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Australian National Herbarium – Cryptogam Collection

Cryptogams | Research | Conservation | Resources

The cryptogam collection is part of the Australian National Herbarium (ANH) which is part of the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research (CPBR). The cryptogam collection of the ANH is located at the Australian National Botanic Gardens while the flowering plant (angiosperms) collection is situated on the CSIRO Black Mountain site.

The cryptogam herbarium is a research facility and is open to external researchers by appointment only. Open days may be held during Science Week or at other times of the year to allow the public a glimpse of what an herbarium is all about. School, university or other group visits can be arranged.

The collection houses not just cryptogams (a generic name for the group of organisms that reproduce by spores), but for practical reasons also maintains the gymnosperm (exposed seed-bearing plants – conifers, cycads, ginkgos, gnetales) collection. At the beginning of 2009, the cryptogam collection held over 300,000 specimens and around 1,400 type specimens, including both Australian and non-Australian specimens.

Some cryptogams (e.g. fungi, lichens) are cosmopolitan – more widely spread than just Australia. Taxonomic studies in a particular group, for instance the revision of a genus, may require the comparison of material from Australia and overseas. Hence the housing of overseas material as well as the indigenous flora. We obtain many of our non-Australian collections through specimen exchange. Loans are organised between herbaria world-wide.

The cryptogam collection includes:

A plant identification service is available to the public or other institutions and is generally free of charge. A Public Reference Herbarium is open at the Australian National Botanic Gardens during business hours and contains flowering plants and ferns from the local region.

The Australian National Herbarium has a scheme for training volunteers to help with identification and preparing specimens for storage.

Contact the Cryptogam Curator for more information about the Cryptogam Herbarium.


The cryptogam staff carry out fieldwork from time to time to fill in gaps in the collection or for research purposes. All material collected for the herbarium is obtained under permit following the permit system of the state or territory. If material is collected from states or territories outside of the ACT, duplicate specimens are usually lodged in that state herbaria.

To study cryptogams in detail, it is essential that researchers have access to compound and dissecting microscopes. Many of the features that are required for identification are microscopic. For example, spores produced by ferns, bryophytes, fungi and lichens can be important for identification. In particular their shapes, surface patterns, size and colour may be important. When studying bryophytes, the dried plants are usually rehydrated to observe many of their features for identification purposes. Other tools used for the identification of cryptogams include scanning electron microscopes and chemical and DNA analyses.

Currently, the main research focus is in bryophytes and fungi. Bryophyte research by Dr Christine Cargill focuses on two of the three groups within the bryophytes: liverworts and hornworts. Her research is focused upon the taxonomy (collecting, naming and classifying) and systematics (study of relationships among species) of Australian members of the liverwort genus Fossombronia and the Australasian hornworts. Fungal research is currently being carried out by Honorary Associate Mr Heino Lepp who is studying the Australian corticioid fungi.

General conservation procedures

Drying: On receipt of the material, specimens are spread out for drying in the drying room. Mosses may require careful squeezing to remove any excess water. Large fungi will be cut into smaller vertical pieces around 2cm thick. Fungi are dried on racks in a fruit dryer.

Freezing: Once dried, the material is frozen for 3 days at -25°C to kill any insects. Any returned loan material is also frozen to kill any insects picked up in transit.

Packaging: See the Australian National Herbarium cryptogam collections website for information on packaging and cataloguing of cryptogam specimens.

Databasing: Material is identified down to genus level and filed. When material has been identified to species level, it is vouchered and entered into the IBIS database.

Herbarium environmental control: The cryptogam herbarium is fumigated once a year to destroy any pests. The room is kept reasonably cool and humidity is low. The building has external roof-mounted fire sprinklers for added fire protection



  • The Plant Underworld is a series of webpages of information on lichens and bryophytes which were prepared for an exhibition held in the Visitor Centre a number of years ago.
  • What Mossy Thing is That? [PDF] is a leaflet to identify cryptogams such as lichens and mosses in the Gardens and urban areas of the ACT.


  • Fern website includes information about the taxonomy and distribution of Australian and regional ferns and fern allies as well as general information about this group of plants, compiled by the Gardens' Jim Croft.


  • Bryophytes website is a series of webpages which cover a broad range of topics about Australian bryophytes, such as ecology, life cycles, reproduction and dispersal, classification and identification.
  • Bryophyte wiki aims to provide a resource for information on all things bryophytic within Australia. The objective of the wiki is to post detailed descriptions and illustrations of Australian bryophytes online in order to reach a much wider audience but to also allow the review and updating of information on taxa as it comes to hand.
  • Bryophyte resources is provided by the Australian Biological Resource Study (ABRS) website which provides an electronic checklist of Australian liverworts and hornworts as well as a glossary of terms from the first Flora of Australia volume on mosses.


  • Lichen checklists are also provided by the ABRS website and has an illustrated checklist of the lichen flora of Australia and its island territories.


  • Fungi website is a series of webpages introducing you to the basics of macrofungi that produce the striking (and easily visible) structures such as the mushrooms, puffballs, stinkhorns, polypores and truffles as well as covering such topics as ecology, spore dispersal, mycogeography, etc.
  • Fungi resources is another ABRS resource and provides online resources such as an interactive catalogue of Australian fungi and a checklist of Australian lichenicolous fungi and other publications.
  • The Deathcap Mushroom is an information page on the deadly deathcap mushroom.


  • Australian Freshwater Algae is an online resource about freshwater algae hosted by the Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney and compiled by the Executive Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain, Dr Tim Entwistle
  • Algae resources is provided by ABRS and includes the Australian Marine Algal Name Index (AMANI) as well as a glossary and other algal publications.


  • Gymnosperm Tree of Life is a website which is part of a large project to understand the relationships among the gymnosperms (conifers, cycads and gnetales) through molecular and morphological studies
  • Cycads is a searchable website of Australian Cycads hosted by the Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney and is compiled by Ken Hill.

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