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.
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.
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.
Park of the Month in Feb. 2017 was Hallett Cove Conservation Park
Herbarium sheet – before the plant is dried, of Carpobrotus rossii. Photo: State Herbarium.
Among the amazing geological features of an ancient landscape a plant which might go unnoticed except when flowering is the native coastal species of Pig-Face, Carpobrotus rossii. In fact, Carpobrotus (Pig-Face) is a world-wide genus of succulent plants, with species native to South Africa, Australia, South America and California.
In South Australia there are four species of Carpobrotus and two species in a closely related genus Sarcozona. Carpobrotus modestus and C. rossii are native to South Australia as are the two Sarcozona, S. bicarinata and S. praecox.
In the coastal areas of Hallett Cove the native species, Carpobrotus rossii is an important member of the ecosystem forming dune protecting ground cover and fruits that animals eat.
Carpobrotus edulis flower type, this plant likely to be a hybrid backcross to C. edulis. Photo: C. Brodie.
However, South Australia also has a species of Carpobrotus that is an introduction from South Africa, Carpobrotusedulis, which is listed in the Global Invasive Species Database for 24 countries.
Honorary Research Associate Dr Hellmut Toelken from the State Herbarium of South Australia has been researching the taxonomy of this group and discovered that some pairs of species may form hybrids in South Australian locations. A partnership between the State Herbarium, The University of Adelaide and The Samphire Coast Icon project and Adelaide and Mount Lofty NRM applied molecular techniques to work out what was going on. The DNA analysis that this project conducted revealed that Dr Toelken was correct, and in fact there are many hybrids forming between the local native species and the introduced one. Hybrids are widespread in many areas, in fact where the two species come into close proximity.
A big problem is that while the yellow flowered C. edulis is relatively easy to identify, the hybrids in South Australia appear to be typically pink floweredplants.
‘In the park ‘glacial pavements’ show evidence of a large glacier that covered the park and surrounding areas 280 million years ago when Australia was part of Gondwana. Over the past 600 million years the Park has undergone a number of changes from being beneath the sea and covered in an ice sheet to being a mountain range. Throughout the Park there is informative signage along the trail that help you understand the story of Hallett Cove Conservation Park.’
F1 C. rossii X C. edulis South Australia. Photo: C. Brodie.
The Sea Nymph — Amphibolis antarctica a seagrass only found in the cooler ocean waters of Australia
The Park of the Month January 2017 was Encounter Marine Park
Sea-nymph, Amphibolis antarctica, South Australia in foreground. Photo: KJ van Dijk.
Our plant of the month for January, the ‘sea nymph’, Amphibolis antarctica, is an Australian endemic species of seagrass which typically occurs in cooler temperate oceanic waters. The earliest collections of Amphibolis antarctica are likely to have been made on the Baudin expedition which were then used by P. Labillardière in 1807 to describe the new species. Plants of the genus Amphibolis are characterised by having a cluster of leaves at the end of sinuous, wirey stems.
Amphibolis antarctica is often found growing attached to rocky or harder substrates, the rhizome and root mat helping them attach by growing into crevices and enabling plants to cling to locations where other seagrasses might become detached. For this reason, Amphibolis antarctica is associated with rocky reefs, limestone and granitic underwater reefs. Amphibolis plants create a significant 3 dimensional surface area for other plants and animals to use as their home and these epiphytes and epifauna are often very obvious elements of local communities.
There have been declines in areas of Amphibolis antarctica and its sister species Amphibolis griffithii closer to the Adelaide Metropolitan region historically, and some areas on Kangaroo Island. The declines have been shown to be due to poor water quality.
Amphibolis plants produce unusual seeds – they in fact form seedlings which remain attached to the mother plant for months after they are formed and then detach and float away to settle as seedlings. This allows them to travel long distances and gives the seedlings of the sea-nymph a better start in life. Research in partnership between the State Herbarium, the University of Adelaide and Murdoch University is studying how genetically diverse populations are and how far the seedlings might travel. A field guide is available that explains more information on Southern Temperate Seagrasses including the sea-nymph.
The Encounter Marine Park is covers 3,119 square kilometres of the Gulf St Vincent and Coorong Marine Bioregions and extends from southern metropolitan Adelaide waters around the Fleurieu Peninsula and past the Murray Mouth to the Coorong coast. A baseline report on the Encounter Marine Park published last year summarised our knowledge of the reserve.
This Encounter Marine Park region contains some very large areas of seagrass and supports numerous fisheries species and other species of conservation value such as the Leafy Sea Dragon. In fact, the density of leafy sea-dragons was surveyed by divers using photo-identification methods near West Island, with density estimated at 57 per hectare (see baseline report on EnviroData SA).
The State Herbarium has chosen Posidonia sinuosa Cambridge & J.Kuo. as the plant of the month for January, 2016 and it is found the Encounter Bay Marine Park.
Posidonia sinuosa is a species of seagrass that is endemic to southern Australia and does not occur further East than the SE of South Australia. It forms very dense, stable meadows, however this species of seagrass has been listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Redlist due to its slow growth rates, infrequent recruitment and highly fragmented habitat across its range. Posidonia sinuosa plants have very long leaves and dense rhizome mats, and as a result the meadows form important habitat for many animals and marine algae which use the plants as a home base. This species of seagrass is typically found in the relatively protected areas of South Australian waters up to around 20 m in depth. Posidonia sinuosa forms floating fruits in summer and along with the fruits of other species of Posidonia, may be often found littered along the beaches at certain times of the year.