Herbarium Torus May 2017

Herbarium opens its doors

The month of May has been busy for the State Herbarium of South Australia to open its doors to the community.

History Month Tours—again a full house Saturday and Sunday 27–28 May 2017

Visitors were treated to a summary of the history of the Old Tram Barn which now houses the State Herbarium of South Australia by Peter Canty. Escaping the weather which was at times wild and woolly, the tour also gave insights into a modern herbarium and its operation, along with getting to see some specimens of extinct South Australian plant species and some of the weird and wonderful collections by Michelle Waycott.

Peter Canty, Manager State Herbarium, and tour participants

The interest in the building was matched by the interest in the Herbarium and the botanical science that is run out of the Herbarium.

Jürgen Kellermann describes the publications and knowledge resources the State Herbarium of South Australia May 2017

There were many questions by tour participants on the role of the Herbarium as a public institution that provided information for the community on our native and naturalised plants, fungi, algae, lichens and bryophytes. Most were surprised to learn that the knowledge the Herbarium manages, including the Census of the South Australian Flora is freely available via the online web interface: flora.sa.gov.au

Publications of the Herbarium were also highlighted including our flagship publication, the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, soon to be renamed Swainsona to honour our states floral emblem. Jürgen Kellermann, our editor and Senior Botanist, outlined how the new publications we produce are made such that they are freely available online.

Before 1900 at AD

Map of collections made before the year 1900, map drawn using Australia Virtual Herbarium (avh.chah.org.au)

 

 

 

A new fun fact about our collections is that more than 15,000 specimens we house were collected prior to 1900!

Totally Wild in the vaults

Leela and Michelle – with some lookers on and film crew, during filming at the State Herbarium of South Australia

Last week, we also had the film crew from Totally Wild visit to find out about herbarium collections and some of the ways plants are named. The filming had some fun moments and we hope will provide some interest to younger audiences.

 

 

 

Contribution by Michelle Waycott

 

Remembering Enid Robertson

The Governor of South Australia, Sir Robert George, unveils the National Trust plaque on Watiparinga Reserve, watched by the donor of the property Miss Alison Ashby. Photo: The Advertiser, 21 May 1959, SLSA +70984/76.

The well known botanist and conservationist Enid Robertson passed away last year.  To commemorate her life and her dedication to the restoration and care of Watiparinga Reserve a new plaque will be unveiled this month, commemorating Enid and her aunt Alison Ashby.

The land, once part of the Ashby family’s Wittunga farm, was gifted to the National Trust by Alison Ashby in 1957. Watiparinga’s greybox grassy woodland provides an essential haven for rare and threatened plants and animals. Elsewhere, this habitat has largely been built over with housing and roads. A detailed booklet on this ecological community has been published by the Federal environment department (14.2mb PDF) a few years ago.

If you want to know more about Enid Robertson and her work, have a look at the transcript of an interview (1.2mb PDF) with her from the State Library of South Australia‘s oral history collection. Another family connection: her father Keith Ashby donated part of the family property to the Board of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium in 1965, which later became Wittunga Botanic Gardens.

Fungus of the month

The State Herbarium of South Australia‘s Fungus of the Month for May 2017 is Chlorociboria aeruginascens, a species of small disc fungi that is widespread but particularly spectacular in DEWNR’s Park of the Month, Flinders Chase National Park.

Chlorociboria aeruginascens on wood. Photo: D.E.A. Catcheside.

Chlorociboria aeruginascens (Nyl.) Kanouse ex C.S.Ramamurthi, Korf & L.R.Batra has a number of common names including ‘blue-green wood cup’, ‘green elf-cup’ and ‘blue or green stain fungus’. It is a common and widespread fungus, growing in groups on debarked wood or fallen branches, causing the wood to be stained a brilliant blue-green colour. The similarly coloured cup-like fruit bodies are found in very moist conditions in the wetter winter months.

The generic name is derived from the Greek kloros (χλωρός), meaning green, and Latin ciborium, a drinking cup. The specific epithet comes from aerugo, Latin for verdigris, a deep bluish-green encrustation formed on copper or brass, and the suffix ascens, becoming.

The fruit bodies, apothecia, are tiny, stalked cups to 5 mm high, of an intense turquoise colour. The apothecia have a diameter of 4–10 mm and initially are a shallow cup-shape but flatten to a disc with a slightly raised margin. The blue-green upper surface is smooth to wrinkled with a small dimple; the outer surface is smooth and slightly paler with a white bloom. The tiny stem tapers down and is often off-centre; it is the same colour or slightly darker than the cup and black at the base. The stem bases of the fruit bodies are attached to a black mat of hyphae embedded in the wood.

Chlorociboria aeruginascens. Photo: D.E.A. Catcheside.

Chlorociboria aeruginascens is a cosmopolitan, saprotrophic species. In the northern hemisphere it grows mostly on hardwoods, such as poplar, Populus spp., oak, Quercus spp. and ash, Fraxinus spp.; in the southern hemisphere it is on Eucalyptus spp. and Nothofagus spp., although it does grow on other woods. The wood on which it grows is usually soft, giving the appearance that it has been infected by white-rot fungi but C. aeruginascens is not considered a true wood-rot fungus. The blue-green pigment, a quinone derivative called xylindein, is secreted by the microscopic tubular threads, the hyphae, of the fungus. It has been suggested that the pigment may make the wood less enticing for termites and may also reduce competition with other wood-inhabiting fungi.

The green-stained wood was highly prized. It was used in inlaid decorative woodwork such as Tunbridge ware, marquetry, intarsia panels and parquetry. Tunbridge ware was made in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England, from the mid-18th century. Small pieces of different coloured woods, including the blue-green wood stained by Chlorociboria aeruginascens, were used to make pictures and patterns and inlaid into small boxes, fire screens and tables. Marquetry involves the glueing of small pieces of coloured wood on to thin veneers for use in furniture-making. Parquetry is a similar technique used mainly for floors. In the older process of intarsia, a solid piece of one material is cut out from a surface such as a table-top or floor and patterns made up of wood, marble, ivory and/or mother-of-pearl are inserted into the excised area (see also this article).

Collection of Chlorociboria aeruginascens (P.S. Catcheside 4378) in the lab before drying. With centimetre scale. Photo: D.E.A. Catcheside.

Chlorociboria aeruginascens is in the family Chlorociboriaceae Baral & P.R.Johnst., order Helotiales Nannf. ex Korf & Lizoň. Seventeen species of Chlorociboria are recognized worldwide, fifteen occur in New Zealand. They may be separated on the basis of spore size and shape, hyphae on the outer surface of the apothecia and on macroscopic differences such as colour of fruit body, some species having a yellow or white disc while some dry orange-brown, others blue-green. Johnston & Park (2005) have described a subspecies from New Zealand, Chlorociboria aeruginascens subsp. australis P.R. Johnst., which is morphologically indistinguishable from a subspecies found in the northern hemisphere, Chlorociboria aeruginascens subsp. aeruginascens. They may be separated only by molecular analysis, an impractical procedure in the field! No molecular work has been done on the specimens illustrated here, but it is probable that they are of Chlorociboria aeruginascens subsp. australis. Only two species from Australia are listed in the ALA, C. aeruginascens and C. aeruginosa (Oeder) Seaver. Both species look very similar, but C. aeruginosa has longer spores and larger terminal cells on the outer surface. An earlier name, Chlorosplenium aeruginascens (Nyl.) P. Karst., still occurs in a number of field guides. (See also Fungi in Australia, Part 2 and references therein; 40.2mb PDF).

Contributed by Hon. Research Associate Pam Catcheside.

World Book Day

World Book Day or World Books and Copyright Day is celebrated on 23 April every year and organised by UNESCO to promote reading, publishing and copyright. The 23rd of April was chosen, as the authors Cervantes, de la Vega and Shakespeare all died on this date. The day was first celebrated by the booksellers in Catalonia, Spain, in 1923. Since 1995 it is celebrated world-wide.

World Book Day is not well-known in Australia. Book Week, organised by the Children’s Book Council since 1945, is more popular and celebrated around the country in August each year.

The Board of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium has issued a number of publications. A full list of reference and identification books on plants, algae and fungi can be found here, many of these publications are still available for purchase. The Board also holds copyright of all botanical texts issued by the Flora and Fauna of South Australia Handbooks Committee between 1922 and 1997 (see Zeidler 2002). Out-of-print publications have been scanned and are available for download on Enviro Data SA (click on the “All Reports” tab), for example Acacias of South Australia (64.3mb PDF), Orchids of South Australia (29.9mb PDF), or the six volumes of Womersley’s Marine Benthic Flora of Southern Australia (also available as species fact sheets).

In addition, the State Herbarium of South Australia also publishes the new, 5th edition of the Flora of South Australia online in PDF format. The previous edition from 1986 is long in need of revision, as there are now over 1000 more plants known for the State. (Flora PDF files are also available here.)

The last volume of the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens was received from the printer this week and is now being sent to our partner institutions and libraries. All articles in Vol. 29 (2015/16) are also available online, free of charge, on the journal’s web-page (flora.sa.gov.au/jabg). From this year, the journal changes its name to Swainsona, but continues the volume numbering. Vol. 30 of the renamed journal will contain the Proceedings of the Botany Symposium at the 2016 NRM Science Conference. Regular papers will be published in Vol. 31 (2017).

More information by the UN, UNESCO and Wikipedia on World Book Day. An order form for books published by the Board of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium is available here (270kb PDF). Orders can be placed by phone (08 8222 9311) or fax (08 8222 9399), or you email a scanned copy of this form to us (stateherbsa@sa.gov.au).

Art and Science—a matter of perspective…

by Michelle Waycott

Last Sunday (9 April), at the opening of an exhibition of Jennifer Keeler-Milne sketches, ‘Drawn to a cabinet of curiosities’ at the Museum of Economic Botany, Adelaide Botanic Gardens, I was asked to explore the importance of how art and science may work together. After the event a few people asked me to share my discussion with them…

Curiosities brochure cover

Before I get into that, if you are in Adelaide or passing through, let me encourage you to consider visiting this exhibit. The drawings are an evocative collection of works, based on objects in nature which the artist, Jennifer, tells us she put together over a period of at least three years. They are created in a style which an observer described as being ‘sculpture-like’ because the artist must visualise the final artwork where the pieces of paper she wishes need to remain untouched, the remainder being filled in with charcoal leaving a white image on a black background. This must be a technically challenging approach to create the images of sometimes very delicate structures such as her depictions of feathers, urchins and plants. Highly creative, these pieces are intriguing and together make a collection of interesting ‘objects’.

Creativity is certainly fundamental to the human existence and we often underestimate its importance in and on our lives. In addition, the interaction and interchange of science and art allows exploration of new boundaries through what are essentially creative processes. As a result we may see expansion of our horizons of understanding along with new understanding and expression in our lives—both professional and personal.

Both art and science require a nuanced appreciation of the focus of the works. Both artists and scientists explore details, which they then try to synthesise to reduce or depict complexity and to then communicate their insights to their audiences. Their creative processes generate something from nothing—more from less—understanding from chaos.

The intersection of art and science might be viewed in many ways:

  • art for science
  • art about science
  • art from science
  • science in art
  • science for art
  • or even science–art or art–science…
  • but in my view, and critically, art with science and science with art.

Word games aside these two disciplines have complex interactions. The modern expression of art in its various forms—literature, performing and visual—have become inextricably tied to scientific and technical developments, and conversely, scientific advances have come from insights gained through art.

We cannot deny the beauty of artistic representations of the Fibonacci sequence nor how elemental photography provides us with new views and insight of our world.

Indeed as a botanist, and in particular as a taxonomist, a fundamental tool we use for our work is botanical art which captures the essential features of a plant, depicting the features essential to describe a species so that others may understand the work we have done and the concepts we wish to share.

Both science and art have been enhanced at their interface—through the growth in scientific understanding of the universe and new technologies in everything from new types and colours of paints to musical instruments, writing and computers, digital sharing of works, new types of papers and storage techniques. Today works or pieces of art can be essentially immortal—or transient—simultaneously, depending on their medium and methods of sharing.

But back to the exhibition here… What insights do we gain from art and science together?

The artist, Jennifer at curiosities launch

As a scientist, I can’t help but try to create order, insight and understanding that come from reviewing Jennifer’s collection. In agreement with the inspiration for the exhibition, the concept of a cabinet of curiosities comes across in the sense of special, wonderful, unusual and uncommonly combined objects that are drawn and placed together with the addition of Jennifer using the difficult, and very particular, technique in their creation. Her ‘cabinet’ contains wonders of diverse origins, as she describes them—land, air and sea. The pieces have been put together in with an artistic approach to taxonomic groups. Rocks together in a collection cataloguing their diversity, the varied forms of corals, a staged collection of moths, feathers from different birds and the various feather forms…

However this collection has not had a scientist ‘walking’ alongside the artist informing them of the detail. The Acropora, Pocillopora, Porites, Fungia or Lobophyllia could be rocks, butterflies, plants or corals…

Curiosities drawings of coral

Rather than being a limitation, I think, this gives the viewer the perspective to allow them to interpret the works in their own way—without the names we are left to wonder what they are—like the original cabinets of curiosities they are gems of like grouped objects that are intrinsically wonderful and curious in their way.

This also means that when science does provide other insights that come from a different type of understanding the collection can take on a new dimension. By knowing, for example, that Porites is a coral and that it forms massive, sometimes ancient aged individuals that are the basis of many reefs around the world, we can enjoy the wonder of an expanding and new experience that comes from the knowledge. Then move forward, open another chapter in the story that comes from accumulated creativity and new work and then ask ourselves—what next?

This exhibition is open until the 9 of July, 2017.