Wood Reference Collection

The Wood Reference Collection is the oldest collection of authenticated wood specimens (also known as a xylarium or xylotheque) in Australia and the third largest in the nation. It consists of 21 separate collections of wood block samples, including 17 international collections, and a glass slide collection of timber microstructure sections. Together, they provide a comprehensive reference collection for Queensland timbers, some national and international timbers, and their anatomical characteristics.

Established in the 1880’s, the Wood Reference Collection started as a legacy of Australia sending wood samples to international exhibitions to promote their timber exports. The Queensland Wood Reference Collection is the only xylarium in Australia still in use for the identification of wood specimens and is the only public collection for the accurate identification of processed wood. The services of the collection are open for government and the public (on a fee-for-service basis), helping to ascertain the provenance of any processed wood piece, including furniture, cultural products or architecture, among others. In Queensland the expertise connected to the collection is regularly used for insurance investigations, forensic examination and to assure compliance with trade and import laws.

State scientific collection

The Wood Reference Collection is a unique collection of mainly Queensland timbers, assembled by government botanists collecting plant materials since the 1880s. The collection includes:

  • almost 13,000 wood samples representing 200 plant genera
  • more than 9,000 samples of Queensland tree species
  • almost 5,000 microscope slides of stained timber microstructure sections from 108 plant families
  • slides showing a transverse section, a radial longitudinal section and a tangential longitudinal section for each species.

Case study – Provenance

Image of a chair wood sample - Gaz Hopewell (2015) Queensland Government Xylaria

Gaz Hopewell (2015) Queensland Government Xylaria

Once a tree has been removed from its environment and the wood has been processed, it can often be hard to identify the provenance or age of a specific piece. The wood blocks and microscope samples held at the Wood Reference Collection are invaluable as the provenance of a specific piece can influence how its value is determined.

In art history, the wood used by specific artists or furniture makers (for antiques) is often very characteristic. The frame of a painting or the type of wood used to make a stool can give crucial information when investigating whether an object is genuine or a replica.

Similarly, anthropological studies on cultural objects or forensic studies on weapons often benefit from wood identification services. Specific cultures might have favoured specific wood types for ritual purposes, giving a clue as to the use of found objects. The Queensland Police Service Ballistic Unit have used the collection to identify the type and origin of wooden firearm stocks, and archaeologists working on structures such as a heritage listed timber bridge in Beaudesert, the Wickham Terrace Tower Mill (the Old Mill), the Cato (Wreck Reef 1803) and many others have also benefitted from wood identification services.

Access to the collection

If you are a researcher, you can access the collection by prior arrangement—contact the curator by phone.

You can read information about the wood collection, standards for managing it and for improving access on the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Biological Collections portal.

Access Timber Answers database

Timber Answers provides technical information about wood properties and uses over 1 000 species of Australian and imported timbers, including those commonly grown in plantations. Timber Answers is for builders, designers, engineers, cabinetmakers, woodworkers, researchers, growers, processors, importers and retailers.

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