Buffalo Field Naturalist Group, in particular Roger and Meredith Briggs, and Clyde O'Donnell, provided a number of the plant photographs used here. Members of the group also provided helpful advice and company in the field.
Wilsons Promontory Virtual Herbarium
The Wilsons Promontory Virtual Herbarium (WPVH) project was undertaken by the University of Melbourne Herbarium (MELU) to conserve and digitise a significant collection of plant and algal specimens from Wilsons Promontory National Park, collected from 1959 to 1974. The WPVH was built to ensure the original specimens are readily available for public access. It includes high resolution images of the herbarium specimens, photos of the live plants in situ, descriptive information and links to further information.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Miegunyah Fund, Parks Victoria and the Friends of the Prom for making this project possible
Malcolm Howie Watercolours
Watercolors of Victorian Fungi by Malcolm Howie
A collection held in the University of Melbourne Herbarium (MELU)
A walk in the Victorian bush in Autumn after rain reveals a vast array of mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of fungi that are only visible for a short period of time when they are above ground to release and disperse their spores. Fresh fruiting bodies exhibit a range of beautiful colours and forms, important in identifying species, including different types of mushrooms, coral fungi, woody pore fungi, jelly fungi and cup fungi. However, when dried as herbarium specimens fungal fruiting bodies usually appear drab and uninteresting to the eye – although informative to the trained mycologist and used for study of microscopic features or DNA.
Today, photography captures the fresh colour and form of fungi in their natural habitat. But in the past, paintings were made to illustrate these qualities, and our Melbourne University herbarium (MELU) has an exquisite and valuable set of watercolours of Victorian Fungi.
Malcolm Howie (1900-1936) illustrated life-size about 200 species of Victorian fungi, mostly during the period 1931-1935. Mycologist Tom May describes the paintings as "precise in form and colour and jump off the page as accurate depictions of their species".
A set of Howie's original paintings is held in the Sate Botanical Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. In addition, our herbarium (MELU) also has a set of 80 sheets of watercolours. These had been commissioned, from Howie, in the 1930's by Dr Ethel McLennan (1891-1983) for the School of Botany. Dr McLennan, a leading plant pathologist and mycologist, appreciated the accuracy and beauty of Howie's paintings. The MELU paintings, together with herbarium specimens of fungi and rare books, were on show to the public in the University's Baillieu library during 2015 in the exhibition: The Howie Fungi Watercolours: from Botanical Art to Scientific Research. The paintings have been photographed and can be viewed below.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Miegunyah Fund, Botany Foundation and the University of Melbourne’s Cultural Collections for making this project possible