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Botany Pioneer Honoured

27 November 2001
Botany Pioneer Honoured With Naming Of Key Plant Collection

The country's largest plant collection is being given a new name, to acknowledge the contribution of a shy but outstanding contributor to botany in New Zealand.

Landcare Research's herbarium at Lincoln in Canterbury is by far the largest in New Zealand. It holds 540,000 plant specimens, including plants collected by Banks and Solander on Captain Cook's first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. Tomorrow afternoon, at a special ceremony, the herbarium will be named the Allan Herbarium, in honour of Harry Howard Barton Allan (1882-1957).

H.H. Allan was born in Nelson, and in his school years won awards for both gymnastics and academic achievements. He began a career as a teacher in the rugged West Coast mining town of Denniston, but was eventually persuaded to follow his passion for botany. H.H. Allan's personal plant collections formed the bulk of the first specimens introduced into the herbarium in 1928. As a result of his remarkable dedication and leadership, in 1938 he was appointed the first director of what was then the DSIR Botany Division. He held that post until his retirement in 1948, doggedly building up numbers from just one assistant to 25 staff. An outside observer described the Botany Division as "a welcome anomaly in the aridities of the Civil Service of the time".

Landcare Research herbarium curator Dr Peter Heenan says almost 75 years after the herbarium's collections were started, it is timely to honour this fascinating man.

"H.H. Allan was truly hard-working and dedicated. In the long tradition of botanists working after they retire, he battled declining health to turn out hundreds of pages of careful longhand on the plants he knew so well. In his later months he had difficulty walking, and a colleague had to help him from his home to his office to continue his labours. This work was eventually published four years after his death as the seminal Volume One of the Flora of New Zealand series. It was his greatest achievement".

A former DSIR Botany Division director, Dr Henry Connor, was 17 when he first met H.H. Allan in 1943. He has vivid memories of the man.

"We called him Dr Allan - never Harry. He was a gentle scholar and shy leader, stern, even taciturn, but with a wry smile. He did not like to waste time talking when he could be working. He was the most industrious person I have ever met. He was in his office 12 hours a day, six days a week, and read an enormous amount. We held him in awe, and the respect went with that.

"We were encouraged to further our education, and free to follow what we did best," Dr Connor says. "We always felt very well looked after. Despite his stern demeanour, Dr Allan was kind and generous to his staff."

H.H. Allan was internationally recognised and received many honours, including an honorary Doctorate from the University of Uppsala in Sweden, on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Linnaeus. During the 1920s and 30s he was at the forefront of world research on how plants hybridise naturally in the wild. Projects he initiated include a comprehensive plant identification service, investigations into drug plants and seaweeds in response to wartime demands, studies of weeds and poisonous plants, and ecological work on tussock grasslands.

"Giving the name Allan to the herbarium he founded gives pleasure to us who are in his line of descent," Dr Connor says.

The naming ceremony will begin at Landcare Research's herbarium in Lincoln at 3pm, Wednesday 28 November, with a welcome from the Chief Executive, Dr Andy Pearce.

BACKGROUND PAGE - THE ALLAN HERBARIUM A herbarium is a systematically arranged collection of plants. From a nucleus of earlier government biologists' collections and H.H. Allan's private collection, the Allan Herbarium now contains more than 540,000 specimens and is the largest in New Zealand.

The Allan Herbarium contains species from around the world, but specialises in native and introduced plants of the New Zealand region, subantarctic islands, and tropical South Pacific.

The function of the herbarium is to collect and record the flora of New Zealand, and to make information about the flora readily available to researchers, and regional and national authorities. The collections are used by botanists to identify species accurately and to undertake research on plant classifications, by ecologists to determine historical distributions of species to help with conservation and weed invasion, by biosecurity officers to identify weeds, and by the general public for information on plants in New Zealand.

The Allan herbarium and supporting databases provide a base for the study of New Zealand's flora, thereby contributing to research and to an understanding of New Zealand's biological diversity and ecosystems processes.

The Allan Herbarium Canterbury Agriculture and Science Centre Gerald Street Lincoln 8152 Canterbury

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