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Case Studies

Dampier's Leucobryum

William Dampier (1652-1715) collected plant specimens at two sites along the north-west coast of western Australia in 1699 and some of those specimens are still in existence in English herbaria. In the Fielding-Druce Herbarium of the University of Oxford there's a specimen of the moss Leucobryum candidum, collected by Dampier, and labelled "New Holland", an old name for Australia. If Dampier did collect this specimen from Australia, it would be the first bryophyte specimen collected from Australia. It would also be an unusual point on the distribution map for Leucobryum candidum.

There is some doubt as to exactly where Dampier collected, but he appears to have done so at Shark Bay and further north in the Dampier Archipelago. He also landed further north at La Grange Bay, south of Broome, but appears not to have collected any plants there, though he did refer to some he saw. From La Grange Bay he sailed to Timor without again landing in Australia.

Both Shark Bay and the Dampier Archipelago are harsh, arid areas though with some differences in geology and rainfall patterns. At La Grange Bay the dunes of the Great Sandy Desert meet the sea and it is an area of mangroves and salt flats.

The Kimberley region begins about 100 kilometres north of La Grange Bay and experiences a distinct wet season between December and March. There are sinkholes in the coastal limestones of the Kimberley area and the area also supports pockets of dense vine thicket vegetation behind the coastal dunes. That area is a more likely habitat for Leucobrym candidum than any of Shark Bay, the Dampier Archipelago and La Grange Bay – but Dampier did not come ashore in the Kimberley. That Leucobryum is found in wooded areas and has been recorded in the Northern Territory a little to the east of the Western Australian Kimberley but has still not been collected in Western Australia since Dampier's time. The species does occur in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, as well as other parts of Asia and Australasia.

Given the nature of Dampier's landing sites in Western Australia and the habitat preferences of the moss it is very unlikely that Dampier collected it in Australia. He probably did so later during his voyage in Timor or New Guinea.

There is a parallel with Dampier's supposed Australian collection of the flowering plant Casuarina equisetifolia. The species grows along the Northern Territory coast and also in Timor and Papua New Guinea. None of Dampier's Australian landings included the areas in which that Casuarina is known and it has been inferred that he collected the Casuarina also in Timor or New Guinea.


Downing, A & Marner, S. (1998). The first moss to be collected in Australia? Leucobryum candidum - collected by William Dampier in 1699. Journal of Bryology, 20, 237-240.