Issue 34: March 2001



News from the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Australian National Herbarium (CANB), for the information of CPBR and ANBG staff and volunteers.


CPBR News is produced monthly. If you wish to contribute, please email your suggestions to Val Oliver, the coordinator.



Val Oliver: ph (02) 6246 5533; fax (02) 6246 5249; email:


  1. Herbarium and Services

Movement at the station

Bob Makinson applied for two jobs, one as curator of the herbarium in Darwin, and another at the Royal Botanic Gardens In Sydney. Much to his surprise, but not to anyone else's, he was offered both and found himself in the enviable, or perhaps unenviable, position of having to choose between three places to work. In the end, after much agonizing, Bob has decided to take up the offer of a three-year appointment establishing the Centre for Plant Conservation at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Bob has a long-term interest in the biology and community management of plant conservation and will be a major asset for Sydney.

Needless to say, Bob's departure will leave a huge hole in Centre activity and planning is underway to see how best to fill the many roles that Bob carried. The intention is to fill Bob's position a quickly as possible, and to do this in the context of the structural review of the ANBG presently underway, seeking input from staff.

In the mean time, levels of anxiety bordering on panic are starting to be visible on Bob and those around him as the amount of work that needs to be done before he departs is now so slowly realized. Bob plans to take up his new position on May 29.

More movement at the station

With the welcome recent arrival of Christine Cargill as Curator of Cryptogams, Julie Paul and Lindy Cayzer have had to abandon their comfortable accommodation in the curator's room in the ANBG Botany Building. Space has been made to accommodate terminal access and data entry activity in what could only have been described as the 'computer junk room'. After much throwing out of digital relics, desk movement and general anguish on the part of Greg Whitbread and John Hook, an almost decent work environment has been created. There is still a lot more rubbish to be thrown out though.

With increasing activity planned to take place on the ANBG site, further space-making activity is planned for the herbarium, to make more effective use of the available work areas.

[Jim Croft]


Australia's Virtual Herbarium

As Australia's Virtual herbarium inches, and at times rushes, towards becoming a reality, staff are coming to grips with what it will mean for activity in the Centre. Providing the funding is forthcoming, up to six or more additional data entry staff will be capturing data from the specimens labels, and herbarium staff will have to be continually feeding assembly line with more specimens that will have to be checked for correct identities, localities and so on. It is going to be a lot of work over the next 5 years, but in the end definitely worth it.

The $10 million estimated to complete the data capture of all 6 million specimens in the State, Territory and Commonwealth Herbaria is planned to come from contributions from the State and Territory Governments, the Commonwealth Government and from private foundations. A funding formula has been worked out by Commonwealth, State and Territory Representatives on ANZECC Council and budgets are being put together to hopefully allow the project to start next financial year.

Representatives of the Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria (CHAH) and the Herbarium Information Systems Committee (HISCOM) met in Canberra for a day and a half to reaffirm commitment to the project and to plan its implementation. HISCOM met at the Centre for a further day and a half to work through technical details of the project.

Environment Australia has provided funding for a small contract to enhance the prototype implementation of the AVH and to improve its data delivery. This contract is being managed through ABRS and the Centre and will be complete before the end of this financial year. The initial focus of the AVH is on specimen data capture and the exchange of specimen information, but the medium to long-term plan is to include plant images, flora treatments and interactive keys, etc.

An outline of the AVH project can be seen at


[Jim Croft]


News from the Cryptogam Herbarium

The month of March saw the arrival of the new curator of cryptogams ……. me! My name is D. Christine Cargill (please call me Chris). Originally from Victoria, I have just recently arrived back to Australia after completing my PhD in the United States at Southern Illinois University. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people that I have contact with over the last 3 weeks and the very warm welcome I have received. In particular I would like to thank Judith Curnow for making my transition to a new place and a new job quite painless. I would also like to thank Bob Makinson and Jim Croft for their welcome and help over the last 3 weeks as well. Now, what has been happening with the cryptogams?

The cryptos continue to be incorporated and many thanks to the database people for all their work. Initial plans have begun for the next Cryptogam Workshop to be held here in the Fall of 2002. Judith C quickly made me feel very much at home by showing me a beautiful patch of Fossombronia, containing both males and females on the Gardens grounds. My specialty group in the cryptogams is the simple thalloid liverwort genus, Fossombronia. Intermixed with it are another group of plants I am very much interested in, the hornworts. I have also attended the weekly cryptogam luncheon, meeting for the first time Dr Jack Elix. The luncheon also includes Dr Patrick McCarthy, Heino Lepp, Judith Curnow, Scott Gilmour and Dr Cheryl Grgurinovic and a visiting lichenologist who is working with Jack. I have been told to keep this short, so I will finish here and thank-you again to all the people I have met over the last 3 weeks for their welcome.

[Dr. D. Christine Cargill]



2. Research Groups

In search of the world's most enigmatic fern

Frank Zich has taken five weeks leave from his job in the Herbarium to undertake a short contract with the World Wide Fund for Nature in Papua New Guinea. By sheer luck he will be working near the Bewani mountains area of the Vanimo hinterland on the far NW coast, probably in a suitable location and habitat for what is probably the world’s rarest and most enigmatic fern: Rheopteris cheesemaniae. Rheopteris cheesemaniae has puzzled pteridologists with its bizarre combination of characters since it first came to light as a fragment early last century; it was collected by L.E. Cheeseman in the Cyclops Mountains across the border in what is now the NE corner of Irian and was given the name Rheopteris (=flowing or stream fern) by Alston because the field note indicated it was found growing in a stream.

The fragmentary type remained the total sum of human knowledge of this plant until it turned up over half a century later in helicopter expedition the Bewani Mountains in 1982 [collected by Jim Croft – JGW]. Almost a generation later, Frank is going to have another go at finding it. The good material collected in 1982 did not do much to help decide where this plant belongs and pteridologists are still trying to work out what to do with its combination of morphological characters. It is in fact an understory epiphyte and the only way it could have got into a stream is if the tree fell in, a not uncommon occurrence in this environmentally unstable part of the world.

On general appearance of the rhizome and leaf stem of Rheopteris looks as though it could be close to the tropical epiphyte family Vittariaceae but has real pinnate (almost articulate) leaves quite unlike every other member of this family which have universally simple leaves. Other suggestions include the totally unrelated Adiantaceae, but it does not sit comfortably with these ferns either. Molecular techniques, not available 20 years ago, are probably the only way to resolve this problem. Only known from two collections, it does not seem to fit anywhere and makes Wollemia nobilis story look about as interesting as Pinus radiata.

Frank will be keeping an eye out for this rare and problematic species, which unfortunately looks much like any other pinnate epiphyte fern, and will try to get some specimens, spores, photographs, DNA samples and perhaps some living material. He has been armed with botanical illustrations, photocopies of specimens and field labels, maps with circles and arrows, verbal descriptions of habit, habitat and what to look for in the field... and instructions not to return until he finds it...

Links to a line drawing and specimen images of Rheopteris can be seen at:

[Jim Croft]


3. Information Technology and Data Management

WWW Site

The URL for the Centre can be found at:

Please check regularly for new items of interest re Centre staff and activities.




International Plant Name Index

The Centre continues its participation in the International Plant Name Index. Kirsten Cowley leads the Centre’s editorial involvement in the project and Frank Zich is employed with project funds to carry out editorial tasks. Over the past three months he has been engaged in removing redundancies and cleaning up APNI entries to IPNI standards in preparation for a future merge of data. Other APNI staff, Brendan Lepschi, Laurie Adams, Andrew Lyne, have also been contributing to the process by cleaning up plant name and bibliographic data as part of APNI maintenance and the What's its Name project.

Greg Whitbread is working on the IPNI database design and interfaces for editorial tools. It has proven extremely difficult to recruit programmers with appropriate skills for the IPNI project at rates that are not laughable. To cover this requirement, Julie Paul is now working part time with Greg on routine IBIS tasks to allow Greg more time on the IPNI database. Ex intern, Peter Turner has been appointed to carry some of Julie's databasing tasks during this period.

IPNI databases and descriptions of the project can be accessed at:

[Jim Croft]



On-line Flora of Australia Database for ABRS

Greg Whitbread, Helen Thompson and Jim Croft are working on the databases design and mechanisms to import the text from the Flora of Australia into the Oracle relational database, to be delivered to the Internet using XML technology. ABRS is providing support for this work. This database will be a foundation for ABIF-Flora (Australian Biodiversity Information Facility) and will eventually cover all published treatments for FoA. In addition to the FoA text, ABIF-Flora will include links to the published line drawings, maps, and some of the color photographs.

A prototype has tested the technology and the first complete family treatment planned is the Proteaceae. The three FoA volumes of Proteaceae have been marked up in XML in preparation for loading into the Oracle database; Helen has developed routines to automate much of this process from the Flora Word files.

A parallel project to this, using the same technology and database architecture it to produce an Electronic Pteridophyte Flora of Australia. This will also be presented as part of ABIF-Flora.

Links to ABIF-Flora can be found at:

An Electronic Pteridophyte Flora of Australia

On the basis of a grant proposal by Jim Croft, David Jones and Peter Bostock (Queensland Herbarium), ABRS has offered the Centre a one-year contract to start the development of an electronic interactive flora for ferns and fern allies based on the pteridophyte treatments in Flora of Australia volumes 48, 49, and 50. The entire project is planned to run over three years: the first year will see the FoA treatments migrated into the Oracle relational database and made available on the Internet; in the second year the data matrix for an interactive key will be developed; and in the third year the character and taxon images will be integrated into the final product.

Helen Hadobas and Ros Grace will be assisting with this project for the first year to the extent of two and a half days a week. Ros and Helen’s time in the loans will be maintained through employment of another technical officer to the equivalent hours . Most of their time on the fern project will be spent in incredibly boring data checking and cleaning up, but there will be some work with the line drawings and maps. Greg Whitbread is building the database application to accommodate all this information.

A workshop of key pteridologists in the Australian flora is planned in Canberra early on in the project to map out a detailed plan and to compare notes on descriptive character data.

An outline of the project can be found at htpp://

[Jim Croft]



Swimming along with SPRAT

The Centre's contract to assist Environment Australia populate the SPRAT database with biological information about Australian 'plants of national significance' is going well. The Species Profile, Recovery and Threats (SPRAT) database is used to support decision-making under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. Working jointly with ABRS, we are contracted to deliver 100 species profiles a month, with 200 completed and submitted so far.

Information being gathered for the database includes habit, habitat, notes on reproduction, taxonomic comments, population and distribution, and past and current threats to the populations.

The SPRAT team consists of Terena Lally, Julie Matarczyk and Helena Mills. Terena is currently doing Fabaceae, Julie will be working on Orchidaceae for the whole contract and Helena is currently doing Myrtaceae. Along with Jim Croft, we meet most Friday mornings to review progress and sort through problems, mainly associated with editing style for the database.

A view of the SPRAT database will eventually be made available on the Internet. If you need any detailed information or data from the database, or you can contribute data on any of the listed threatened species, contact Terena, Julie or Helena. Staff who have so far contributed significant information on populations include Ian Brooker and David Jones.

[Terena Lally]


WIN on the Web - The Proteaceae checklist

There has been an explosion in new Australian plant names and plant name changes over the last few decades.  The What's its Name? [WIN] project was set up to advise which names of Australian plants are current and generally accepted by the taxonomic community in Australia.

The Proteaceae check-list (a concise list of current, recognised plant names in the Australian Proteaceae), has been printed as an example of the information now available at WIN on the Web.  WIN is being compiled using the on-line Australian Plant Name Index (APNI), the Flora of Australia publication series, and other recent taxonomic literature. The developing format and content is the work of Lindy Cayzer [CPBR] and Greg Whitbread [ANBG], and is mainly funded by ABRS until June 30, 2001.

What's Its Name? on the web is found at More comprehensive information on both current and previous Australian plant names is available from the interrelated,  Australian Plant Name Index [APNI] at

[Lindy Cayzer]


4. Education and Communication


This is an abridged version of the report for the 2001 Internship Program. Copies of the full report are available from Brendan Lepschi.



A total of 29 applications were received for the Program, with 20 placements offered and accepted. Two Interns subsequently declined, due to offers of paid employment at their home institution, with one of these placements filled by a reserve. In total, 19 Interns successfully completed the Program in 2001. The number of applications received this year was comparable to the high numbers (34) for the 1999 Program, in stark contrast to the 17 applications received for 2000.

Eleven universities and two TAFE colleges were represented, as well as the ANBG Living Collections section. There was a considerable geographical and institutional spread for the 2001 Program, with participants coming from the ACT, NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria, as well as Irian Jaya (via James Cook University), Italy and the USA. As would be expected, Canberra-based institutions were the best represented, but recruitment from ANU was much lower compared to previous years, with increasing representation from the CIT, due largely to an enthusiastic academic contact.


Output achieved by Interns during 2001 is roughly equal to 1.6 years’ work (of an entry-level TO), based on a 200-day working year. This is comparable with output achieved in previous years (the average over 1999-2001 being 1.7 years). Work carried out by Interns in 2001 included mounting and incorporation of vascular and non-vascular specimens, general curatorial activities in both the vascular and non-vascular collections, identification of ANBG Living Collections vouchers, assistance with loans and exchange (especially with return loans), databasing, determining specimen geo-codes, spirit collection maintenance, assistance to the CPBR Library, selection of images for use in the Interactive key to Australian Legumes, assistance to various research groups (Dodonaea, Fire Ecology, Malvaceae, Orchids, Pultenaea, Rhamnaceae), and general lab and herbarium tasks.


No major difficulties were encountered during the running of the 2001 Program, and even the ever present IT-related problems were less pronounced this year than in the recent past. Careful planning and learning from previous mistakes also ensured a less problematic fieldtrip to Jervis Bay. A few institutions (e.g. CIT, UC), resumed teaching one or two weeks earlier in 2001 than in previous years, and this resulted in some inconvenience in the final weeks of the Program.

The perennial problem of accommodation costs for interstate participants remains a major issue, and was compounded this year by a number reported incidents of theft and other unwelcome behaviour at the ANU colleges where the majority of Interns were staying.


Calculations indicate a cost of approximately $6000 to run the 2001 Interns Program, similar to the 2000 Program. Most of this cost was generated by the residential fieldtrip, and associated vehicle hire and fuel costs.


The 2001 Program attracted some media attention, but as yet the details have not been made available by EA Media.


Overall, the 2001 Interns Program was very successful. Work output was high, and covered a similar range of tasks to previous years. Following the success of the four-day residential fieldtrip to Jervis Bay in 2000, it was decided to repeat this exercise in 2001. Building on lessons learnt from the 2000 trip, the fieldtrip was a great success and a highlight of the Program for many Interns (and some staff as well!). The participation of another ANBG staff member in the Program (Craig Cosgrove, Bottom Depot) for the sixth year running, was again most valuable, both for the Herbarium and the ANBG. All Interns were also provided with Evaluation Forms for the Program, and of the relatively small number returned so far, overall feedback has been very positive. These forms are available from Brendan Lepschi for any staff interested in perusing them.


The success of the 2001 Program is in no small part due to the considerable efforts of a number of Centre staff, outside academics and others who freely gave their time to present lectures and training sessions, as well as providing supervision for Intern work teams. We are most grateful to all concerned. Thanks are also due to all Centre staff, especially those at the Herbarium, for their tolerance, enthusiasm and support during the course of the Program.

[Brendan Lepschi]


  1. General Centre Matters

Review of Kew’s Science

In mid March I took part in a review of the science of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The review overall took 4 days and covered all of Kew’s scientific activities, including the Herbarium, the Jodrell (molecular systematics, anatomy, bioactivity), micropropagation and the Millennium Seed Bank. During the past year since the new Director, Dr Peter Crane has been at Kew, the staff have developed a Science Strategy for the Organisation, which was the main basis of the review. This incorporates a fairly complicated matrix structure of components and themes and focus groups, but with some bedding down it will probably work, and should assist with integration across the scientific groups. The review was a useful exercise to participate in, and although hard work, it was quite enjoyable. It is encouraging to find that the sort of issues we grapple with are much the same in other similar institutions.

[Judy West]


6. Other News

Publication of Species Plantarum Parts 4 and 5

Two additional parts of Species Plantarum, Flora of the World, were published on 26 March: Part 4 Schisandraceae (2 genera, 39 spp) and Part 5 Prioniaceae (1 genus, 1 sp.).  They are available from ABRS for $18.70 and $7.95 respectively, including postage and GST. Standing Order customers receive a 20% discount on the above prices, and will shortly receive a notification of their availability and a proforma invoice.  All proceeds are ploughed back into publication of future parts. If you are not already on the Standing Order list, please consider joining.  It is still possible to get a full set of published parts for an affordable price. The next part, currently being edited, will be the first half of Juncaceae, and will cover some 250 species.  The second half (about 250 spp more) will follow very shortly afterwards. The address for orders or enquiries is: ABRS (Publications), GPO Box 787, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia, or enquiries can be sent by email to the Editor at

[Tony Orchard]


Memorial Ceremony for Ebbe Nielsen

The sudden death of our entomology colleague, Ebbe Nielsen, early last month is still difficult to believe. A memorial service for Ebbe was held at University House, ANU in Canberra on April 3. Tributes were paid by friends and colleagues who reflected on his life's work, passions and friendships and several hundred people gathered to celebrate his achievements.

It was a moving gathering of biologists from many disciplines and there seemed to be a strong commitment to carry on the global biodiversity tasks Ebbe set us.

After the service, on a clear, mild autumn afternoon, close friends distributed his ashes by the Platypus pool at Tidbinbilla, the spot where Ebbe loved to take his visitors.

[Judy West]


7. Diary of Events/Activities




Details (relate to projects)

17-21 Aprill

Gardens 2001 Congress

Canberra, ANU

Registered participants; several Centre staff giving papers

As per program

24 April

Museums Australia

Jim Croft, Judy West to give papers


4-5 April

Science Week

Several staff

ANH open on ANBG site

18 May

CPBR Board meeting

Judy West, Jim Croft, Jeremy Burdon