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Ferns are abundant in our New Zealand landscape, making them a major part of our ecosystems. They are the green flowerless plants with divided leaves that often grow in damp shady areas.

Images of ferns, in particular the koru and the silver fern, are often used to represent our country in business, culture and sport. This imagery reflects the strong relationship ferns have with our New Zealand identity.

In this context, we explore the science of ferns through the work of botanists – the scientists who study plants.

Botanists past and present

Botanists have played an important role in our New Zealand history. The plant specimens collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on Captain Cook’s 1769 Endeavour voyage created the first physical record of New Zealand’s natural history. These plant specimens were dried, pressed, mounted and stored. They still exist and form part of herbaria collections here and in the UK. These plant specimens create a tangible link to our past.

We meet Dr Patrick Brownsey and Dr Leon Perrie, Botany Curators at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. They introduce us to the herbarium at Te Papa where over 260,000 plant specimens, including 19,000 fern specimens, are stored. We find out about the value of early collections, the role of museums and why botany is their passion.

Through their work, we learn about fern structure and life cycle, the science of classification and identification and how new technologies are being used to answer questions of species origin and relatedness.

Useful links

Visit The New Zealand Virtual Herbarium.
www.virtualherbarium.org.nz external link