Author Archives: Jürgen

Artist Lilian Cooper visiting the State Herbarium

Lilan in her temporary studio. Photo: Elisabeth Schelvis.

As a result of a chance meeting two years ago with Carolyn Ricci at the State Herbarium of South Australia in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, I was introduced to the world of algae. This was one of those fortuitous occasions when meeting someone so impassioned by her subject had an equal reaction on myself. For the last two years I have developed a fascination for algae and seaweed in particular.

I suspect as an artist I approach the subject matter from a different viewpoint than the majority of scientists. My focus is form, composition, the internal structure and the colours of the plants. At all microscopic levels seaweed proves to be fascinating. Carolyn had mentioned in passing that if I found seaweed interesting on a one to one scale then I really needed to see it closer under the microscope and she was entirely correct.

Close-up of the red alga Bonnemaisonia. Photo: Lilian Cooper from material stored at the State Herbarium.

Creatively it was one of the most productive days, I felt like I merely dipped into the subject matter and there is so much I would like to learn and explore. The more I see the more I look forward to further study. It was a privilege to have the laboratory time, the opportunity to use the microscopes and to see and handle some of the extraordinary plant specimens in the collection.

A “wooden book” prepared by von Schlümbach. Photo: Kasteel Groeneveld, The Netherlands.

Presently I work as the visiting artist to Hortus Botanicus Leiden in the Netherlands. I am researching a project on the life and death of trees, this involves me working with researchers from various institutes on the latest tree diseases as well as creating portraits of individual trees. The work is collated in a contemporary xylotheque, reflecting an original xylotheque created by Friedrich Alexander von Schlümbach of Nuremberg in 1790 especially for the university of Leiden. It was commissioned by Louis Napoleon and presented in 1809 as the very latest scientific knowledge (click here and here to see some examples of the parts and contents of a “wooden book”). I am working in turn with contemporary scientific research to create a project that reflects the artistic qualities of our latest technology. My work creates a bridge between the work of specialists in their field and the general public. I aim to make it more accessible appealing to the aesthetic.

The opportunity I have had to spend time in Adelaide has been a privilege. I want to develop the algae project into a substantial body of work exploring the beauty and internal form of the plants. Learning about the herbarium collection has been like entering a box of delights that continually opens to show more and more aspects of plants that I either did not know or had never seen in that way before. I want to heartily thank the Herbarium for letting me visit, for guiding me through the collection and for their warm welcome.

Contributed by Lilian Cooper (

Lilan Cooper sketching a succulent in Leiden. Photo: Elisabeth Schelvis.


Plant of the Month: March 2018

The colourful flowers of Amyema miquelii (box mistletoe), our Plant of the Month for March, 2018, provide an important nectar source for birds and insects at this time of year when few other plants are in flower. It occurs in all Regions of the State with the notable exception of Kangaroo Island (see map on eFloraSA).

Amyema miquelii flowers. Photo J.G. Conran.

Mistletoes are native, woody, hemi-parasitic plants. Their sticky seeds are dispersed by birds and germinate on the branches of trees or shrubs, forming an attachment known as a haustorium that penetrates the wood of their host. They are dependent on the xylem sap of their hosts for water and nutrients but have leaves with chloroplasts to produce their own food by photosynthesis. South Australia has 17 mistletoe species in four genera of the family Loranthaceae. Further information can be found in the 5th edition Flora of South Australia family treatment available here (3 MB pdf).

Mistletoe species vary in their host specificity. Amyema miquelii is usually parasitic on eucalypts (Cormybia & Eucalyptus) and is only rarely found on other genera. Within the eucalypts, it shows a strong preference for box-barked species (such as Eucalyptus microcarpa, grey box, in the Adelaide area), and some smooth-barked gums that are related to the boxes such as E. fasciculosa (pink gum) and E. leucoxylon (SA blue gum), as well as number of mallees mainly from the red mallee group. Its drooping, falcate leaves mimic those of its eucalypt hosts.

Amyema miquelii habit (left, photo: J.G. Conran) and flowers, buds and foliage (right, photo: P.J.Lang).

Amyema pendula is the most similar species to A. miquelii and is sometimes confused with it. Its leaves are of a similar shape but tend to have more obvious parallel venation and a somewhat rusty tomentum. It is most clearly distinguished by the flower clusters which have the middle flower sessile (lacking a stalk). There is very little overlap with A. miquelii in its host preferences.  Amyema pendulum is most commonly found on the stringybarks (Eucalyptus arenacea, E. baxteri, E. obliqua), and on selected gum species (E. viminalis, E. camaldulensis, E. ovata), as well as Blackwood Wattle (Acacia melanoxylon).

Amyema pendula flowers (left, photo: P.J.Lang), Mistletoe bird (right, photo: Duncan McCaskill, CC BY 3.0, cropped).

Mistletoes fruit form a principal component of the diet of the mistletoe bird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), and in turn the bird has evolved to become a major disperser of mistletoe. They have a simple gut that can obtain sugars from the mistletoe fruit and pass it rapidly, avoiding damage to the embryo and leaving the sticky coating relatively intact. Furthermore their specialised perching behaviour helps position the defecated seeds on the host plant branches. Mistletoe birds are widespread across mainland Australia but absent on Kangaroo Island which may account for the lack of mistletoes species there.

Contributed by State Herbarium botanist Peter Lang

NRM Science Conference

From 10–11 April 2018 the third NRM Science Conference 2018 will be held at the University of Adelaide. This conference is a chance to showcase the NRM science underpinning environmental decision making, policy and management in South Australia.

Building on the success of the first two conferences in 2014 and 2016 (which also included a symposium celebrating the State Herbarium’s 60th anniversary), this year’s theme is Science for Policy in a Changing WorldThe conference will be a space for NRM researchers and practitioners to come together to consider the new challenges science faces today and in the future. Eight exciting plenary speakers have been invited, other presenters will include university and government scientists.

For those who want to present at the conference, please note that the deadline for submission of abstracts has been extended to 2 March 2018.

The Conference is organised by the South Australian Department of Water, Environment and Natural Resources and the S.A. NRM Research & Innovation Network. Everyone is welcome to attend the NRM Conference. Registration to the event is free. Please visit this web-site to register.

New Journal article: Feb. 2018

Today, the State Herbarium of South Australia published one paper in the online version of Vol. 31 of Swainsona.

Gintaras Kantvilas, Pertusaria crassilabra Müll. Arg. – a reinstated name for an Australasian lichen (935kb PDF).

The author from the Tasmanian Herbarium continues his contributions to lichenology with a review of the use of the name Pertusaria crassilabra. For a long time, this lichen has been known as P. melanospora in Australia, but this name actually applies to another taxon. Pertusaria is one of the largest genera of lichenised fungi and, with 191 formally recorded taxa, certainly one of the largest in Australia.

The lichen Pertusaria crassilabra, collected on Kangaroo Island. Photo: G. Kantvilas.

To access content of all issues of Swainsona and the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens since Vol. 1 (1976), please visit the journal’s web-site at


Plant of the Month: Feb. 2018

Olearia arckaringensis. Photo: P.J. Lang

A few months ago, State Herbarium botanist Peter Lang and SA Seed Conservation Centre‘s Dan Duval, were part of a field trip to Arckaringa Station.  One of the main aims of the trip was to survey populations of Olearia arckaringensis P.J.Lang, the State Herbarium of South Australia‘s Plant of the Month for February 2018.

Olearia arckaringensis, flower. Photo: A.C. Robinson.

The plant was first discovered in 2000 in gullies of breakaways in an isolated pocket of Arckaringa Station by DEWNR scientists Rob Brandle and Peter Lang. The daisy was recognised to be a new species and described in 2008 by Peter in the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens (895kb PDF). A further two populations were found in 2011 along the same breakaway system on the neighbouring property, Evelyn Downs. In 2016, O. arckaringensis was listed as Endangered under the federal EPBC Act (80kb PDF).

The recent survey discovered several new population of the species. The search took more than 100 hours and covered more than 100 km of breakaway country. The survey team counted and mapped well over 2000 Arckaringa daisy plants and confirmed that the species is rare with quite specific habitat requirements. It was mainly restricted to breakaway sites that had a softer more powdery underlying substrate and were situated in less exposed areas.

Voucher specimens of Olearia arckaringensis and other plants were collected for the State Herbarium and the Seed Conservation Centre. Such collections are vital to build plant knowledge and improve scientists’ ability to accurately describe and identify different species, whilst the stored seeds are a valuable insure against species extinction.

Olearia arckaringensis, old shrub with woody base. Photo: R. Brandle.

The plant is a small, compact perennial shrub, usually to around 30 cm tall, with grey-green leaves and light violet-lavender flowers (occasionally white) borne on long stalks. It rapidly develops a thick woody base from which it can regrow.

More information can be found in DEWNR’s newsletter The Weekly and SA Arid Land’s news release.

Olearia arckaringensis, plant in typical habitat. Photo: SA Seed Conservation Centre.