Life at the beach: Sex at last!

Bands or zones of growth 10-20 cm wide on concrete walls of the West Beach marina, exposed at low tide and between waves. Upper green band of a wiry green alga (Chaetomorpha linum); lower band of red mat algae (L. monochlamydea and Gigartina brachiata). Photo: B. Baldock.

A diminutive turf-like red alga, Lomentaria monochlamydea (J.Agardh) Kylin, has been found growing as a band of turf on the concrete wall of the West Beach boat marina, Adelaide. This species has been known previously from asexual spore plants, but female and male plants have now been found for the first time in South Australia by State Herbarium Hon. Research Associate Bob Baldock and phycology staff member Carolyn Ricci. Why the excitement? — Well, descriptions of red algal species are never complete until the three separate plants – female, male and spore plants – have been found.

This alga has flattened, yet surprisingly, hollow branches and a growth pattern described by Allan Millar when he found it at Coffs Harbour in NSW as saltatory or “skipping” — an arched horizontal runner puts up vertical branches, pinched at the base, touches the rock or jetty pile surface, then continues on in “leaps and bounds” forming bright red, tangled mats.

Intertwined plants of L. monochlamydea (left) and the cohabiting red mat plant, Gigartina brachiate (right). The coin used as a scale is 23 mm across (or about 1” in diameter). Photos: B. Baldock.

For a while plants found at the West Beach marina were so intermingled with another intertidal red alga, Gigartina brachiata (tangled Gigartina), that we failed to spot that we were looking at two entities. Can you see the differences in the two images above? One is a littler darker in colour with more pointed branch tips?

Once back in the lab and sectioned under the microscope, features of the anatomy made identification easy. (This protracted procedure is often necessary and explains why getting an identification of an alga takes time — and experience.)

Silhouette view of a cluster of flask-shaped female structures at the base of a branch (left) and section view (right) with central mass of spores that grow into a separate asexual plant when released, continuing the life cycle of L. monochlamydea. Photo: B. Baldock.

Female structures after fertilisation produce bodies (actually separate stages vaguely like wombs and embryos in mammals) that look like miniature flasks. No “babies” are produced, however, just spores that germinate into sexless (asexual) plants when released through the opening in the duck-bill-like flask beak.

Male structures are pretty obscure — merely extremely small cells that ring each cortical or “skin” cell in patches on branch surfaces (see image below).

We have yet to locate a critical stage in female reproduction where a microscopic fertile cell (carpogonium) with a long terminal hair (trichogyne) snares a sperm cell floating past and fertilisation is accomplished, inducing the flask (cystocarpic) stage to develop.

Surface of a male plant. Extremely small spermatia form as rings around the larger surface cells. Photo: B. Baldock.

Lomentaria monochlamydea has not often been collected, so it is difficult to make a pronouncement about its distribution. It was first collected in Pt Phillip Bay, Victoria, is found along the NSW coast and there are a few female specimens in the Western Australia Herbarium (although these are attached to another red alga and may be a different species). Previously, in South Australia, it has been collected at the Pt Stanvac jetty and at Robe in shallow water.

Perhaps it has been overlooked or mistaken for Gigartina brachiata, as we initially did at the State Herbarium — which suggests there is a lot more searching and collecting still to come before closing the books on Lomentaria monochlamydea.

ASBS Conference 2016

ASBS 2016 bannerAlice Springs, 26–28 Sep. 2016 — Field trip around Alice Springs, 29 Sep. 2016

This year, the 46th Australasian Systematic Botany Society Conference “Systematic Botany —
a view from the Centre
” will be held in Alice Springs, celebrating our uniquely Australian environment that has led to an original and intriguing flora and the linkages the Australian Flora has with the Trans-Tasman flora in New Zealand.

The Conference is organised by Peter Jobson (Northern Territory Herbarium, Alice Springs) and co-convened by Prof. Michelle Waycott (State Herbarium of South Australia, Adelaide, & The University of Adelaide).

Conference session themes

We hope to encourage contributions across a variety of topics including the following themes:

  • Systematics, taxonomy and evolution of Australian and other arid-zone floras
  • Trans-Tasman linkages of Australian and New Zealand floras
  • New initiatives in identifying and managing introduced plants: weeds, genes and taxonomy on a global scale
  • Taxonomy in decision making: the importance of recognising and maintaining core resources and skills that relate to the management of natural resources
  • Innovative data management in the ‘big data’ – ‘global data’ age and how this relates to everyday business in herbaria and other collections
  • And of course, we hope that anyone with work or ideas they want to share in the broadest definition of the discipline of plant systematics will plan on attending also.

POR_CHASE_Mark_prof_060815AM011_croppedPlenary speaker

Our plenary Speaker will be Prof. Mark Chase, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and an Adjunct Professor in Plant Biology at The University of Western Australia. Mark has been actively working in Australia for some time and will join our Conference after an extended field trip into South and Western Australia.


The Organising Committee encourages everyone who might even be remotely tempted to attend the Conference to subscribe to the website for ongoing updates for ASBS 2016:

We use this service to update those who register on anything new regarding registration, key speakers, local planning options and an ever-evolving program.

Come and join us in Alice Springs for what should be a wonderful, friendly and interesting Conference.

This ASBS Conference is being jointly run by the systematic botanists from Northern Territory and South Australia. In the spirit of partnership, collaboration and sharing the load, we look forward to you joining us in Alice Springs in September.

Venue is the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Alice Springs.


Organising Committee

WA Herbarium on the radio

Botanist Ryonen Butcher in the WA Herbarium vaults. Photo: ABC.

Our colleagues from the Western Australian Herbarium and the WA Threatened Flora Seed Centre were featured on Perth’s 720 ABC last week. The interviews with Department of Parks and Wildlife WA, staff members Ryonen Butcher, John Huisman and Andrew Crawford, as well as Herbarium Volunteer Pat Angel, give an insight into their plant and seed collections, the care it takes to look after them, and their importance to biodiversity conservation. The two audio files can be accessed here.

Plant of the Month (though not a plant): Cortinarius austrovenetus

July’s Park of the Month, Cleland Conservation Park, commemorates renowned naturalist and mycologist Professor Sir John Burton Cleland, Professor of Pathology at the University of Adelaide. The “Plant” of the Month is not a plant but a fungus, Cortinarius austrovenetus, and is an appropriate choice since it was described by Cleland.

Cortinarius austrovenetus. Photo: David Catcheside.

Cortinarius austrovenetus is a handsome, medium-sized agaric, a gilled fungus. Its green, yellowish-green to bluish-green cap (pileus) may reach 80 mm diameter, is slightly domed but may become flattened. The surface is dry with a silky sheen giving it its common name of green skinhead. The gills (lamellae) on which the spores are produced are initially yellowish but become rusty-brown as the spores mature. The stem (stipe) is yellow to yellow ochre, dry and rather stout, measuring up to 80 mm in height and to 15 mm in diameter. On the upper part of the stem the remains of a cobwebby veil may have a dusting of rusty spores. The cobwebby veil is called the cortina, hence the generic name Cortinarius. It initially protects the developing gills until the spores are mature. The specific epithet is derived from the Latin auster, southern, i.e. Australasian, and venetus meaning sea-coloured. The spores are ellipsoid, measure 9 to 12 µm by 5 to 7 µm and the surface varies from warty-rough to almost smooth.

Cortinarius austrovenetus. Photo: David Catcheside.

Cortinarius austrovenetus is mycorrhizal with many species of Eucalyptus and grows on the ground in native forests and woodlands. It occurs in the southern States: Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, as well as South Australia.

J.B. Cleland collected C. austrovenetus at a number of locations in South Australia: Belair National Park, Kuitpo and Lobethal. The lectotype is from Mount Lofty. The fungus has a wide distribution in South Australia, having been found from parks on Kangaroo Island, the South-east and Northern and Southern Lofty regions, including Cleland Conservation Park.

The State Herbarium of South Australia (AD) houses J.B. Cleland’s approximately 16,000 fungal collections, over 200 of which were new species described by him.

J.B. Cleland in 1966. Photo: Murray Fagg (ANBG).

J.B. Cleland Kt., C.B.E., M.D., Ch.M., F.R.A.C.P. was born at Norwood, South Australia in 1878. He developed a love of natural history at an early age, an interest which continued throughout his long life. He died in 1971 at the age 93.

Cleland was a polymath, knowledgeable about botany, geology, ornithology, anthropology, as well as mycology. He decided to study medicine, but, because of problems in administration of medicine at the University of Adelaide, completed his medical training at the University of Sydney. He graduated in 1900, then travelled as a ship’s surgeon to northern Australia and the Far East, went on to train in the United Kingdom in pathology, bacteriology and tropical medicine. He returned to Australia in 1905, initially to Perth, then to Sydney in 1909. While in Sydney he made many collections of fungi and collaborated with Edwin Cheel, a staff member at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Together, they described a number of new species of fungi. Cleland returned to South Australia and was appointed Marks Professor of Pathology in 1920, a position he held until his retirement at the age of 70 in 1949.

J.B. Cleland at Adelaide Railway Station with his collecting gear, 1934. Photo: State Herbarium collection.

In spite of his responsible position, Cleland devoted much time to collecting, especially to the collecting of fungi. He corresponded with mycologists around the world including E.M. Wakefield at Kew, G.H. Cunningham in New Zealand and C.G. Lloyd in the U.S.A. Most of his collections from South Australia were made from 1920 to 1935. His Handbook, Toadstools and Mushrooms and other Larger Fungi of South Australia, published in two parts in 1934 and 1935, is a major monograph on Australian fungi and the first work covering the larger fungi in this country since M.C. Cooke’s Handbook of Australian Fungi, published in 1892.

Cleland played a large part in the establishment of the Handbooks of the Flora and Fauna of South Australia and was instrumental in the publication of J.M. Black’s Flora of South Australia. He served on many semi-government committees, advising the government on matters of wildlife conservation about which he was passionate. It was largely due to his efforts that National Parks and reserves such as Belair and Flinders Chase National Parks were established.

Professor Cleland was a remarkable mycologist, naturalist, promoter of natural history and his work has enriched our knowledge and understanding not only of the mycology but of the whole South Australian biota.

Important references to S.A. fungi

  1. Cleland, J.B. (1928). Australian fungi: notes and descriptions. No. 7. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 52: 217-222.
  2. Cleland, J.B. (1934-1935). Toadstools and Mushrooms and Other Larger Fungi of South Australia, Parts I and II. Government Printer, Adelaide (Reprint 1976).
  3. Fuhrer, B. (2005). A field guide to Australian Fungi. (Bloomings Books: Melbourne).
  4. Gates, G., Ratkowsky, D. (2014). Field Guide to Tasmanian Fungi. Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club.
  5. Grey. P., Grey. E. (2005). Fungi down Under. Fungimap.
  6. Grgurinovic, C.A. (1997). Larger Fungi of South Australia. The Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and State Herbarium & The Flora and Fauna of South Australia Handbooks Committee. [An up-date of Clelands handbook].
  7. Shepherd, C.J. and Totterdell C.J. (1988). Mushrooms and Toadstools of Australia. Inkata Press.
  8. Young AM (2005). A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia. Sydney, UNSW Press.

New journal article: June 2016

Thelidium robustum. Line drawing by P.M. McCarthy.

Today, the State Herbarium of South Australia published one paper in the online version of the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

P.M. McCarthy & G. Kantvilas, Thelidium robustum sp. nov. (lichenized Ascomycota, Verrucariaceae) from Kangaroo Island, South Australia (430KB PDF).

Patrick McCarthy (formerly Australian Biological Resources Study, Canberra) and Gintaras Kantvilas (Tasmanian Herbarium, Hobart) describe a new species of lichen from Kangaroo Island. It is only known from one locality on the island, growing on limestone amongst dense coastal heathland. The authors also provide an identification key to all species of Thelidium in Australia.

To access content of all volumes of the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens since Vol. 1 (1976), please visit the journal’s web-site at (the Journal is also available through JSTOR).