The Janet Cosh Herbarium is a repository for dried plant specimens collected from the Sydney, Illawarra, South Coast and Southern Tableland regions of New South Wales. The Herbarium provides information on the taxonomy, history, distribution and conservation of plant species within these regions. The specimens are stored in a controlled environment and their details are recorded in a database. Voucher specimens used in research are also stored in the Herbarium. The staff are skilled in plant identification, taxonomy and ecology and these skills are used to teach, facilitate research and undertake consultancies. The herbarium held over 1600 specimens in 2014 and the collection continues to expand.

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Further information

In the 16th century, Lucius Ghini, a Paduan Professor and renowned teacher of botany, had the brilliant idea of drying plants and sticking them in a book as references for identification instead of the time-consuming process of drawing them. This allowed a collection of plants to be preserved as a herbarium for reference, portability and exchanges. In the 18th century Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and zoologist, laid the foundations for the systematic study and classification of plants and animals known as taxonomy. Pressed plants could now be consistently and logically named and labelled, and preserved for future reference in an organised manner. Thus herbaria could provide historical data and examples of specimens collected in remote places at different times. Later in the 18th century, Joseph Banks accompanied Captain Cook on the Endeavour voyage from England to Australia. He collected, dried and labelled each specimen with essential information such as plant description, date and location to transport them back to England for scientific classification. The first public herbarium of Australian plants was housed at Kew Gardens in London but it was not until 1901, the year of federation, the year Janet was born, that the National Herbarium of NSW was officially opened in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Since a herbarium is simply a collection of preserved plants, it can vary in size. While a personal herbarium might be just a few plants, the National Herbarium of NSW stores over a million specimens from thousands of collectors and the Janet Cosh Herbarium stores over 11,000 specimens (2015). Each plant is named and stored with information about the collector, location and the date collected.

Today, scientist use sophisticated computational and molecular tools such as gene coding to determine the relationship between species as well as the traditional methods established by Linnaeus.

The Janet Cosh Herbarium supports a number of subjects within the Faculty of Science, at the University of Wollongong and facilitates the teaching of undergraduate students.

The Janet Cosh Herbarium provides support and resources for post graduate students and researchers and provides instruction in plant identification.

Previous studies include:

  • Vegetation Dynamics of the Cumberland Plain, Western Sydney
  • Systematics and ecology of modern Australian Charophytes
  • Microsatellite analysis of genetic variation in the moss Ceratodon purpureus
  • Translocation of the Eastern Bristlebird
  • Description of new Taxa. (Pellow, B.& Porter, J.L (2005). A new species of Goodenia (Goodeniaceae) from Nocoleche Nature Reserve, Far Western Plains, New South Wales, Telopea 11 (1))
  • Revision of the Flora of the Sydney Region (Pellow, Henwood & Carolin 2009)

Provision of services for organisations and consultants who require plant identification, botanical surveys and analysis

The Janet Cosh Herbarium is interested in collaboration with interested parties to develop strategic partnerships. Previous examples include:

  • John Ray Herbarium and Fisher Library at the University of Sydney to revise the text Flora of the Sydney Region (Carolin & Tindale 1993) and with funds provided by the NSW Environment Trust, University of Sydney and University of Wollongong to publish Flora of the Sydney Region Pellow, Henwood & Carolin, 2009.
  • University Campus Environment Management Committee, Buildings & Grounds and the Office for Community and Partnership to develop a Campus Tree Walk (date??).
  • Fitzroy Falls Visitors Centre, Morton National Park to catalogue their plant specimen collection and contribute to the development of the Janet Cosh Room established in 2000.
  • NSW National Parks Foundation (1995) to support the cataloguing of the botanical illustrations of Janet Cosh and produce a pamphlet about the Herbarium.
  • Wollongong Botanic Gardens to provide ongoing technical support to their staff.
  • Office of Advancement Community Engagement, University of Wollongong to publish Flowering Wonderfully the Botanical Legacy of Janet Cosh (2012).
  • Faculty of Creative Arts in support and curation of exhibitions related to the botanical illustrations of Janet Cosh.

A BEQUEST to the Janet Cosh Herbarium is a rewarding way to leave a lasting legacy to botanical education and taxonomic research and show a commitment to the environment. Janet Cosh understood this when she made a bequest in 1989 to establish the Janet Cosh Herbarium. The integrity of Janet’s bequest has been honoured by the University of Wollongong for over 30 years.

UOW Donors can contribute towards sponsorships and bequests which are managed by the UOW Advancement Division.

Donations made to the Janet Cosh Herbarium may be tax-deductible.

Projects funded by sponsorships or bequests related to the Janet Cosh Herbarium will be managed by the Herbarium Director.

For further information contact:

Director, Professor Kris French: kris_french@uow.edu.au.

UOW Fellow, Jean Clarke: jean_clarke@uow.edu.au 

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The Herbarium provides a regional resource for the community. Staff liaise with community groups to provide information, expert advice and give talks to interest groups. From time to time volunteers assist with particular projects at the herbarium.

Local botanists have contributed to the specimen collection such as Kevin Mills who donated specimens to the establishment of the Herbarium and continues to make contributions.

Other community members have also contributed to the specimen collection sometimes with a significant collection from a particular area.


Jenny completed a Bush Regeneration course in the 1970s with the National Trust in Sydney. After she moved to the Southern Highlands in the early 1990s, she worked with a bushcare group who were deeply committed to regenerating the old Ironmines site in Alexandar Reserve, near Mittagong. Jenny collected and preserved numerous specimens from the site and in 2005 donated over 200 specimens to the Janet Cosh Herbarium. Jenny and other women from the Southern Highlands sometimes volunteered at the Janet Cosh Herbarium. They also volunteered in Mount Gibraltar Landcare & Bushcare and their efforts were published in The Gib (2005).

Jenny Simons

Jenny Simmons (right)

Dorothy O’Keefe donated a collection of resources to the Janet Cosh Herbarium in March 2010. The collection includes over 70 plant records collected between 1980–2009 from around the upper Minnamurra River, Jamberoo, NSW. Dorothy’s donation also included a number of her booklets which document the history of the area and describe the flora of the Minnamurra area. She is a founding member of the Upper Minnamurra Landcare Group

Dorothy O'keefe

Dorothy O'Keefe

Cosh, Janet Louise - woman – The Australian Women’s Register

Miss Janet Cosh a resident of the Southern Highlands of New South Wales was an educated woman with a variety of interests. Her passion for natural history and botany was inspired by her parents and grandparents. In particular, her maternal Grandmother Louisa Atkinson was a botanist, natural historian and writer. Miss Atkinson collected for Rev. Dr W. Woolls and F. Mueller until her untimely death in 1872. Examples of her work are held in the Mitchell Library and National Herbarium of NSW.

Miss Cosh always remained a dutiful daughter and when her Father retired in 1934, she moved to ‘Netherby’ in Moss Vale where she cared for her parents until they died. By then in her fifties, this quiet, reserved woman was able to devote her time to her particular areas of interest: a systematic study of local history and later botany. In both areas, she left permanent and accurate records.

In the late 1960s, after spending many years documenting the history of her local area, Miss Cosh, by then nearly 70 years of age, turned her energies to the study of botany. During the next 17 years, Miss Cosh made significant contributions to plant taxonomy providing a rigorous basis for understanding the ecology and biodiversity of many native species of flora in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. As an amateur botanist, she was highly respected and was often in consultation with professional organisations such NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service and taxonomists at the National Herbarium of NSW, the Australian National Herbarium and the CSIRO. Many examples of letters exchanged with these authorities from prominent personnel such as L.A.S. Johnson, J. Armstrong, J.D. Briggs and D.A. Johnstone still exist as wonderful examples of the polite and lengthy communications by mail in the 1970s. A number of the letters from the National Herbarium of NSW are in acknowledgement of donations Miss Cosh made over the years to the Royal Botanic Gardens Research Fund.

Miss Cosh had a keen interest in the ecology of plants and with her friend, Rachelle Roxburgh compiled a series of vegetation and fire history maps for Morton National Park. She was an environmentalist and contributed to the establishment of Cecil Hoskins Reserve, Stingray Swamp and Robertson Nature Reserve. Miss Cosh compiled many species lists which have been included in natural history booklets and publications relevant to the Southern Highlands, in particular, Morton Nation Park. Just prior to her death in 1989, Miss Cosh aged 88 had turned her attention to the South East Forests of NSW making several trips to the area with her friend Rachelle to document the impact of forestry practices in that region.

On her death, Miss Cosh bequeathed funds and resources to the University of Wollongong to establish a regional Herbarium. Her hope was to facilitate botanical research, teaching, expertise in plant identification and the management of native vegetation in a regional context. Miss Cosh’s botanical contributions which have been collated and preserved include a herbarium of 1600 specimens, nearly 2000 botanical illustrations, a library, numerous field notebooks, photographs, vegetation surveys and maps. Her collections included excellent examples of recycling using envelopes, paper, stocking inserts, old Christmas cards and even the reverse side of her Father’s watercolour paintings to record notes, drawings and mount specimens. A number of her rare books are now stored in the Michael Birt Library, University of Wollongong. Miss Cosh also prepared a herbarium for the staff at Morton National Park and bequeathed funds to the National Park Foundation some of which were used to establish the Janet Cosh Room at the Fitzroy Falls Visitors Centre as an educational resource for the community.

Miss Cosh’s botanical illustrations and plant specimens provide meticulous details of plants and their environment. The data she systematically recorded in the field is still being used as a taxonomical reference to assist with plant identification and to record new information. The herbarium now holds over 10,000 specimens and facilitates the teaching of undergraduate students, provides support for postgraduate students and research staff and has inter-departmental links, for example with the Faculty of Creative Arts and the Buildings and Grounds Department. A Campus Tree Walk of over 40 trees has been utilised by many social and educational groups. It contributes to the wider community by providing facilities for the use of regional Government agencies, information for community-based environmental groups and has recently established a collaborative agreement with the Wollongong Botanic Gardens.

Miss Cosh is an example of a large group of women from her era who, with independent means and a keen interest in natural history, have contributed to our knowledge of science in a quiet but significant way.

(Extract from Article by Jean Clarke And Belinda Pellow for ASBS Newsletter 137, 2008)

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Janet Cosh