Vanuatu needs to have a separate facility for the National Herbarium, for improvement and expansion. This is a unit under the Department of Forestry (DoF).
The facilities required to understand and document Vanuatu’s plants currently do not meet international standards, said a Botanist from the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) participating in the Plants mo Pipol Project in Vanuatu, Dr Greg Plunkett.
Like a library, the herbarium documents Vanuatu’s flora and provides a permanent record of botanical diversity. It consists of preserved dried plant specimens collected from different habits over many years.
The herbarium needs constant maintenance and improvements, said Dr Plunkett.
“Without this, many of the important scientific collections, records, reports, and literature needed to document Vanuatu’s flora and the early days of the herbarium’s history are slowly being lost, damaged, or destroyed due to poor storage conditions.”
The National Herbarium was able to move into the DoF building at Tagabe, following support from the French Embassy from 2012 to 2014.
The need to have a separate facility dedicated for the herbarium was conveyed during the recent launch of the new ‘Flora of Vanuatu’ database and website.
This new Flora of Vanuatu site combines database and website into a single function. It replaced an old database with no new uploads since 2015.
Through website logins, herbarium staff can access, upload and improve information collection from any computer or table with internet access.
These data will become available to public through this website once they are added or uploaded.
NYBG coordinated the transfer of specimen data with funding raised by NYBG projects. Over 17,000 herbarium records migrated, along with 1,000 photos of plants (all with specimen records).
The new platform will allow another 3,500 specimens collected by the Plants mo Pipol Project to be batch-uploaded, along with the tens of thousands of photos from the field.
It is also facilitating the organization, sorting and filing of a large backlog of specimens that had been accumulating during the period when the old database was not fully functioning.
Future enhancements will allow the Flora of Vanuatu database to link with important historical collections of Vanuatu housed in New York, Paris, London and to participate with other Pacific-Island institutions through the regional ‘Consortium of Pacific Herbaria.’
The Plants mo Pipol Project also arranged for a week-long training of herbarium staff to use the new database, and they are now actively adding new data to it for the first time in several years.
Dr Plunkett said they also assessed and updated the information for every plant species known to occur in Vanuatu, and compiled the country’s first plant checklist.
This checklist provides and authoritative list of the scientific names and distributional status of the plants found here, including a list of endemic plants, he said.
Dr Plunkett represents a team of researchers participating in the Plants mo Pipol Project.
The major goals of the project are to study and understand the plant diversity of Vanuatu and to document the names of these plants in Vanuatu’s indigenous languages.