Specimen of the Day: 18/1/2010 – Eucalyptus

Posted on Updated on

The cold weather we’ve been having here at the moment has left many people (myself included) fighting the symptoms of colds and flu.  In order to clear blocked noses and sinuses many of us will have used decongestants containing Eucalyptus oil. The essential oil of eucalyptus is obtained, by using a steam distillation process, from the leaves and the branches of the eucalyptus tree.  The medicinal properties of the oil were most likely first discovered by the Aborigines, the native inhabitants of Australia (where the tree is originated from). They had used the oil as a remedy for skin problems and fevers. Modern herbalists rely on the oil to treat these conditions as well as colds and other respiratory ailments. The oil is a fine decongestant and has stong germicidal and antibacterial effects.

There are more than 700 species of Eucalyptus with almost all of them being native to Australia.  Eucalyptus are fast growing plants and most of them are evergreen. Several eucalypts are among the tallest trees in the world. Eucalyptus regnans, the Australian Mountain Ash, is the tallest of all flowering plants; today, the tallest measured specimen named Centurion is 99.6 metres tall.

The specimen I have chosen for today, however, is Eucalyptus incrassata.

Eucalyptus incrassata collected by Richard Helms during the Elder Explorer Expedition, 1891

Although we have many specimens of Eucalyptus in the Herbarium, I was drawn to this one because of its interesting label.  I knew nothing about the Elder Exploring Expedition nor Richard Helms but was intrigued to discover more.

Sir Thomas Elder (1818 – 1897) was born in Scotland but emigrated to Australia in 1854.  He became a successful and wealthy man with interests in copper mines, horse racing and breeding and he was said to have held at one time a pastoral area greater in extent than the whole of Scotland.  He was a keen supporter of exploration and was the first person to import camels to Australia seeing them as a solution for the transport problems of the outback.

Thomas Elder funded  The Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition (1891-92) and it’s objectives were:

Notwithstanding the numerous Explorations which have been so admirably and heroically conducted by Australian Explorers, the Map of Australia is still far from complete; the vast extensive blank spaces between latitudes  15ºS. and 30ºS. represent a vast area of country of which the physical geography remains altogether unknown.

The object of this Expedition is to make an exhaustive Scientific Exploration of these regions, and to determine and map with certainty and accuracy the position and nomenclature of all geographical physical features, and ascertain the nature of its fauna, flora, geological structure, and climatic condiditons.

It will also be a special object of the Expedition to search for information of the long-lost Explorer, Ludwig Leichardt, and his exploration party, which left in the year 1848 and of which no reliable information has been ascertained, although strenuous efforts have been made by all subsequent explorers to throw some light upon the fate of this heroic though ill-fated explorer.

The full expedition Handbook and instructions for the officers can be viewed here.

Despite its careful planning the expedition was plagued by problems and was eventually terminated on 4 March 1892.  Although the expedition was generally thought of as being a failure it did have some successes.  Richard Helms (1842-1914), the expedition’s naturalist, collected 150 new species of insects and of the 700 specimens of plants collected, there were 19 new species. Collections of land and fresh water molluscs, lichens, fungi birds/mammals and reptiles (116 specimens) were also made. The mammals included several species now extinct in South Australia.

John White

Posted on Updated on

We had an enquiry from Australia this week about one of the specimens we have in the collection.  It is one of the oldest we have and probably collected around 1793 by John White.  He was the Surgeon-General at Port Jackson (now Sydney).

He sent his specimens to James Edward Smith, the first president of the Linnean Society of London.  J. E. Smith gave away many of his duplicate specimens and eventually some of this duplicates came to Manchester Museum via an extraordinary character called The Prince of Mantua and Montferrat (he wasn’t a real prince but more of that later!)

You can see a more detailed image of this specimen at the Manchester Museum’s main website here

monotoca scoparia
Monotoca scoparia collected by John White in Australia in 1793