Category Archives: News

Moss news

Adelaide’s micro-gallery Flaneur at the corner of Gawler Place and Fisher Place, Adelaide. Photo: A. Thornhill.

Last October was a big month for moss and at the State Herbarium of South Australia we “officially” renamed the month Soft Moss Rocktober. It began at the start of the year when I was asked if I could come up with a potential trivia night for the Nature Festival. Almost instantly I came up with the name Mosstermind and so the spores of the world’s first moss-based trivia night were released. A week later I was asked if I could create a moss art exhibition to be housed in Gallery Flaneur during Nature Festival week. I approached an artist I know who wished to remain unknown and so the An.Annie.Moss project was born.

Over the winter months I began working on different art pieces with An.Annie.Moss and gathered ABC Radio Drive host Jules Schiller to be the mosster of ceremonies for Mosstermind. At the same time our student volunteer Bonnie was spending time in the Adelaide Hills making new collection records of mosses for both the Adelaide Hills region as well as the State.

Fast forward to the start of spring and the artwork and trivia night question were almost done. To complement An.Annie.Moss art I found a second-hand dolls house to convert into a minature art gallery building. I completely dismantled it, sanded off all of the original paper and then bought new wallpaper, roofing and floor to make it look like a proper gallery. An.Annie.Moss also began sculpting moss and the exhibit kept expanding. On 7 Oct. 2022, An.Annie.Moss was launched in Gallery Flaneur and stayed there for three weeks. It was complemented by little terracotta pots filled with the moss that was in the paintings.

Jules Schiller (left) and Andrew Thornhill (right) on stage during Mosstermind. Photo: A. Thornhill.

Then, on the 12 Oct. 2022, we held Mosstermind at The Gov to a sold out audience of 160 people. The night was a great success and many of the contestants soon realised that not all of the questions were about the moss plant. Jules, the mosster of ceremonies, wowed the crowd with his moss knowledge and the puns flowed all night. There have even been requests for a Mosstermind 2 for the 2023 festival but we will have to wait and see how things unfold before we can say it will be back.

Small terracotta pots filled with mosses for the An.Annie.Moss exhibition. Photo: A. Thornhill.

While Soft Moss Rocktober is long over, the moss-events are continuing. An.Annie.Moss is now on display in the Museum of Economic Botany all through summer. If you missed the chance to see it during the Nature Festival then you have another chance to go and enjoy the macro-micro art.

Compiled by botanist Andrew Thornhill
(State Herbarium of South Australia
& The University of Adelaide)

New publication on NZ fossils

View overlooking Foulden Maar showing the now infilled crater and mining pit. Photo: J. Conran.

Next week, the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide is hosting the Australian launch of a new publication on of New Zealand’s best known (and controversial) fossil localities, co-authored by State Herbarium Research Affiliate Dr John Conran (The University of Adelaide).

D.E. Lee, U. Kaulfuss & J. Conran (2022). Fossil treasures of Foulden Maar: A window into Miocene Zealandia. (Otago University Press: Dunedin, NZ).

Foulden Maar in Otago, New Zealand, a now infilled former lake, is home to an amazing record of life on Earth and is a paleontological site of international significance. Formed by a violent one-off volcanic eruption 23 million years ago, it comprises tens of thousands of undisturbed annual layers that record the changing life and ecosystems in and around a small, deep volcanic crater lake that existed for more than 130,000 years at the very beginning of the Miocene. The site is unsurpassed in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fossils in Foulden Maar include abundant plant remains, represented by leaves (including two rare fossil orchids), fragile flowers with pollen (including the world’s only fossil Fuchsia), fruits, seeds, wood and bark, together with pollen grains, fern, moss and fungal spores and billions of diatoms.

Fossil leaves from Foulden Maar, one showing extensive insect damage. Photo: J. Conran.

Animal fossils from the freshwater lake and surrounding rainforest abound and include the oldest known galaxiid (whitebait) fish on Earth, the first freshwater eel found in the Southern Hemisphere, sponges and myriad insects and spiders, virtually all new to science. Fish larvae still have their patterned skin, insects their eyes, antennae and wing patterns and some have retained their colour.

Ecological interactions are also captured: scale insects may be seen in life position on leaves, fish have the remains of their last meal in their stomach, and insect damage on plants is common. Evidence for waterbirds on the lake is seen in the abundance of fossilised sandy coprolites in the diatomite layers.

Most remarkable of all, Foulden Maar preserves a record of the climate fluctuations, year by year, through the life of the lake. Detailed analyses of core samples taken from the diatomite deposit have revealed temperatures, rainfall, global climate cycles (including ENSO cycles) and changing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in a world 23 million years ago.

This unparalleled archive of past life and climate shows that the mean annual temperature in the area was 8°C warmer than today – a marginally subtropical climate. The increased temperature was connected to higher CO2 levels of 450 parts per million (ppm) – approaching those that Earth will reach in the next few decades.

Example fossils from Foulden Maar: (A) A Fouldenia flower with preserved pollen; (B) Metrosideros (rātā) fruit; (C) galaxiid (whitebait) fish larva; (D) chrysomelid (leaf beetle) wing cases with colour still preserved; (E) a winged male Myrmecorhynchus ant. Photos: J. Conran & U Kaulfuss.

The authors are:

  • Daphne Lee (University of Otago), who has been a coordinator of the research team at Foulden Maar since 2003 and in 2017, Daphne received the McKay Hammer from the Geoscience Society of New Zealand, the premier award for geological research in New Zealand. She is currently an Honorary Associate Professor in the Geology Department.
  • Uwe Kaulfuss (University of Göttingen, Germany) completed his PhD focusing on the sedimentology and palaeontology of Foulden Maar and received the Harold Wellman Prize in 2009 for the discovery of fossil insects at Foulden Maar. Uwe continues to work on the biogeography and evolution of New Zealand fossil insects, funded by the German Research Foundation.
  • John Conran (The University of Adelaide) is a botanist and paleobotanist who joined the Foulden Maar research group in 2006. He has co-supervised several University of Otago and University of Adelaide Honours and postgraduate student projects on aspects of the Foulden Maar biota and is still working on the flora and palaeoecology of the site.
  • The foreword was written by Paul Selden, palaeontologist and arachnologist and Gulf-Hedberg Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas.

The book is available officially from the NZ distributors, Nationwide Books, as well as John Reed in Australia.

Compiled by Research Affiliate John Conran.

New Journal articles: Aug. 2022

The State Herbarium of South Australia published two articles online in its journal Swainsona today, 30 Aug. 2022.

Botanic Gardens Maintenance Worker Roy Haskett, Technical Assistant Ron Hill and Director Noel Lothian, summit of Mt Woodroffe, Musgrave Ranges, S.A. during collecting expedition, June 1958. Photo: BGSH.

(1) L. Haegi, Botany and science at Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens since the founding of the State Herbarium (4.5mb PDF)

This paper is published in Vol. 30 of Swainsona, the Special Issue to celebrate 60 years State Herbarium of South Australia. Hon. Research Associate Laurie Haegi presents a history of science and research at the Botanic Garden of South Australia in the areas of plant propagation, germination studies, plant diseases and plant pathology, identification of ornamental plants and seed banking. A focus of the article is the period from 1948, when Noel Lothian became Director of the Botanic Gardens, to today. The paper was the result of a presentation given during the Symposium celebrating the Herbarium’s birthday, which was part of the 2016 NRM Science Conference.

(2) M. Hislop & A.J.G. WIlson, A taxonomic update of Stenanthera (Ericaceae: Epacridoideae: Styphelieae), including description of a third species from Western Australia, an updated description of S. pungens and an Australia-wide key to species (0.5mb PDF)

Stenanthera lacsalaria, a new species from W.A. Illustration Hung Ky Nguyen.

The second article is published in Vol. 36 of Swainsona, the regular volume for this year. The authors review the epacrid genus Stenanthera, which occurs in W.A., S.A., N.S.W., Victoria and Tasmania. They publish a new species endemic to W.A., Stenanthera lacsalaria and provide an updated, more detailled description of S. pungens.

To access content of all volumes of Swainsona and the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens since Vol. 1 (1976), please visit the journal’s web-site at flora.sa.gov.au/swainsona or the Swainsona back-up site.

National Tree Day – 31 July 2022

Today is National Tree Day and in Australia across many parts of the country the dominant trees are the eucalypts. There are over 800 species of eucalypts and I often find myself trying to identify them as I drive along country roads or ride my bike to and from work. More often than not the best I can say is… ‘yes that it is a Eucalyptus‘. My cycle route around Adelaide takes me through a number of areas where eucalypts have been planted or left to remain. As a guess, I think I would ride past at least 20 species of eucalypts a day. We are lucky to live in a city that has extensive parklands surrounding it and a botanic gardens at its heart. In addition, in the area less than 15 minutes from central Adelaide City you can be in some kind of woodland, be it planted or remnant. There are not many other cities in the world that can claim the same.

The remarkable diversity of eucalypts can make them challenging to identify. In fact only a small group of extremely talented people (I’m not one) can tell you the species name by sight. Some eucalypts are quite distinct and can be identified by looking at the shape of the tree, or the gloss of the leaves. In fact to identify a ‘Euc’ it often takes a combination of bark, buds, leaf shape, number of gum-nuts and a few other characters to be confident you have the correct species.

If you have a chance on this National Tree Day, or the coming week,  you should see if you can visit a eucalypt. Unless you are in the Nullarbor region there will be a eucalyptus close by wherever you are. It may be a mallee if you are in the outback, it might be planted if you are near a park, or if you are really lucky it might be a 400 year old River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis).

Enjoy looking at the eucalypt, observe the bark and the nuts and the leaves. See if you can figure out what species it might be. If you are interested to learn more about eucalypts then we will be hosting tours of the Adelaide Botanic gardens as part of the ‘Nature Festival’  programme that the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium has planned for 2022. We hope that we will see you in the gardens for it.

Written by State Herbarium botanist Andrew Thornhill