New 2022-23 and 2021-22 weeds reports published

Protea cynaroides, a newly recognised weed, originally from South Africa. Re-generating parent plant on Kangaroo Island. Photo: C.J. Brodie.

The State Herbarium of South Australia documents all known plant taxa (species, sub-species, varieties and forms) native and naturalised (weedy) in South Australia. These are listed in the Census of South Australian Plants, Algae and Fungi. All newly discovered State and regional records are added to the Census throughout the year. These records are based on preserved plant specimens, verified by a botanists and housed in the vaults of the State Herbarium.

For all new records of non-native plants, an annual report is produced by Weeds Botanist Chris Brodie and Senior Botanist Peter Lang, both from the State Herbarium. The report includes the list of new weeds recorded for South Australia with locations, descriptions and photographs. Also documented are updates to taxa that have had a change in distribution, weed status or name. Other activities carried out by the Weeds Botanist are summarised, as well, such as field trips or presentations to community groups.

The latest reports are now available online:

Brodie, C.J. & Lang, P.J. (2024). Regional Landscape Surveillance for New Weed Threats Project, 2021-2022: Annual report on new plant naturalisations in South Australia (2.7mb PDF).

Brodie, C.J. & Lang, P.J. (2024). Regional Landscape Surveillance for New Weed Threats Project, 2022-2023: Annual report on new plant naturalisations in South Australia (3.2mb PDF).

Also available for download are reports for the year 20-2021 (2.2mb PDF), as well as the reports for 2019-20 (16mb PDF), 2018-19 (4.2mb PDF), 2017-18 (4.5mb PDF), 2016-17 (3.8mb PDF) and a compilation of all reports from 2010 to 2016 (3.7mb PDF).

These reports highlight to land managers, which non-native plant species have recently been found in South Australia and where. New records are listed as either “naturalised/established” (*) or “questionably naturalised/established” (?e).

At the end of June 2023, there were 5170 vascular plant taxa recognised in South Australia, of which 1714 are weeds, i.e. 33%. In the 2021-22 financial year, eight new weeds were added to the Census; and in 2022-23, 15 new weeds. During the last thirteen years, 267 new weed records were added to the SA Census through work of the State Herbarium’s Weed Botanist.

Naturalised plant taxa are those that have originally been introduced by humans to an area, deliberately or accidentally. They have self-propagated without aid, where they are not wanted, and are possibly spreading by natural means to new areas. An example listed in the recent reports recorded as naturalised for the first time, is the garden plant Opuntia leoglossa (Lion’s Tongue ) a species of unknown origin recorded as a weed across Australia and Spain. This is an example of a garden plant that has become weedy (see also a 1985 article by P.M. Kloot; 733kb PDF).

Questionably Naturalised taxa (i.e. possible new weeds) are introduced non-native plants that may be self-propagating without aid, but are not well established or lack data to classify them as naturalised. Examples of this are the garden plants Alstroemeria psittacina Parrot Lily, Nassella trichotoma Serrated Tussock Grass, and several Protea species; Protea neriifolia Oleander-leaf Protea, and Protea cynaroides King Protea.

Australian species can also become weeds, such as Acacia gonophylla Rasp-stemmed Wattle, Banksia grandis Bull Banksia, Melaleuca diosmifolia Green Honey-myrtle, and Vincetoxicum barbatum Bearded Tylophora, all from other states.

The new state records Protea neriifolia Oleander-leaf Protea, Protea cynaroides King Protea, and Banksia grandis Bull Banksia, were recorded for the first time for South Australia collected from Kangaroo Island, from within a fire a scar from the 2019-20 bushfires. Also collected from KI, mostly from within the fire scars were an additional 41 new regional weed records listed as naturalised or questionably naturalised for KI. This data is contained within the “Updates to weed distribution, weed status, and name changes” sections of the reports.

The Mexican palm Washingtonia robusta, growing in an abandoned and demolished part of Leigh Creek. Photo: C.J. Brodie.

Any unknown weed or possible new state or regional weed records should be reported to Chris Brodie (0437 825 685, If you have permission from the landowner, you could press a plant, record collection data, and submit a preserved plant specimen for identification.

The pressed plant (or part of the plant) should consist of stems with leaves attached and preferably flowers and/or fruit. Collection data includes, plant location, habitat, frequency, height and width, colour and smell, and what the plant looks like when alive and growing. Images can help in identifying plants. Also include the date, your name and contact details.

Please use the pro-forma collection sheet (0.4mb PDF) in pencil and submit it together with the pressed plant specimen.

Compiled by State Herbarium Weeds Botanist Chris Brodie.

New angiosperm tree of life

Last week a major research paper on the evolution of flowering plants was published. It was prepared by a global team of 279 authors, lead by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK. The following botanists from the State Herbarium of South Australia and The University of Adelaide were also involved in the project: Michelle Waycott (SA Team leader), Ed Biffin, Ainsley Calladine, John Conran, Kor-jent van Dijk, Andrew McDougall, Francis Nge (now National Herbarium of New South Wales), Andrew Thornhill (now University of New England), Helen Vonow and Luis Williamson. All collaborators have been actively involved in providing samples, contributing to analysis, interpretation, paper conceptualisation and/or writing.

A.R. Zuntini et al. (2024). Phylogenomics and the rise of the angiosperms. Nature [published online before print], 8 pp. and Electronic Supplement.

The new phylogeny of flowering plants can be viewed, explored and searched at the Kew Tree of Life Explorer website. The paper and website represent a massive step-change in a baseline for phylogenetic data being used in understanding the evolution of angiosperms.

Time-calibrated phylogenetic tree for angiosperms based on 353 nuclear genes. All 64 orders, all 416 families and 58% (7,923) of genera are represented.

A new grass book

A few months ago, a new book about the common grasses in southern Australia was published by Ellen Bennett and the Native Grass Resources Group

Bennett, E. (2024). That grass book: Identifying grasses in southern Australia. Published by the author: Mitcham.

The work was supported by staff of the State Herbarium of South Australia, in particular Helen Vonow (Collection Manager) and Peter Canty (former Manager of the Herbarium).

Grasses can be difficult to distinguish. This book provides easy to use silhouette images of flower heads to help with identification. Each species receives a full-page treatment with detailed photographs of the grasses and close-up images. The book covers about 80 common genera and 130 common species found in southern Australia.

The book is available from this website. It costs $45.


Fundraising for fungi

For about 20 years, State Herbarium Hon. Research Associate Pam Catcheside and her husband David Catcheside from Flinders University are undertaking regular surveys for fungi on Kangaroo Island. They are documenting, describing and photographing the species they find and have contributed numerous specimens of fungi to the State Herbarium of South Australia.

The culmination of their work is currently being prepared as a book, to be published by the Board of the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium:

The Fungi of Kangaroo Island – and beyond
An illustrated field guide to the larger fungi of Southern Australia

The book will have an extensive introduction on fungi, their classification and where to find them in South Australia. Over 200 species will be described, covering a wide variety of different genera, with one page per species. The volume will have around 400 pages.

The Adelaide Botanic Gardens Foundation is now fundraising to help and off-set some of the publication costs of the volume. Please click on this link for more information on the book and how you can donate. Your help will be much appreciated.

Sample pages from Pam & David Catcheside’s book (click on image to enlarge).

Congratulations Hellmut Toelken!

Dr Hellmut Toelken has devoted his career (and ‘retirement’) to the taxonomy and systematics of South African and Australian flora. Over this time he has contributed roughly 6000 collections to African herbaria, and over 3600 to Australian herbaria (of which around 1400 are databased). He named 412 taxa, authored over 72 publications (14 in retirement, mind you), revised two large genera, Crassula and Hibbertia, as well as the Australian species of Kunzea. Hellmut even had one genus names after him, Toelkenia P.V.Heath (now a synonym of Crassula), as well as one species and one hybrid: Kunzea toelkenii de Lange and Kalanchoe
xtoelkenii Gideon F.Sm.

The 45th anniversary of his first day at the State Herbarium is coming up next month, but where did his journey begin?

From South Africa…

Map of South West Africa, indicating the location of Hellmut’s family farm.

Hellmut was born in Windhoek, South West Africa (now Namibia) and lived on a farm in the bush. The aftermath of WWII made petrol scarce, and therefore overpriced, ruling out the option of a daily 101 km trek to the nearest town of Gobabis for school. Instead he headed off to boarding school in Windhoek, 402 km from home, at the age of 8.

His interest in plants began with gardening on the farm, as well as cultivating flowers and succulents at school, and solidified with a Bachelor of Science from Stellenbosch University (1961), followed by an Honours Degree (1962), Masters (1965), PhD (1974) and even a lecturing position in botany at the University of Cape Town.

During his time in South Africa, Hellmut worked at the Botanical Research Institute in Pretoria on the genus Crassula (Crassulaceae) in particular, authoring the 2-volume A Revision of the Genus Crassula in Southern Africa (1977), based on his PhD thesis. From 1974 to 1976 he was the South African Botanical Liaison Officer at the Kew Herbarium. 

Hellmut Toelken as a young boy (LEFT) and as university student in 1961 (RIGHT).

To South Australia…

In April 1979, Hellmut immigrated to Australia and had all of two days holiday before commencing at the State Herbarium of South Australia. Not only did he have to adapt to a new country, but also its new and unique environment. He describes a 9-week field trip with fellow State Herbarium botanist Bob Chinnock in Sep. 1979 as being a good (though perhaps intensive) opportunity to become familiar with the flora of his new home.

Fortunately, Hellmut was able to continue researching some of the families and genera he had become an expert on in Africa, such as Crassula and Carpobrotus (Crassulaceae), which are also found in Australia, though sometimes as weeds. As Senior Botanist, he contributed to, and co-edited Flowering Plants in Australia (1983) and the revised, 4th edition of Flora of South Australia (1986). During this time, he also authored the Crassulaceae volume of the Flora of Southern Africa (1985).

In 1995 he first published research on Hibbertia (Dilleniaceae), particularly eastern and northern Australian species, which has become the primary focus of his research for the past 14 years and earned him renown as a world expert.

Master taxonomist

Different hair types in Hibbertia tomentosae group. First published in Toelken, J. Adelaide Bot. Gard. Vol. 23: 6 (2010).

A critical contribution to the taxonomy of Hibbertia was Hellmut’s method for describing, identifying and determining relationships within a large northern Australian group including Hibbertia tomentosa (previously called the “Tomentosae”). Species identification usually begins with morphological characters, such as differences in the organs of a flower. However, Hibbertia flowers can be strikingly similar: often with yellow petals and little obvious variation to the naked eye. Instead, Hellmut looked beyond the flowers to the microscopic trichomes (hairs that occur on many parts of the plants) to separate species. Individually each hair type has a distinct morphology that can be described in detail and differentiated from other hair types: ranging from simple and straight, to hooked, star-like or even scale-like. Using these hairs is invaluable as they provide the diagnostic differences to help separate species, and allows identification in sparse or dated collections.

Hibbertia fumana, described by Hellmut Toelken in 2011 from specimens collected in the early 1800s. Image: G.R.M. Dashorst.

Because a thorough description of a species can lead to further individuals or populations being found, Hellmut’s work has also been pivotal for conservation. Hibbertia fumana (from New South Wales) was thought extinct, before being unknowingly rediscovered as part of a biological survey 190 years after it was first collected. Hellmut realised some of the specimens were the supposedly extinct Hibbertia, and was able to revise its description with much more detail including that of the fruit and seed (which weren’t present in the three original herbarium specimens), illustrations, and photographs. This detailed treatment put the species back on collector radars, and the additional described characteristics allowed for field identification. All of this taxonomic work led to a population of 370 living plants being found, pulling the species well and truly out of extinction. And that is just one of 379 species described by Hellmut!

Hellmut’s advice for budding taxonomists?

Use your initiative and look beyond flowers. He touts the importance of physical collections and morphological examination in tandem with molecular analysis, and says that field trips are the best part of the job.

Written by State Herbarium staff member Jem Barratt.