Plant-based accessibility: A year-long race to photograph our botany collection

Plant-based accessibility: A year-long race to photograph our botany collection

Te Papa strives to improve access to the collections for which it cares – online accessibility is part of this. Botany Curator Leon Perrie writes about the Botany Team’s mission this year to each make one thousand specimen images available online.

Te Papa’s botany collection helps document the diversity of plants in Aotearoa New Zealand. It encompasses seed plants, ferns, lycophytes, bryophytes, seaweeds, and lichenised fungi. The focus is on the plants in New Zealand, be they indigenous, naturalised, or cultivated.  But it also includes international collections for comparison.

It is one of Te Papa’s biggest collections, with about 370,000 dried plants. An ever-increasing number are databased – 218,331 at last count. Their identification and locality details are available via Te Papa’s Collections Online website (although specimens of Threatened species are not published), as well as through the Australasian Virtual Herbarium.

Collection Technician Bridget Hatton readying a specimen for imaging. Photo by Te Papa.

The race is on! 

Te Papa has long had online images of plant specimens that are name-bearing types. But now we are moving to image as many specimens as we can. All newly acquired specimens of seed plants, ferns, and seaweeds are imaged before they are filed away. These groups are mostly mounted flat on sheets of card and are easy to image.

But the Botany team was given a new mission for July 2021 to June 2022. The Head of Natural History challenged each of us to image 1000 specimens from among those already in the collection, with the sweetener that he’d also do 1000. That makes a team goal of 6000.

Our individually coloured lines show that we’re making good progress towards completing the challenge.  The dashed black line is the average rate needed.

Imaging plant specimens mounted on card can be fairly straightforward. After set-up assistance from our photography team, and with progressive refinements to our process, we can now do about 50 an hour.

What are we imaging?

  • Ant is imaging New Zealand ferns, which, through the Flora of New Zealand, has been a recent research focus for Te Papa.
  • Heidi is imaging hebes and other Veronica, as they belong to one of the families she is researching.
  • Bridget is imaging flowering plant families that were databased during lockdown by botany technicians.
  • Phil is imaging Juncus rushes, which are being researched by Leon and Lara.
  • Carlos is imaging native Myrtaceae to support research into the effects of myrtle rust.
  • I started imaging overseas ferns, but switched to Luzula woodrushes as I wanted reference images to help me learn how to identify them.

Following is a selection of images created and published to Collections Online since July. Clicking on a specimen will take you to its page on Collections Online. Thanks to Gareth and Julia from Te Papa’s databasing team for preparing this montage.

Teucridium parvifolium Hook.fJuncus articulatus L.Tmesipteris lanceolata P.A.Dang.Veronica traversii Hook.f.Veronica traversii Hook.f.Veronica vernicosa Hook.f.Veronica venustula ColensoVeronica truncatula ColensoTmesipteris elongata P.A.Dang.Tmesipteris elongata P.A.Dang.Tmesipteris sigmatifolia ChinnockTmesipteris tannensis (Spreng.) Bernh.Veronica trifida PetrieChenopodiastrum murale (L.) S.Fuentes et al.Leucopogon fasciculatus (G.Forst.) A.Rich.Veronica leiophylla CheesemanSchoenus pauciflorus (Hook.f.) Hook.f.Celmisia lyallii Hook.f. x C. spectabilis Hook.f.Juncus australis Hook.f.Aristea ecklonii BakerPneumatopteris pennigera (G.Forst.) HolttumPteridium esculentum (G.Forst.) Cockayne subsp. esculentumTripleurospermum inodorum Sch.Bip.Coprosma petriei CheesemanCoprosma atropurpurea (Cockayne & Allan) L.B.MooreAbrotanella muscosa Kirk ?Acaena caesiiglauca (Bitter) BergmansDrosera stenopetala Hook.f.Veronica pimeleoides Hook.f. subsp. pimeleoidesVeronica pimeleoides subsp. faucicola ? (Kellow & Bayly) Garn.-Jones
Asplenium oblongifolium ColensoPolystichum sylvaticum DielsEquisetum hyemale L.Juncus acuminatus Michx.VeronicaBellendenaOphioglossumRubus idaeus L.Medicago sativa L.Pteris carsei Braggins & Brownsey x P. saxatilis (Carse) CarseDrosera auriculata Backh. ex Planch.Drosera spatulata Labill.Veronica vernicosa Hook.f.Lycopodiella cernua (L.) Pic.Serm.Lycopodiella cernua (L.) Pic.Serm.Juncus articulatus L.Juncus antarcticus Hook.f.Juncus antarcticus Hook.f.Ptisana papuana (Alderw.) Murdock & C.W.ChenVeronica vernicosa Hook.f.Tmesipteris tannensis (Spreng.) Bernh.Schizeilema trifoliolatum (Hook.f.) DominSchizeilema trifoliolatum (Hook.f.) DominSchizeilema nitens (Petrie) DominSchizeilema roughii (Hook.f.) DominSchizeilema reniforme (Hook.f.) DominSchizeilema hydrocotyloides (Hook.f.) DominVeronica vernicosa Hook.f.Stilbocarpa robusta (Kirk) CockaynePandanus.



























Yet more specimens are being imaged by summer intern Maeve, who is cataloguing the overseas collections, and our volunteers Margo, Ruben, Joey, and Eleanor. Together, they’ve contributed more than an additional 2000 images since July.

With the help from our volunteers, it’s likely we’ll image close to 10,000 records this year. While there is clearly lots more imaging work ahead for the Botany collection, we’re on track this year to increase the number of imaged plant specimens on Collections Online by more than a third. That’s great for the accessibility of Te Papa’s collections.

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