Helen Ramsay

Helen Ramsay

The information here is borrowed heavily from ABN newsletter no. 49 where a testimony was prepared for Helen’s 75th year.

Helen has been described as a bryologist who has witnessed the development and expansion in the latter 20th century of bryology in Australia and has herself contributed significantly and continues to do so.

Helen completed her doctorate in bryophyte genetics in 1966 at Sydney University. No sooner had she submitted her thesis than she and her young family embarked on a trip to the UK where Helen was to take up the Leverhulme Fellowship at Bangor in Wales under Professor Paul Richards. Unbeknown to Helen, Richards was heading overseas; Helen was to see Richards in person again 15 months later. But this did not damper Helen’s determination. She established herself in the laboratory and took every opportunity to learn the required skills and techniques to specialise in meiotic cell division in bryophytes. Helen has numerous publications focusing on cytological studies in mosses. Helen’s cytological studies while mostly concentrated on Australian mosses, also included mosses from the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.

In 1968 Helen and her family returned to Sydney where Helen took on a tutorship at the University of New South Wales, where she was to remain until she retired from a senior lectureship position.

Helen’s passion for bryology is evident from the diversity of projects she has completed and published on: Census of New South Wales Mosses, Register of type specimens of mosses in Australian herbaria and has collaborated with several internationally recognised bryologists e.g. Dale Vitt on Macromitrium, Wilf Schofield and Ben Tan on Australian Sematophyllaceae and more recently with John Spence on Bryaceae. Helen also worked closely with Ilma Stone on tropical mosses and she has continued this work with Andi Cairns and David Meagher.

An outcome of the 1979 bryophyte workshop taught by George Scott was the commencement of the Australasian Bryological Newsletter. For quite a number of years Helen together with Patricia Selkirk and assistance from Alison Downing, all at Macquarie University produced the newsletter. It still continues to this day.

Helen has also been a strong advocate of the Australian Bryological Resources Study (ABRS) and at each Australian Bryophyte workshop (usually held every two years since the 1980s) has provided an update on developments in the scheme and provided encouragement for new comers to the field of bryology. Helen herself has contributed to ABRS taxonomic studies and to the Flora of Australia Volume 51, Mosses 1 [https://www.awe.gov.au/science-research/abrs/publications/flora-of-australia/vol51 ] later Mosses Online and currently Bryophytes of Australia [BoA: https://www.anbg.gov.au/abrs/Mosses_online/].

In 2019, aged 91, on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Helen was recognised and awarded the honour of an AM (a Member of the Order of Australia) for “Significant Service to Plant Science”. 

Helen’s extensive list of publications dates back to 1964 (link to newsletter with list from 1964 to 2004 https://www.utas.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/316656/abn_49.pdf)

Below is a list of some of Helen’s more recent publications:

Ramsay H.P. (2011) Australian Mosses – New chromosome numbers and compilation of chromosome data. Telopea 13(3): 577-619.

Cairns, A., Meagher, D and Ramsay, H.P. 2019. A revised checklist of the moss flora of the Australian Wet Tropics. Telopea 22: 1-30. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7751/telopea13208

Downs K. & Ramsay, H.P. (2019) Clergyman, Bryologist, Advocate: Reverand W. Watts in the Richmond River District (parts 1& 2). Australasian Bryological Newsletter 73 & 74.

Ramsay HP, Cairns A, Meagher D (2017) Macromitrium erythrocomum (Bryophyta: Orthotrichaceae), a new species from tropical Queensland, Australia. Telopea 20: 261–268.

Ramsay, H. P., Seppelt, R. D., and Downing, A. J. (2018a). Additional notes, corrections and sporophyte descriptions for Mesochaete (Bryopsida: Aulacomniaceae) in Australia. Telopea 2: 1-8. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7751/telopea12181

Ramsay H P, Seppelt R D, and Downing A J. (2018b) Trematodon (Bryopsida: Bruchiaceae) in Australia: unravelling the conundrum. Telopea 21: 101-119. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7751/telopea12444

Ramsay H P, Seppelt R D, and Downing A J. (2020) The genus Trematodon (Bruchiaceae) in Australia. Telopea 23: 1-19. dx.doi.org/10.7751/telopea12856

Spence J.R & Ramsay H.P. (2019) Revised keys and additional nomenclatural changes in the Bryaceae (Bryopsida) in Australia. Telopea 15: 143-148. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7751/telopea13056