Phil Garnock-Jones

I’m a retired plant taxonomist in Wellington New Zealand. Before I retired, I entertained the idea of giving up botany and taking on something new, but it hasn’t happened. So much taxonomic research these days requires a lab and students, to say nothing of keeping up with a ballooning literature. But there’s still a lot that can be done from home: Flora contributions, field guides, illustration, photography, and simple garden experiments. I have two major projects on the go right now. 

First, I’m tying up the last loose ends of a draft Flora of New Zealand treatment of Veronica (141 NZ species). Veronica is our largest genus—although Carex is racing towards taking over that distinction—and we have 122 native and 19 naturalised species. The new Flora treatment draws on previous monographic work on the native species (Bayly & Kellow 2006, Meudt 2008, Garnock-Jones & Lloyd 2004, Garnock-Jones 1993). The task was to compile new comparable descriptions for these and the naturalised species. I have been able to use Bill Malcolm’s photos from Bayly & Kellow (2006), which cover 90 species, and I’ve been able to take new photos, covering the same character set, for the additional 50 (like Veronica spectabilis, below). The Flora treatment will appear in the on-line Flora of New Zealand and as a PDF download.

This photography led me into my second major project, which is more open-ended: flower and fruit photography. It started with fulfilment of a long-standing dream, to take photos of New Zealand flowers’ ultraviolet reflectance, hard to do with the old film cameras. I needed a digital SLR camera, lens, uv pass filter, and uv light source. The DSLR was such a step above the excellent point-and-shoot I had been using and it’s led me into a whole new world. As a result, I have a growing collection (maybe 500 species) of flower close-ups, mostly of New Zealand native and naturalised plants. I’m happy to make these available (free to colleagues for research publications and most conservation projects); just ask.

Nothing comes from nothing, and so I’ll finish with an outline of where I’ve come from. My PhD was on taxonomy of Parahebe (now part of Veronica). My first job (1975–1994) was in Christchurch at Botany Division of the Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (CHR), where I spent 1975–88 working on Brassicaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Asteraceae and others for our naturalised dicot Flora (Webb, Sykes, & Garnock-Jones 1988) and developing an interest in explicitly evidence-based systematics (hence cladistics and molecular phylogenetics). In 1994 I moved to Victoria University of Wellington, where I taught botany, evolution, and systematics until 2012. Through collaborations with Te Papa botanists and a sequence of excellent students I was involved in a range of projects on Veronica, Scleranthus, Plantago, Gesneriaceae, and Wahlenbergia. Along the way, I’ve also been involved with molecular identification of components of herbal remedies and the evolution of sexuality in land plants. I still have a desk at VUW, where I’m an Emeritus Professor and even do the odd spot of teaching.

I’ve been blogging elsewhere, but haven’t added anything there in quite a while. 

Bayly M.J.; Kellow A.V.  2006. An illustrated guide to New Zealand hebes. Wellington: Te Papa Press.

Garnock‑Jones, P.J.  1993. Heliohebe (Scrophulariaceae ‑ Veroniceae), a new genus segregated from Hebe. New Zealand Journal of Botany 31: 323–339.

Garnock-Jones, P. J.;  Lloyd, D. G. 2004.  A taxonomic revision of Parahebe (Plantaginaceae) in New Zealand.  New Zealand Journal of Botany 42:  181 – 232.

Meudt, H.M. 2008. Taxonomic revision of Australasian snow hebes (Veronica, Plantaginaceae). Australian Systematic Botany 21: 387–421. 

Webb, C.J.;. Sykes, W.R; Garnock‑Jones, P.J.  1988. Flora of New Zealand Vol. 4 Pteridophytes, Gymnosperms, Dicotyledons. Christchurch: Botany Division, DSIR.

Alexander N. Schmidt-Lebuhn

After completing a PhD in Göttingen, Germany, and postdocs in Germany and Switzerland I started as a CSIRO research scientist at the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra in 2010. My primary study group are the Asteraceae, and from a systematics perspective in particular the native Gnaphalieae (everlasting paper daisy tribe). My research interests, however, are broad and have always been, including molecular phylogenetics, species delimitation, user-friendly identification keys, pollination, polyploidy, spatial patterns of biodiversity, and, increasingly, conservation genetics.

Currently I am building a Lucid key to the Cassinia group, am involved in a project on estimation of viable plant population sizes, and continue working towards a well-resolved phylogeny of Australian Gnaphalieae using high-throughput sequencing. I am also an ANU Academic Visitor and have contributed to undergraduate teaching. I enjoy reading, playing board games and photographing plants.

Lizzy Joyce

I’m a PhD candidate at James Cook University in Cairns with the Australian Tropical Herbarium. While completing my honours project working on the taxonomic resolution of the Tetratheca hirsuta complex at the Western Australian Herbarium I was hooked by the juicy questions that systematics can answer, the fundamental importance of taxonomy and how much there still is to be understood about the Australian flora.

I am currently in the early stages of my project which focusses on the origins of the northern Australian flora and specifically the role of exchange between Sunda and Sahul. By comparing published and unpublished dated molecular phylogenies for the region and generating new phylogenies I’m trying to get a picture of the temporal patterns in divergence events that contributed to making the northern Australian flora the way it is now. I’m also interested in trying to identify some of the main factors driving divergence in this region on a broad scale.

Aside from trying to get to the bottom of these questions, the opportunity that this project gives me to work with researchers from a number of disciplines and work with multiple groups of plants is really exciting for a plant nerd like me. What better way to spend the next few years! (OK, I might be in the honeymoon period of my project but just let me have it…)

I’m passionate about the importance of systematics and taxonomy and, as a new kid on the block, view the Decadal Plan as a necessary and encouraging step towards promoting this field and securing its future.

Katharina Schulte


I am a molecular systematist and evolutionary biologist with a research focus on tropical plant biodiversity. My research interests lie in understanding the diversification of species-rich tropical plant groups in time and space, and the underlying factors that shaped today’s diversity. I am using molecular tools such as high throughput DNA sequencing to reconstruct evolutionary relationships and historical biogeography, investigate differences in speciation and extinction rates between lineages and examine correlations with other factors, such as past climatic change, the development of putative key innovations or other significant morphological/physiological traits.

Since 2010 I am working at the Australian Tropical Herbarium where I have the pleasure of leading the orchid research program. My current research projects employ genomic approaches to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships and the spatio-temporal evolution of Australia’s major orchid lineages, in particular the highly diverse orchid tribe Diurideae (the Donkey, Spider, Leek orchids and Co.), the subtribe Pterostylidinae (the Greenhood orchid alliance), and the two epiphytic plant mega genera Dendrobium and Bulbophyllum. A greater understanding of these orchid groups is key for the establishment of a more stable and widely accepted taxonomic classification for Australasian orchids.

Michelle Waycott

As a botanist (#iamabotanist) I have so many areas that interest me and which I work on. I believe that we should share our knowledge and expertise as a member of the community, and seek to do that in my Professional roles. 

I currently have a position as the Professor of Plant Systematics at the University of Adelaide, School of Biological Sciences and am also the Chief Botanist for the State Herbarium of South Australia. The Herbarium and the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre, are the science team within the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium within the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. My research team investigate questions of taxonomic, systematic, evolutionary and population genetic processes, often working at the interface of these disciplines. I have a particular (some say peculiar) interest in seeing even the most fundamental of our science applied in decision making. I also have a love for many groups of plants, for example I have worked for more than 20 years on seagrasses, the peculiar submerged marine plants that are found around the world in shallow waters and which play an important role in coastal ecosystems. I have studied their evolution, ecology, management and general biology but also am reviewing their taxonomy and evolutionary systematics which these days we do with amazing genomic molecular genetic tools that allow us to get DNA sequences and compare regions of the genome from hundreds and thousands of loci to inform our questions, its an exciting time to be a molecular geneticist.
 Collecting seagrass in San Blas Panama (some time ago... ;)

My group today continues to work on seagrasses but we also have research into many groups such as those I share with John Conran–Drosera and carnivorous plant evolution, many groups of monocots, tracking down just what the fossils are in new and old deposits and improving our understanding of the South Australian flora.

Since becoming the Head of the Herbarium in South Australia in 2011 I have seen great fluctuations in the interest and support that managers, decision makers and the community at large have in the work some in the field of biological systematics. Given it is such an exciting area–discovering new species, supporting decisions about conserving and managing the native species diversity of Australia, uncovering amazing features of our plants and animals and sharing these with the community and even revealing historical facts about our collections or our flora–we do not do a great job of getting other people excited by the fruits of our labour.

I view a commitment to improving the way we value biological systematics in the Science and Policy sectors as crucial to our future. 

Anthony Whalen

I'm the General Manager of the Australian Biological Resources Study; based in Canberra. I have a broad interest in Australian taxonomy, systematics, bioinformatics and conservation biology. I am strongly motivated by work that helps raise the awareness, understanding and appreciation of the Australian plants, animals and natural systems. Previous to this I worked in the a number of positions in the Australian Government's Department of the Environment (and its many taxonomic and nomenclatural synonyms). These roles included Species Information, Natural Heritage, Heritage Policy, the National Landcare Programme and Wildlife Trade.

My team and I are currently working on the Flora of Australia as one of our key priorities. With the help of the Atlas of Living Australia, Kevin Thiele and others, the Flora is rapidly evolving via a new dynamic e-flora platform. I am hopeful that resources such as the Flora of Australia can be highlighted within a Decadal Plan for Taxonomy and Biosystematics - in part for the role they can play to inform research and policy - but also to underline the importance of appropriately resourcing and developing such tools into the future.

I look forward to seeing the Decadal Plan go forward.

The Botany Bill

The American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) has been instrumental in negotiations towards a Botany Bill (formally, The Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research, Restoration and Promotion Act) recently introduced to the US House of Representatives by a Democrat-Republican co-sponsor pair. The aim of the Bill is to "support the botanical science capacity of the federal government". A press release on the Bill is here.

An interesting idea (and of course, an interesting time to introduce such a Bill in the US. To my knowledge, Trump has yet to tweet his opinion on the Bill.)

Ryonen Butcher

Hello – I’m Ryonen Butcher, and I’m a member of the world’s oldest profession – taxonomy. [Hi Ryonen!] My descent into this publicly-shunned and socially-misunderstood world began when I embarked on a BSc Honours project to resolve the Sphaerolobium macranthum Meisn. complex in south-western Australia. Little did I know that this was just a gateway project and that soon I’d need more… First I re-circumscribed one species and reinstated two others, but it wasn’t enough. Soon after, I recognised my first new species in the genus, and I was hooked. Before I knew it, there were publications… Oh. My. God - the high! THE HIGH!! Species followed species and genus followed genus as I spiralled into the all-encompassing vortex of plant taxonomy in a biodiversity hotspot. I’ve dragged others into this life, infecting the susceptible and excitable minds of university students with my obsessions and passions... It’s been years since I’ve seen my mother. I send her reprints to let her know I’m okay, but still she cries over the phone – Why? Why couldn’t you be a lawyer?? I’m sorry mum. I’m sorry…

(Ryonen counts SphaerolobiumMirbelia and Tephrosia (Fabaceae), Synaphea (Proteaceae), and Tetratheca and Platytheca (Elaeocarpaceae) among her addictions. She needs help. For obvious reasons.)

What are the big questions in plant systematics? - a report of a symposium on the future of global plant systematics

An interesting article in the last issue of American Journal of Botany. See especially the section discussing the big questions in plant systematics, and how we can address them. Thanks to David Cantrill for bringing this paper to our attention.

From the introduction to the paper:

"Forty botanists from 13 countries met this March in Amsterdam at a special colloquium at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences to discuss the future of plant systematics (“Beyond the Tree of Life: the Future of Plant Systematics”; Fig. 1). The meeting was funded by the Netherlands Royal Academy and organized by Erik Smets (Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, Netherlands) and colleagues*; it addressed several paradoxes in our field. First, with an ongoing planetary-scale biodiversity crisis, the need for plant systematists has never been greater, and yet taxonomic expertise appears to be in steady decline, as noted by repeated calls for action (e.g., de Carvalho et al., 2007Drew, 2011). Despite this, new plant species are continuously being discovered, and plant systematics as a field has survived and even thrived, thanks to the common overarching goal of building and understanding the Tree of Life, spurred by the availability of new technology and powerful analytical frameworks. Yet, members of the public and colleagues outside biology often express surprise when new plant species are discovered or appear unaware that the Tree of Life is far from being fully resolved. In this context, how do we justify the importance of continued research on plant biodiversity and explain its importance to the general public, university administrators, funding agencies, and policy makers?"

Among other things, the colloquium asked the question "What are the cool, achievable questions in plants sytsematics, and how can we answer them?". Here's their answer:

"The third discussion session aimed at formulating questions and solutions that plant systematists as a community may realistically target in the near future. Four tentative key questions emerged: (1) How is plant life related, and how is diversity distributed in time and space? (2) What are the processes generating biodiversity? (3) How many species are there, and what do we know about them? (4) How do we break the barriers for training and employing systematists in the developing world? To address these questions, we thought that a flagship international project aimed at collecting/synthesizing in public databases, the phenotype, interactome, and genome from 100 specimens each of 1000 species over their distribution range and ecological gradients could attract excitement and major sources of funding and provide significant, novel answers and new questions."

This paper is useful and interesting food for thought for our own Decadal Plan process. The fill paper is at 

Rob Davis

I'm an identification botanist and taxonomist. I have been with the WA Herbaium for the past 25 years. My initial role with the Herbarium was as a technical assistant, mostly working on WA's bioprospecting project and Regional Forest Assessments, among other survey projects. The past 15 years I have been primarily employed as an identification botanist. In this position, I'm identifying plants from a variety of organisations, either internal identification within the Department of Parks and Wildlife or from environmental consultants, the Department of Agriculture and the general public. I'm also involved in confirming rare and priority taxa for Western Australia. In addition, I'm involved in taxonomy, describing new species from a variety of plant families, but primarily from the genus Ptilotus.