World Oceans Day

The State Herbarium of South Australia sits 15 km inland from the nearest sea and houses over one million, mostly dried, specimens. So why are we posting about World Oceans Day?

Despite our terrestrial location, the herbarium is home to significant collections of marine flora (seagrasses) and macroalgae (seaweeds). Not only that, but we are also helmed by seagrass expert and Chief Botanist Michelle Waycott.

FROM THIS: In situ photo of Metamastophora flabellata, being collected by volunteer Fiona McQueen on a collecting trip to Yorke Peninsula. Photo: F. McQueen.

TO THIS: Fiona collecting a part of Sarcomenia delesserioides from Pondalowie Bay to become a herbarium specimen. Photo: F. McQueen.

Treasure trove

The State Herbarium of South Australia is known to contain plant specimens, including the seagrass families, but its world-renowned algal collection may not be common knowledge to the general public. Housed within the herbarium are examples of all 10 South Australian species of seagrass and almost 1300 species of marine macroalgae! This algal species diversity is partly because the seaweeds in the Southern Ocean and its Great Southern Reef have the highest levels of species richness and endemism in the world and partly because of Prof. H.B.S. Womersley’s lifetime work in compiling the six-volume Marine Benthic Flora of Southern Australia with his team at the University of Adelaide and at the State Herbarium.

Of the more than one million specimens in the herbarium, at least 1500 are seagrasses, and close to 100,000 are seaweeds. But don’t mistake these relatively small specimen numbers for insignificance. Quite oppositely, seagrasses and seaweeds are vital to most oceanic functions.

TO HERE: The herbarium’s wet lab where algal specimens are prepared, mounted, studied and identified. Photo: J. Barrett.

Specimens of significance

World Oceans Day is designed to remind people of the importance of the world’s oceans and to encourage them to care enough to engage in marine protection. And so they should. The ocean covers 70% of the planet and supports every other organism. While many factors and organisms are at play, when it comes down to it, the functions of our oceans are very much a product of the plants and algae within:

AND FINALLY: The mounted specimens, which were floated onto a preparatory sheet before spending time in the drier and being attached to their final herbarium sheets.

  • The vast majority of the planet’s oceanic oxygen is created by microalgae (phytoplankton), macroalgae (seaweeds) and plants (seagrasses). Naturally, photosynthesisers are also effective storers of carbon.
  • Not only do the number of seagrass and seaweed species contribute to oceanic diversity, but these species also feed, house and protect countless other marine organisms.
  • Both algae and seagrasses are the start of many food chains, nourishing animal groups as diverse as shellfish, crustaceans, birds, fish, marine mammals and even us.

These are but a few blips on the radar of seagrass and seaweed functionality and importance. Unfortunately, our marine ecosystems are in decline. Seagrass meadows are especially in dire straits… and dire gulfs, and dire bays.

A strong foundation

This is where the State Herbarium comes in. Our taxonomical knowledge creates foundational information on species and their distribution, abundance, and history. This provides a baseline of data that allows changes to be noticed and tracked over time.

The specimens in our collection are barcoded and databased. The complete datasets (including species name, collecting location and date, etc.) are sent to the Australasian Virtual Herbarium for broader use by anyone with an interest and Internet access.

Not only does our collection comprise the actual reference specimens, but also a wealth of associated data on species descriptions and locations. When collected and stored over time (the earliest seaweed in our collection is from 1799!) our specimens and data can allow scientists to identify and document change, as well as plan for restoration.

When next June rolls around and World Oceans Day pops into your head, I hope you think of our secret sea of marine specimens housed in The Old Tram Barn (2.7mb PDF) in the middle of an urban capital city, and remember our contribution to ocean conservation and public education.

Compiled by State Herbarium staff member Jem Barrett.

New research on eucalypt dieback

Area of severe stringybark dieback, with drooping she-oaks (Allocasuarina verticillata) being the only living trees. Photo: G. Keppel.

Dieback of trees due to drought is becoming increasingly common: Climate change is producing droughts that are hotter and more intense, and this can push trees beyond the limits of what they can tolerate. However, we still know little about the ultimate causes of tree mortality and how dieback progresses through time. Led by researchers Gunnar Keppel, MSc student Udo Sarnow and Stefan Peters from UniSA, in collaboration with Chief Botanist Michelle Waycott, State Herbarium of South Australia molecular botanist Ed Biffin, as well as Greg Guerin from The University of Adelaide, dieback of an isolated population of red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) in Spring Gully Conservation Park was investigated.

What will happen to this isolated population of eucalypts as droughts intensify under climate change? It’s not looking good but there is hope! Read more about the findings of this project on the Biodiversity in Oceania BLOG and in this research paper, published two weeks ago:

G. Keppel, U. Sarnow, E. Biffin, S. Peters, D. Fitzgerald, E. Boutsalis, M. Waycott & G.R. Guerin (2023). Population decline in a Pleistocene refugium: Stepwise, drought-related dieback of a South Australian eucalyptScience of the total Environment  876: 162697.

New journal articles: Mar. 2023

The State Herbarium of South Australia published two articles in the online version of its journal Swainsona today, 24 Mar. 2023. The first article was published in Vol. 30, the special volume to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the State Herbarium; the second paper is the first to be published in this year’s regular volume, Vol. 37.

(1) J.A. Gardner & K.L. Delaporte, Waite Arboretum – An enduring gift (3.5mb PDF).

The article explains the history of the Waite Arboretum from its establishment in 1928, through pivotal developments as a rain-fed scientific collection, with expanding educational and community outreach programs, to the digital technology making the information embodied in this significant collection available to the widest possible audience.

Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena draco) at the Waite Arboretum. Photo: E. Harvey.

(2) T.A. Hammer, Description of Hibbertia hesperia (Dilleniaceae), a new species from the Kimberley region, and a new regional key to species (0.9mb PDF).

After evaluating all available specimens of Hibbertia from the Kimberley region, W.A., one collection from Sale River was clearly separable from all other species in the genus. The author compares this specimen to its presumed close relatives and formally describes it as the new species H. hesperia. An identification key to all Hibbertia taxa currently known to occur in the Kimberley is also presented.

Hibbertia hesperia, the new species from the Kimberley region. Part of type specimen.

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 or the Swainsona back-up site.

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 Journal articles: Dec. 2022

Spyridium cordatum from Western Australia, first described by Russian botanist Turczaninow in 1858 from collections by James Drummond.

The State Herbarium of South Australia published two articles in Vol. 36 of its journal Swainsona today, 1 Dec. 2022.

(1) J. Kellermann, S.L. Mosyakin, C. Clowes & F. Udovicic, Australian species of Rhamnaceae published by Turczaninow, their types, current names and synonyms (6..7mb PDF).

Holotype of Spyridium villosum at KW, described by Turczaninow as Cryptandra villosa.

The authors clarify the typification of eight names of Australian taxa of Rhamnaceae, described by the 19th century Russian botanist Nicolai Turczanionow (1796-1863). APNI lists 521 names of Australian genera and species published by Turczaninow, of these almost 200 are still current and used today (according to APC).

Holotypes or lectotypes of these names can be found in Turczaninow’s personal herbarium (KW-TURCZ), which is preserved in the National Herbarium of Ukraine, Kyiv. The herbarium KW houses over 2 million specimens and important historical collections, among them many type specimens of Australian taxa. It is part of the M.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, which also publishes two well-known taxonomic journals: the Ukrainian Botanical Journal, since 1921, and Algologia, since 1990.

For information about the current conditions at the M.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany and the National Herbarium of Ukraine see an article by Sergei Mosyakin & Natalia Shiyan, Ukr. Bot. J. 79: 339-342 (2022).

(2) T.A. Hammer, Updated nomenclature and identification key for Hibbertia subg. Pachynema (Dilleniaceae) and description of a new species from the Northern Territory (2.4mb PDF).

Flower of Hibbertia triquetra, a new species from the Northern Territory described by Tim Hammer (type specimen).

The eleven species and three species groups of Hibbertia subg. Pachynema are discussed in this paper, and an identification key and the first formal synonymy for the subgenus are given. Additionally, the phrase name Hibbertia sp. Marrawal (K.G. Brennan 3194) from the Northern Territory is finally assessed and formally described as Hibbertia triquetra.

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 or the Swainsona back-up site.