Beyond the garden—plant solutions, biodiversity, literature and fine wine – IBC public events

Botanical Congress, Bulletins

It’s the XVIII International Botanical Congress in Melbourne from 23-30 July, and you can participate in some of this discussion through five free public events being held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre each week day.

There are four public talks at 6:30pm in Plenary Hall:

And a lunchtime public forum on Wednesday 27 July:

  • Brave New World—can we solve tomorrow’s environmental and energy problems by using life itself? Robyn Williams from the ABC Science Show moderates a debate in which Prof. David Mabberley, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, and Dr Kevin Thiele, Western Australia Herbarium, argue against Dr Jeff Powell, University of Western Sydney, and Dr Kirsten Heimann, James Cook University as to whether we should be focussing on microorganisms or multicellular creatures in searching for solutions to the environmental and energy problems we face today.

More details at

XVIII International Botanical Congress public events

Fruits of the vine—future climates and wine

Free public talk Monday 25 July, 6:30pm, Plenary Hall, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Professor Snow Barlow, The University of Melbourne will discuss:

  • How has climate change altered the climate in well-known wine regions?
  • How will the global wine industry respond to these challenges to established regions particularly if consumers wish to continue to savour the ‘grassiness’ of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or the ‘white pepper’ of a cool climate Shiraz?
  • What sort of wines can we look forward to in the future?

The World of Plants

Free public talk Tuesday 26 July, 6:30pm, Plenary Hall, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Professor Peter H. Raven, Missouri Botanical Garden, USA will discuss:

  • The importance and diversity of flowering plants: there are at least 400,000 species, and the great majority of them are poorly known, with perhaps 20 per cent of the species and a much higher proportion of the genetic diversity threatened with extinction over the next decade or two and probably more than half by the end of the century.
  • Actions for the future, including learning about plants and disseminating the information efficiently, conserving natural areas in the face of growing adverse changes, building seed banks, and educating people to know and love what they are losing.

Brave New World—can we solve tomorrow’s environmental and energy problems by using life itself?

Free public forum Wednesday 27 July 2011, 12:30-1:30pm Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The forum is moderated by Robyn Williams from the ABC Science Show.

Studying life in all its forms is exciting at this time of great technological change. Computers and modern scientific techniques have provided us with an understanding of life processes at the molecular level in a way never before possible.

Yet we know little about the unicellular organisms that make up most of the Tree of Life. Much of our scientific research efforts and investments go into the study and conservation of relatively few multicellular creatures and ecosystems. Research on the rest of life focuses mostly on controlling harmful microorganisms rather than looking for useful ones.

Is the time right to prioritise research into useful microbes, harnessing them to convert significant amounts of CO2 into biomass and biofuels and to capture and store significant amounts of carbon to slow climate change? Plants feed us and nature sustains us but could microorganisms give us the ‘biggest bang for our buck’?

Speaking for the plants:

  • Prof. David Mabberley, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, and soon to be Executive Director of Sydney’s Botanic Gardens Trust
  • Dr Kevin Thiele, Curator, Western Australia Herbarium

Speaking for the microbes:

For more information about the forum, contact Janelle Hatherly, Manager Public Programs, Botanic Gardens Trust (Sydney) on

Sister Water Lily meets the Big Bad Banksia Man – Can a whimsical and largely discarded branch of illustration be used to reinvigorate botanical education?

Free public talk Thursday 28 July, 6:30pm, Plenary Hall, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Dr Peter Bernhardt, Saint Louis University, USA, and his co-author Retha Meier review the works of C.M. Barker (England), W. Crane (England), May Gibbs (Australia), J.J. Grandville (France) and M.T. Ross (America). All produced detailed illustrations featuring anthropomorphic flowers, stems and edible plants. The tragic J.I.I. Gérard (a.k.a. Grandville, 1803-1847) began this trend in floral fantasy to amuse a mature audience of sophisticated Parisians but his techniques were assimilated by later author/artists of children’s books.

Peter Bernhardt is a Professor of Biology at and a Research Associate of the Missouri Botanical Garden (St Louis) and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Research in the Bernhardt/Meier laboratory concentrates on flower evolution and the pollination systems of rare and threatened plants in North America, Australia and China. Peter is the author/co-author of 75 reviewed journal articles and four popular books on plant life including ‘Wily Violets and Underground Orchids’ (1989) and ‘Gods and Goddesses in the Garden’ (2008). He has a keen interest in how plants have been incorporated as characters in children’s literature.

The Atlas of Living Australia: infrastructure for biodiversity research

Free public talk Friday 29 July, 6:30pm, Plenary Hall, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Dr Donald Hobern, CSIRO, discusses The Atlas of Living Australia— a national initiative focused on making Australia’s biodiversity information more accessible and useable online. In short, it is ‘an online encyclopaedia of all living things in Australia’. The Atlas website already holds more than 23 million fauna and flora distribution records, integrated with over 300 environmental layers for mapping and analysis. The Atlas enables researchers to provide decision-makers with targeted and useful information, presented in accessible ways. Members of the public can contribute sightings and photos of species and help to build a more complete picture of Australia’s biodiversity. Funded by the Australian Government, the Atlas is a collaboration between CSIRO, Australia’s national science research agency, and more than 60 biological collections from Museums, Herbaria and microbial collections, Federal and State Departments, and universities.

More information about the conference is at or contact me on or (03) 9398 1416.