3. Studying Australia's Flora

The Gardens' role in the study of Australia's flora is based on the investigation of and provision of information about the taxonomy, systematics and distribution of Australian and related plant taxa.

The study of plants and the provision of reliable and verifiable information involves three major activities: maintaining a scientific collection of plant specimens; conducting original research on these specimens; and creating and maintaining a comprehensive database of information arising from the collections and research. These activities cover most of the major groups of plants only the algae are not covered by the activities of the Gardens.

The Gardens has maintained a Herbarium since 1950 and a major function of this collection of preserved specimens is to provide identification and authentication of the living specimens. It provides a means of reliably identifying the live plants on display to the public and available to researchers and of authenticating their scientific names. In return, the living collections provide a rich store of fresh material to augment the preserved collections when they are under study. Further, the Herbarium collection provides a wide representation of the Australian flora for use in public and professional identification services and to serve as the primary research collection.

The vast amount of information contained in and relevant to the collections of the Gardens was initially maintained manually in ledgers and card indexes. In 1984 a decision was made to computerise this information and information on the living collections was placed on a bureau computer and accessed by terminals in the Gardens. This proved an invaluable management tool. In 1988 a start was made on computerising Herbarium specimen label information. The Gardens purchased its own computer system in 1990 and rapidly established a computer network that is among the most sophisticated in botanic gardens and herbaria in the country.

A cornerstone of the study of plants at the Gardens is the integration of information on the living collections and the Herbarium specimens; this is done through the computer network and information system. By constantly updating the database whenever a specimen is re-identified, or when a plant or specimen is relocated or modified, staff have access to up-to-date information about the state of the collections and they can use this as the basis for their research and management decisions.

The Gardens has taken an active role in promoting liaison and cooperation between botanical institutions and discussions have recently taken place with the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry, which operates a herbarium at its Black Mountain site, to explore options for the joint management of a single herbarium, possible joint research endeavours, and initiatives in botanical data management. These discussions have resulted in the establishment, as a joint venture, of the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. The Centre will provide the principal mechanism for implementing many of the management prescriptions detailed in this chapter.