“Science and the Royal Botanic Gardens have given me a very fulfilling career. It has been a privilege to contribute to knowledge of Australia’s flora. The more we know about our plants, the more we can conserve the heritage of our unique flora.”
Dr. Barbara Briggs, botanist, 1934-present.
Dr. Barbara Briggs is one of Australia’s leading botanists. She has been associated with the Royal Botanic Gardens for over 60 years, having started there when she was just 24. Now retired, she is an Honorary Research Associate in Systemic Botany with the Gardens.
Over her long career, Dr. Briggs has described 51 new species and reclassified 44 species of Anarthriaceae and Ecdeiocoleaceae which are rush-like plants that grow in Western Australia. Her mother was also a scientist, having been the first woman in NSW to receive a degree in physics in 1914. Dr. Briggs wrote her thesis on Ranunculus and Darwinia.
In some of her most sensational work, Dr. Briggs was involved in the solving of a murder case in 1960, the same year she received her PhD from the University of Sydney. After a kidnapped child’s body was discovered in a vacant lot, she and a team at the RBG studied plant fragments found on the blanket he was wrapped in, which turned out to be an unusual combination. With the help of a postal worker, they were able to track down a house with these same trees in a suburb, leading to a confession and conviction of the murderer.
Dr. Briggs has always been interested in plant DNA, and botanical evolution. When DNA technology was discovered in the 1980s, she introduced it to the research done at the Gardens. In 1998 she received a public service medal from the Australian government and In 2018 she became a Member of the order of Australia “for significant service to science and research as a botanist, to documenting Australian flora, and to professional societies.”
Her latest project, a digital database called eFlora of Australia, includes 159 species. When not writing and researching, she likes to travel, do yoga and choral singing.