From 1980 – 1982, Robyn Tredwell and Robert Hahn, both directors of the Institute of Ecotechnics participated in the “Amazon River Expedition” on board the research vessel Heraclitus in charge of the ethnobotanical collections. The impetus to mount this expedition was made by Harvard professor Richard Evans Schultes, founder of contemporary ethnobotany, who spoke at our 1979 conference in Malaysia. When we asked what could we do to help preserve the lore of the jungle, he suggested that the Institute use its sailing ship, the Heraclitus to undertake an expedition up the Amazon River to collect and document plants of economic and medicinal interest used by native peoples of the NW Peruvian Amazon region.
Many specimens from these collections were deposited at various herbaria around the world, including Missouri Botanical Gardens, Kew Gardens, New York Botanical Gardens, and herbaria in Iquitos and Lima, Peru. Thanks to Robyn’s care, around 860 voucher specimens of these IE collections (including collections made by other eminent ethnobotanists participating in the expedition) have been preserved at Birdwood Downs in airtight storage cabinets.
Robyn passed away in 2012. In May of this year, Reka Komaromi, a close friend and associate of the Institute since 1988, arrived at Birdwood Downs and began to organize the contents of the four metal storage cabinets full of dried and pressed plants, bearing testimony to Robyn’s passion for plants and cultures. Most of the specimens were collected in the early 1980s, and include plants from the Peruvian and Colombian Amazon, as well as from Samoa, Vanuatu, New Zealand, Galapagos, Panama and Puerto Rico.
Reka sorted, organized and digitized the collection while at Birdwood Downs, and made a preliminary database with all the collectors’ notes and information that could be found on the station and on the website of The Missouri Botanical Gardens which also houses one of the original sets collected. Through her friend and ethnobotany colleague, Ivan Casselman, she found the Medicinal Plant Herbarium at the Southern Cross University, in New South Wales.
The small Medicinal Plant Herbarium is financed by the Plant Sciences laboratory which is not only a research and teaching facility for students and visiting researchers, but is also a commercial operation, carrying out services such as herbal authentication, natural product extraction and plant genomics, to name but a few. The Institute is pleased to have this collection become a permanent part of their Herbarium.
By the end of August 2014, the collection of 867 specimens was packed up and ready to fly across the country to be incorporated into the herbarium collection at SCU. Many thanks to Graham King, Director of Southern Cross Plant Sciences for facilitating the transfer of this large collection, and to Peter Mouatt (Research associate and Pharmacognosist at the Medicinal Plant Herbarium) for his guidance and assistance in receiving the collection.
Local Field Herbarium Maintained at Birdwood Downs
One of the storage cabinets in Robyn’s Herbarium housed 200 Australian plant specimens, which Robyn collected in the Kimberley area, including also collections made at Birdwood Downs Station and around Fitzroy, with ecotechnic colleague, Marie Chevrier in the early years of the pastoral project. Encouraged by feedback from Broome botanist Phil Docherty (SKIPA, Environs Kimberley) and Gregory Chandler from the Agriculture Department in Darwin, Reka sorted, digitized and mounted the 200 specimens and set up a database with all the information she could find on the specimens.