Category Archives: News

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.

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.

Five additional weed species prohibited from sale throughout South Australia

The Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation has declared five additional introduced weed species under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (NRM Act). This prohibits these species from sale throughout South Australia.

Introduced species are declared under the NRM Act if they pose a threat to primary industries, natural environments or public safety. The new additions were included as part of a review of the NRM Act, conducted by Biosecurity SA in conjunction with the eight Natural Resources Management boards. Other stakeholders in SA were also consulted including the State Herbarium of South Australia. The review of the NRM Act is to maintain the relevance of polices and declarations, and the final changes were officially gazetted in the South Australian Government Gazette 7: 368-382 on 9 February 2017 (2.5mb PDF). This now completes the review of the declared plant schedules and polices, a procedure that was begun in 2010.

The five additional introduced weedy plant species that have been added to the Declared Plant List, now prohibited from sale throughout South Australia to prevent further spread, are:

Alisma lanceolatum With. (alisma) is an emergent perennial water weed with large broad leaves and herbaceous flowering stems that is produced from a short underwater rhizome. It is found at a few localities in the Southern Lofty region of South Australia. However, caution should be exercised if controlling suspected infestations, as A. lanceolatum closely resembles another widespread and similar looking native species, Alisma plantago-aquatica. Detailed descriptions of the two species and identification keys can be found in a paper by John Conran (900kb PDF).

Alisma lanceolatum, habit (left) and close-up of flower (right). From J.G. Conran, J. Adelaide Bot. Gard. 25: 14 (2012), Fig. 1D, F.

Arundo donax L. (giant reed) is a large perennial cane grass of stream edges and wetlands, native to Eurasia and naturalised locally in South Australia. Giant reed is highly sterile and clumps spread slowly by underground rhizomes producing successive stems and forming a dense monoculture. Clumps can be spread to new areas when stems or rhizomes are moved in soil or garden waste to other suitable locations.

Arundo donax infestation in the Adelaide Hills. Photo: Biosecurity SA.

Leptospermum laevigatum (Gaertn.) F.Muell. (coastal tea-tree) is a shrub or small tree adapted to coastal habitats, introduced to South Australia from eastern Australia. In areas where coastal tea-tree has invaded, it has been observed to have a competitive impact on other native shrubs. Coastal tea-tree was widely planted during the twentieth century and is now naturalised in South Australia and is often assumed to be native with local residents not realising it is a weed. A related native species is L. lanigerum.

Leptospermum laevigatum. Photo: M.Fagg, Australian Plant Image Index (ANBG).

Myriophyllum aquaticam (Vell.) Verdc. (parrot feather) is a submerged aquatic plant growing from a rhizome in shallow fresh water. It has been introduced to South Australia as an aquarium plant. Parrot feather is found growing in shallow waters on muddy substrates. It interferes with the flow of water in streams, recreational freshwater fishing and other recreation. Stems may float out over water surfaces to form dense tangled rafts of plant material, from which the emergent shoots arise to give an impenetrable mat that competes with native aquatic plants for habitat.

Myriophyllum aquaticum, view of plant from side (left) and from top (right). Photos: André Karwath from Wikimedia CC-BY-SA.

Trachyandra divaricata (Jacq.) Kunth (dune onion weed) is a sandbinding perennial of coastal dunes, introduced to South Australia from southern Africa. Dune onion weed is perennial and reproduces by seed. Seed can be spread when dry plants break off and are rolled along beaches by the wind. Dune onion weed can be toxic to livestock, causing photosensitisation. This has occurred in Western Australia on coastal dunes that were used for pasturing cattle.

Trachyandra divaricata on the beach. Photo: AMLR/DEWNR.

Distribution maps for the species, based on State Herbarium records, can be found through the eFloraSA web-site (use the Census search function) or Australia’s Virtual Herbarium. Some of these plants have been in the horticultural trade as garden or aquarium plants.

A poster with a full list with images and descriptions of all recent new plant declarations in South Australia is available here (3mb PDF).

To ensure correct management of weeds a positive reliable identification is required. The State Herbarium of South Australia’s Weeds Botanist Chris Brodie can offer identifications of these or any other suspected weeds to confirm their identity. This ensures that the correct taxa are targeted for control measures.

Please contact Chris Brodie by email or phone (08 8222 9468) for further information on the identification of weeds.

Contributed by Chris Brodie, Weeds Botanist, State Herbarium.

Phycologist visiting the Herbarium

The State Herbarium of South Australia has the largest and most varied collection of specimens of the algae tribe Polysiphonieae in all of Australia, largely due to the detailed work of H.B.S. Womersley and his encyclopaedic work The Marine Benthic Flora of Southern Australia (1984–2003).

Tolypiocladia glomerulata, a widespread species, also found in Australia (WA, NT, Qld). Photo: Moorea Biocode, French Polynesia (EOL), CC-BY-NC-SA.

This week, Dr Yola Metti from the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney is visiting the State Herbarium to study the valuable specimens housed here. Specifically, Dr Metti will look at the morphological differences within and between the genera of the tribe Polysiphonieae, as well as detailed distributions of each species.

In 2016, Yola received a 3-year postdoctoral grant from the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS). She and her collaborators, from S Korea, USA, PERTH, MELU and NSW, will be working on the systematics of the tribe Polysiphonieae (Rhodomelaceae, Rhodophyta) of Australia in both marine and non-marine environments.  This project will determine species and genus-level taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships within the tribe Polysiphonieae (Rhodomelaceae, Rhodophyta) within Australia, including both marine and nonmarine taxa.  It will result in the first detailed, taxonomic study of an extremely diverse and difficult group in Australia.

The tribe Polysiphonieae is a cosmopolitan red algae and contains 15 genera and over 300 species; 11 genera encompassing 81 species are recorded for Australia, though there would appear to be several dozen undescribed taxa. The tribe in Australia has many problematic species, and there is a great deal of uncertainty in the application of names and distribution of taxa. Morphological characters are conflicting and highly variable, making identifications through molecular markers critical. Worldwide studies indicate that the larger genera are polyphyletic, prompting revision of the group outside Australia and resulting in new genera. The group has poorly defined genera and many of the Australian endemic genera are not represented in published analyses.

Echinothamnion hystrix. found in Australia (WA, SA, Vic., Tas.) and New Zealand. Photo: J. Huisman, Esperance, Western Australia (Algaebase).

In addition to the taxonomic issues mentioned above, the relationships between marine and non-marine taxa are uncertain: we don’t even know if they are the same species? Polysiphonieae are an important component of waterways and are used as eutrophication indicators. They are fouling organisms that can become invasive and damaging to the environment, fisheries and tourism. In Australia, the group is rarely targeted for taxonomic study, but is often collected by workers surveying aquatic habitats.

No global study of the tribe has been completed, though large amounts of data are available. Bringing together this data is required to understand the taxonomy of the group. This Australian-wide study, that will incorporate the high diversity found here along with the world-wide available data, will be key to the understanding of the tribe.

Yola Metti during field work. Photo: Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney (Instagram).

Contributed by Yola Metti, Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney