The John T. Waterhouse Herbarium

The John T. Waterhouse Herbarium is in the lower ground floor of E26 Biosciences South under the Biolink Building.  It is an internationally registered herbarium which currently holds approximately 61, 000 specimens, mostly vascular plants and fungi, but also including algae, lichens, and non-vascular plants (mosses and liverworts).  Most of the specimens are Australian and of these the majority are from NSW, with a local emphasis on the Sydney Region, although parts of Australia are represented and there are a small number of collections from a range of other countries.

What is a Herbarium

Herbaria are collections of pieces, or whole individuals, of plants, fungi, lichens or algae that have been preserved so that their morphological features are maintained.  Mostly these are pressed and dried, but sometimes they may be dried without pressing (e.g. fungal collections, bark, timber) or preserved in spirit.  Each specimen is tagged, named and labelled accurately with details of where, when and by whom it was collected and a description of the plant's habitat with details such as the soil, aspect and surrounding plant community. Carefully prepared and curated specimens can last indefinitely and there are many specimens in the world still extant from the eighteenth century. The oldest specimens in the John T. Waterhouse Herbarium include a grass, Eriochloa pseudoacrotricha, collected in western NSW in 1892 and Sporodanthus gracilis, collected in nearby Centennial Park in 1897, less than a decade after the park opened.


The Herbarium was founded by Mary M. Hindmarsh, Alec Wood and Don Blaxell as the University of New South Wales Herbarium in 1960 in the School of Botany at Ultimo.  In 1962 the School of Botany and the Herbarium moved from Ultimo to the newly built Biosciences Building at the Kensington campus.  In the same year, John Waterhouse joined the School as a lecturer and became the first Director of the Herbarium.  He was responsible for obtaining international registration in 1981, through the International Association of Plant Taxonomists, of the herbarium in Index Herbariorum under the acronym UNSW.  John was also successful in obtaining funds to expand and renovate the Herbarium but sadly never saw this happen; he died in April 1983 and the newly refurbished herbarium, opened in June 1983, was named the John T. Waterhouse Herbarium in his honour. The collection expanded over time and needed a newer space with better facilities to manage pest control without the need for chemicals.  As part of a larger move of the School of BEES, the Herbarium moved in October 2017 to its present location in the Biosciences South Building.

What goes on in the Herbarium?

The Herbarium is an important resource for both research and teaching.  It is particularly essential for the identification of plants, and a common routine duty in the herbarium is checking the identification of 'unknown' plant specimens, where the unknown is matched with a named specimen.  Individual specimens may be cited by researchers in their publications as vouchers from which original data has been obtained. Most usually this is morphological data, but molecular, chemical, histological, ecological and palynological data can be provided by herbarium specimens. The specimens also act as records which map the temporal and spatial distributions of organisms, which can be important for research into the spread of invasive species and for the changes in distributions as a result of urbanisation and climate change.   Research in the School of BEES which has utilised the Herbarium in recent years has covered such diverse areas as molecular systematics, mycorrhizal taxonomy, environmental studies, vegetation and land management (e.g. vegetation management, weed management, land use changes and historical vegetation, mining contamination), biogeography, aspects of ecology (e.g. global trends in plant ecology, rapid evolution in invasive species, plant facilitation), biodiversity, and arid zone studies.

The collection is available, by appointment within work hours, for use by staff and students of UNSW and external visitors. Specimens are available for loan to other institutions for study.  Staff and students may request loans, through the Herbarium, of material from other herbaria.  All undergraduate students are allowed supervised access to the herbarium; those who may need unsupervised access in the course of their studies or research are given the training and induction to do so.

Herbarium Database

The first Herbarium specimen database running on Microsoft Access, was funded by the U Committee and went live in 2005. Databasing the backlog of older specimens was helped again through the support of the U Committee to fund casual databasers, along with the generous time given by many volunteers. UNSW received funds from the Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (CHAH) and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) to database one our significant collections, the Alligator River Region collection, as well as moving to a new and vastly improved platform, Specify. In February 2020, UNSW joined  The Australasian Virtual Herbarium

There are currently c. 22, 000 specimens databased (c. 35% of the total collection); database records are available to all at UNSW AVH.


The Herbarium also holds a modest but important library which is useful for teaching and research purposes and is available to staff and students (John T. Waterhouse Herbarium Library Catalogue).  



Director - Associate Professor Stephen Bonser - Room 401A | Biological Sciences North (D26)

Curator - Frank Hemmings - Room 201E | Biological Sciences North (D26)

Technical Officer - Guy Taseski - Workstation 5.50 | Level 5 East | Biological Sciences South (E26)


phone: +61 2 9385 3274


Resources and Links

Index Herbariorum - UNSW

Atlas of Living Australia Collections - John T. Waterhouse Herbarium

Plantnet (NSW Flora Online)

Flora of Australia

Australian Plant Name Index