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Episodes in Australian lichenology

After the first century

The FIRST CENTURY of Australian lichenology finished with a seemingly good foundation for further development. There had been much documentation of the Australian species by European lichenologists, so that a start had been made on seeing the relationships between Australian lichens and those of other parts of the world. Equally importantly by 1900 there had been detailed studies of the country's lichens by experts resident in Australia. Yet, for the first few decades of the 20th century the study of Australian lichens barely moved ahead.

Those decades saw sporadic, low-level activity, generally the collecting of specimens and the publication of short species lists. Victorian activity is easiest to follow, since the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria has published a journal, The Victorian Naturalist, without a break since 1884. The March 1914 issue of The Victorian Naturalist carried a brief report by R.A. Bastow about some lichens collected by a fellow Club member, Charles French Junior, during a Club excursion to the alpine Mount Baw Baw. Among his comments Bastow wrote that one specimen was "probably Sticta fuliginosa, Ach., which if correct is new for Victoria". In the February issue of the journal Bastow had published Notes on the lichen-flora of Victoria, in which he briefly described the characteristics of the lichen genera found in Victoria. This was intended to help lichen enthusiasts recognize genera. The September 1932 issue of the Club's journal gave details of items exhibited at the Club's meeting of August 8. Amongst the exhibitors was Charles French Junior who exhibited "32 species of Lichens (all sporulating), a number probably being new to science. Mosses, 15 species. These specimens will be forwarded to America and Germany to the specialists concerned, for naming; and, when named, will be returned to the National Herbarium, Melbourne, for reference and for the use of workers on these groups of plants". The journal's December 1932 issue had the following request: "Mr. Allan MacCaskill, junr., Coleraine, Vic., would be pleased to receive specimens of lichens from such places as MacPherson Ranges, Liverpool Ranges, Bunya Mountains, and Cairns". From time to time the journal printed lists of lichen species found during Club excursions to various places. However, while such activity did add additional collections to various herbaria and there were amateurs such as MacCaskill with some curiosity about lichens, little detailed study of Australian lichens was going on.

In 1938 Patrick Noel Summer Bibby (1907-1955), a gardener at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, moved into the herbarium. He became very interested in cryptogams and published a few short papers about lichens. A contemporary, and herbarium colleague of Bibby's was James ('Jim') Hamlyn Willis (1910-1995) who had started his working life in forestry and joined the herbarium in 1937, where he stayed for the rest of his working life, finishing as Assistant Government Botanist. Willis had broad interests, including lichens, though his contribution to Australian lichenology was mainly as a collector. He travelled widely in Australia, especially from the 1950s to the 1970s and many of his collecting sites were well off the beaten track.

The second half of the 20th century saw an increasing number of people collecting and studying Australian lichens. Good collections, from as wide an area of Australia as possible, are indispensable if we are to gain a good understanding of the lichens in Australia. The country is large so many collections are needed in order to see how the different species are distributed in Australia. That's one of the subjects of LICHEN BIOGEOGRAPHY. The country also has a wide range of climates and habitats so, once again, many collections are needed if we are to see how a given species varies in form through its geographical range.

Geoffrey Charles Bratt graduated from the University of Tasmania in 1952, worked for three years with the Electrolytic Zinc Company, resigned to undertake a doctorate in chemistry at University of London and returned to Tasmania in 1959, with a doctorate, to work as a research chemist at the Electrolytic Zinc Company. His interest in lichens began in 1958 while on a glaciological expedition to Patagonia where he met the British lichenologist Peter James. Bratt was a keen bushwalker and once back in Tasmania collected specimens from many parts of the state, sent duplicate specimens to some other Australian and overseas herbaria and wrote several papers about the lichens of Tasmania. In 1971 Bratt was invited to travel to Kerguelen Island on board the U.S.N. Eltanin as part of a research program under the auspices of Michigan State University. He collected lichens on the island, mainly for that university's herbarium, but some of Bratt's Kerguelen collections can also be found in Australian herbaria. Geoffrey Bratt died in 1977 at the age of 46 and his collection of 15,000 specimens is now held by the Tasmanian herbarium.

Pertusaria pseudodactylina, isotype specimen collected by G.C. Bratt

The American lichenologist Clifford Wetmore published a Catalogue of the lichens of Tasmania as a paper in the journal Revue Bryologique et Lichenologique in 1963. In 1972 Wetmore and William Weber (also from the USA) published a complementary monograph: Catalogue of the lichens of Australia exclusive of Tasmania. These catalogues listed the lichen species that had been recorded, in print, for Australia and gave additional bibliographic information. For six months of 1967 Weber was a visiting professor at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra and during that time collected lichens from various areas in eastern Australia. Amongst his collections were some species not previously known from Australia, though already known from other countries. The latter catalogue recorded these but in general the two catalogues were simply compilations from the published literature and made very few judgements as to the accuracy of any identifications reported in earlier publications. Nevertheless, these catalogues were extremely useful since the collating of all that information made it easier for others to find what species had been claimed to occur in Australia and gave the relevant bibliographic references. No catalogue of Australian lichens had previously been published though Edwin Cheel had published two useful bibliographies of lichen literature relevant to Australia in the century's first decade.

Rex Filson had begun studying lichens in Antarctica in 1961 and after his return worked on his Antarctic specimens at the National Herbarium of Victoria, of which he became a staff member in 1965. The following year saw the publication of his book The lichens and mosses of Mac.Robertson Land. This website won't cover the study of antarctic lichens, but here you will find a page about Filson's book, since this gives an excuse for showing some of his marvellous artwork. Filson and Roderick ('Rod') Rogers of the University of Queensland wrote Lichens of South Australia. This book was published in 1979 and was the first Australian regional lichen flora to be published in the 20th century. You can find a couple of extracts here. In the early 1970s and again in 1982-83 Filson was able to travel to various herbaria in Europe and the USA in search of type specimens of Australian lichen species. The type specimen for any species is the collection on which the original description of that species was based. Type specimens are of fundamental importance as the ultimate court of appeal. If, for example, there is some vagueness in the original published description or if some later person has doubts as to the validity of a species then it is necessary to re-examine the type specimen carefully to resolve any doubts. Filson also gathered relevant information from Australian and New Zealand herbaria and all this was put together in a 1986 monograph: Index to type specimens of Australian lichens: 1800-1984. This catalogue was a boon to future researchers, for it put in one place the information about the location of the type specimens of Australian lichens. In 1983 Filson produced a checklist of the lichen species recorded for Australia and he has collected lichens from many parts of Australia and published taxonomic revisions of the Australian species in several genera.

Jack Elix collecting lichens
(click to enlarge)

The Norwegian lichenologist Eilif Dahl was a visiting professor at the ANU in 1970 during which time he gave a short course about lichens. He also prepared identification keys to many Australian genera and these keys remained useful for many years. One of the people who attended Dahl's course was the organic chemist John ('Jack') Elix, then a lecturer in the ANU's chemistry department. His interest in lichens had been sparked earlier during a period at the University of Cambridge where a fellow chemist was investigating the structures of various lichen compounds. Elix accompanied Dahl on a few field trips and was hooked on lichens ever after. Elix has worked in the chemistry department of the ANU for several decades and has published numerous papers on both lichen taxonomy and the chemical compounds produced by lichens. His chemical expertise has been eagerly sought and this has seen him collaborate with lichenologists from all continents (well, except for Antarctica!) and many have spent time in his laboratory. In a celebratory volume published in 2001 to commemorate Elix' 60th birthday the editors wrote:

The first lichen that Jack collected was Pseudocyphellaria crocata from Molonglo Gorge Reserve in the Australian Capital Territory in January 1971...Since then he has explored many parts of Australia and beyond and built up a substantial collection of high quality and well-documented specimens now held in the Australian National Herbarium (CANB)... Today his name is synonymous with taxonomy of the highest quality, based on an enormous body of experience in collecting and documenting lichens coupled with an unparalleled grasp of the structure, metabolic pathways and taxonomic significance of lichen compounds.


One of the awards administered by the International Association for Lichenology (IAL) is the Acharius Medal which, in the words of the IAL "is presented in recognition to the life work of distinguished lichenologists". Acharius medals are awarded every few years and in 2004 one was awarded to Jack Elix, the first southern hemisphere recipient.

Lichens in the family Teloschistaceae are typically yellow to orange in colour and are easily spotted. They grow on wood or rock, from the seaside to arid inland areas and may be crustose, foliose or fruticose - depending on species. Caloplaca, Fulgensia, Teloschistes and Xanthoria are widespread and well-known genera in the family. This family of lichens has been the subject of detailed study by molecular methods in recent years and these studies have led to some changes in species names, including the erection of several new genera, including Jackelixia, named in honour of Jack Elix. Jackelixia ligulata , previously Xanthoria ligulata, is an example of the genus. This Australasian species is found in many parts of Australia, particularly near sea level in coastal areas but it also occurs away from the coast, for example in Canberra.


David Richardson (from the UK) spent six months in 1980 at the Western Australian Herbarium and, in collaboration with his wife, produced a checklist of the state's lichens that was published in 1982. The Richardsons recorded 194 species and, for each, noted where in the state it had been found. An International Botanical Congress was held in Sydney in 1981 and this brought many of the world's leading lichenologists to Australia. As well as meetings, formal and informal, at the Congress itself there were also two lichenological excursions, one before and one after the Congress. Before the Congress there was a 10-day excursion focussing on dry-area lichens and was led by Rod Rogers. This attracted 13 participants from Australia, Germany, Scandinavia and the USA and the group visited sites between Adelaide and Melbourne. After the Congress 18 participants (from nine countries) with an interest in subalpine and temperate rainforest lichens visited the Brindabella Ranges (near Canberra), Budawang National Park (towards Batemans Bay) and some sites in between under the leadership of Jack Elix. Some of the participants in these excursions had visited Australia before, but for others it was their first exposure to Australian lichens in the field - but for some not their last.

In 1981 Rod Rogers published a monograph with descriptions of the lichen genera found in Australia with identification keys allowing users to identify a lichen to genus. It was the first modern compilation of such information and, while aimed at professionals, could also be used by the serious amateur lichenologist. Rogers has also published papers on lichen ecology and lichen taxonomy. Nell Stevens completed her Masters thesis in 1975 on the subject of 'Lichens on Mangroves in Eastern Australia', completed her PhD about the genus Ramalina in 1985 and has undertaken various taxonomic studies since then, notably of the genus Usnea.

Alan Archer has an organic chemistry background and, before his retirement, was employed as an analytical chemist within the New South Wales Department of Health. He has worked on the taxonomy of several large lichen families and has also collaborated with various Australian and overseas lichenologists. Gintaras Kantvilas, at the Tasmanian Herbarium, has collected widely in all habitats in Tasmania and has published extensively on the taxonomy and ecology of Tasmanian lichens. He has also published papers on particular taxa (not necessarily confined to Tasmania) in conjunction with other Australian and overseas lichenologists. Patrick McCarthy, a graduate of the National University of Ireland, filled Rex Filson's position at the Melbourne herbarium after the latter's retirement in 1988. Later McCarthy moved to Canberra to become an editor with the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) where he has edited the lichen volumes in the Flora of Australia series. McCarthy has long had an interest in various perithecial lichens. In more recent years he has spent much time studying foliicolous lichens and has also updated Rex Filson's checklist of Australian lichens and it is available here on the ABRS website.

Umbilicaria decussata

Doug Verdon (1920-2000) developed an interest in lichens during the 1970s, while employed in the herbarium of the then Canberra Botanic Gardens (later the Australian National Botanic Gardens) and, after his retirement, continued that work with Jack Elix at the Australian National University (ANU). Verdon published a number of papers and contributed to the first lichen volume in the ABRS Flora of Australia series. He collected widely in eastern Australia and his specimens are held at the Australian National Herbarium. Simone Louwhoff had become interested in lichens in her university days in Melbourne and later completed a lichen PhD at the ANU. She later worked in the British Museum, which holds many early Australian lichen collections and, after her return to country Victoria she has continued her lichen work (e.g. studies of the Australian Umbilicaria species) through an affiliation with the National Herbarium of Victoria. Jen Johnston, who worked with Jack Elix at the ANU for many years, has collected in various areas of Australia and published taxonomic papers on various genera.

Nathan Sammy collected specimens from Western Australia and published several papers about the state's lichens and Ray Cranfield is another who has collected actively in Western Australia. Heinar Streimann, though a bryologist, also collected lichens from many parts of Australia and his collections are held at the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra. William ('Bill') Ewers collected widely in Australia and, in particular took an interest in the 'graphids' - lichens in which the fungal spores are produced in linear structures called lirellae . His collections are now held at the Australian National Herbarium. Nik Donner, at one time the Curator of Cryptogams at the State Herbarium of South Australia, has collected lichens from various remote areas of South Australia and Rod Seppelt also collected in that state before becoming involved in the antarctic and sub-antarctic. John Whinray, an amateur botanist, has collected many lichens from the Bass Strait islands. Alan Clifford Beauglehole (1920-2002) was an orchardist with many natural history interests. Though his collections are predominantly Victorian he collected lichens from many out-of-the-way areas - in particular in central Australia and the Kimberley area in western Australia. A combination of professional botanists and amateur collectors gave the 19th century lichenologists the essential material on which to base their studies and a similar combination of people in the 20th century has greatly increased the herbarium holdings that are essential for research. However, more field work is still needed in Australia, for there are areas of the country that are still poorly known from a lichen perspective.

Since 1980 many overseas lichenologists have visited Australia for fieldwork, to study specimens in Australian herbaria or to work with Australian colleagues. Publications by such visitors have contributed significantly to knowledge of Australian lichens. During the same time non-visiting, overseas lichenologists have published important studies about Australian lichens. The first issue of the Australian Lichenological Newsletter appeared in August 1976 and since then has evolved into the present day journal, Australasian Lichenology. It has carried reports of visitors, field trips and other activities. On the NEWSLETTER AND JOURNAL page you'll find extracts from various issues so you can see something of the lichenological activity relevant to Australia. As you can see from the LICHEN VERSE CASE STUDY the Newsletter took a broad view of lichenological activity.

As well as overseas lichenologists contributing to Australian lichenology, Australian lichenologists have contributed to world lichenology. Here are a few examples. I've already mentioned the high demand for Jack Elix' chemical expertise. He has also done much to elucidate the taxonomy of the large lichen family Parmeliaceae and has contributed much to the knowledge of the Parmeliaceae of all continents. An example of Patrick McCarthy's work that extends beyond Australia is his 1993 monograph Saxicolous species of Porina Mull. Arg. (Trichotheliaceae) in the Southern Hemisphere . In this book McCarthy thoroughly evaluated all supposed species, found some to be superfluous, described twelve new species, gave detailed descriptions of all the species he accepted and so provided a good foundation for future work. In the introduction he explained that:

This conspectus follows the collection of a number of enigmatic or clearly undescribed species of Porina in south-eastern Australia. The inadequacy and/or apparent inaccuracy of published accounts of many extra-Australian taxa led to my examining other poorly known or collected species and, eventually, all available material of saxicolous Porina spp. described or reported from the Southern Hemisphere.


Amongst other work Alan Archer has studied the families Cladoniaceae, Graphidaceae and Pertusariaceae. As well as publishing on the Australian species he has shared his knowledge with others which, amongst other things, has resulted in joint publications with Thai and South American colleagues about the species of these families in Asia and South America. The subject of Simone Louwhoff's PhD thesis was the family Parmeliaceae in Papua New Guinea and her findings were published in two monographs and various papers. Archer, Elix, Louwhoff and McCarthy have all published significant studies on the lichens of the Pacific islands and have carried out field work in the Pacific. In 1998 Elix and McCarthy published their Catalogue of the lichens of the smaller Pacific Islands , a monograph that listed all the species reported for the smaller Pacific islands as well as the relevant bibliographic references. The authors explained that this was simply a compilation from the existing literature and that some of the species claimed to be in the Pacific were unlikely to occur there. However this compilation is very useful for it makes it much easier for a researcher of Pacific lichens to find the potentially relevant literature.

In the years since European settlement many Australian lichen specimens have been deposited in overseas herbaria. Of course, by the 1980s Australian herbaria also held significant collections of Australian lichens and there has been an active loans program between Australian and overseas herbaria. To help with their research many overseas lichenologists have borrowed specimens from Australian herbaria and, for similar reasons, Australian lichenologists often borrow material from overseas herbaria. Many lichen species are widespread in the world so Australian lichenologists benefit from having access to accurately identified specimens from overseas. If a lichenologist suspects that he or she has found an Australian specimen of a species that has thus far been known only from overseas, it can be useful to have an overseas specimen of that species, for comparison with the Australian specimen. One way of getting such a specimen is to borrow it from an overseas institution and another is to build up a permanent collection of overseas specimens, which would then be on hand for immediate examination at any time. A relatively inexpensive way of acquiring overseas material is by exchange and a number of Australian herbaria exchange excess Australian material with overseas herbaria which have excess material from non-Australian locations.

The first lichen volume in the ABRS Flora of Australia series was published in 1992 and was launched simultaneously in Canberra and at Lund, in Sweden, the host city for the 2nd Congress of the International Association for Lichenology (30 August-4 September, 1992). This, and the succeeding volumes, give descriptions and identification keys to numerous species, but the series does not yet cover all the lichens known for Australia. ABRS has also produced separate identification keys to genera and several miscellaneous volumes. You can find out about the ABRS lichen publications here.

Publications such as these have made a lot of information about Australian lichens easily accessible to anyone who wishes to become interested in Australian lichens, so there is a very good foundation for future work on Australian lichens.

History of Australian lichenology pages on this website

    The First Century
    After First Century
    Rex Filson