The aim of this site is on one hand to facilitate the work of researchers and members of the public who attempt to sort the common names of plants and associate them with their corresponding botanical names.

On the other hand this site aims at building the growing number of multilingual and multiscripted resources on the internet with the ultimate goals of improving international communication, improving communication between lay people and scientists and linking people with a common interest in plants, ethnic food and horticulture. We thereby hope to raise the awareness among both academics and lay people of the great world diversity of plants that could be used by people as opposed to the limited range of plants used and commercialised. It is hoped that in time the threats to the bio-diversity of edible plants will become better known and that our site will help those who address this serious world problem.

Opinions expressed on this page are the maintainer's own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Land & Food Resources, School of Agriculture and Food Systems, Faculty of Land and Food Resources, The University of Melbourne or their respective staff.

This page at a glance:



Overview of this project

Scope of the project


The author and manager of this site Michel H. Porcher, Honorary Fellow.


During a 12 year involvement in the horticultural industry I became aware of the need for extensive and detailed glossaries of useful plant names. In the sixties, pre-information technology boom, it was a difficult task. Today, with the tools offered by computer technology it is possible to begin to address the nomenclatural issues and resolve many of the problems.

The needs are of two broad types:

Years ago I wrote:

"Australia is presently in a very favourable position to tackle the above problems. It is a predominantly European nation slowly becoming an Asian nation. It has strong links with the European communities and strong links with the Asian communities. It also has a very cosmopolitan population with a wealth of ethnic resources.

Taking into consideration all of the above we propose to aim at producing a glossary of plant names in 40 different languages by the year 2000 which will be available free of charge on the Internet in the form of a multi-level browseable database. Extracts will be published in various other forms over the development period."

Although the above statements still hold, it is with great sadness that I have to admit that the political and social atmosphere in Australia has degenerated beyond comprehension since the late 1990s. Consequently, our project, like many other things, has been adversely affected. However if the goals are not achieved immediately, they will be one day, if not by myself by someone else. I can only be encouraged by all the imaginative and stimulating work that is on display on the internet.




The information on this site is offered free of charge in good faith, without warranty. Although the compiling has been done with due care at this early stage of development of the project it is not possible to warranty the accuracy of the data. The purpose of this pilot is to display the principles involved in the Multilingual Site, not yet to provide accurate information. Extracts could be copied for non commercial purposes, provided that permission has been sought and given in writing or that the source is acknowledged. We do not recommend printing from browsers because the quality would be poor and much paper would be wasted. The characters have been chosen for screen effect only. Neither the maintainer nor the University of Melbourne will have any liability whatsoever to any person or organization in respect to any alleged loss, damage or liability incurred from the use of the data presented.


  1. Publication of the initial pilot in 1995 was stage 1 of the project and took the form of a series of interconnected html pages including records and indexes.


  2. The next stage included the establishment of a Unix database searchable via a prototypical searching tool from the www and capable of processing multilingual, multiscripted data.


  3. In stage 3 the data stored in a databank and constantly updated was and still is being entered into the multilingual database which in turn is made accessible via the WWW.


  4. In stage 4 users' interest and level of participation from individuals and organizations was assessed and the presentation of the material has been altered from its initial state as a consequence. A more sophisticated system (including a searching tool) has been established.


  5. The last stage; beyond 2000 will be spent building up the data ad infinitum in excess of the forty languages most used in the world.


  6. In early 2001 the number of languages covered had reached 60, although only 11 of the 15 scripts have been integrated so far due to lack of funding and time.


  7. In 2005 the ultimate language number of 60 and the 18 scripts have been included. Unicode fonts have also been adopted despite the poor performance of many operating systems and browsers. It is hoped that with time computers will become sophisticated enough in order to handle any language. We can now safely confirm that the project is progressing well despite all the adverse conditions. The current number of online requests for data per week has stabilised just below 300 000 per week.


  8. The project will remain in its bidding and contracting phase for the required equipment in the foreseable future.  In 2006 onwards, due to lack of funding, the online database was dropped and replaced with the original collection of  interlinked modular html files. This creates some inconvenience from the user point of view but facilitates greatly the task of compiling, publishing and editing given that the whole process does not depend on the availability of a programmer. Overall the keen user benefits because far more data can be quickly  entered and accessed, albeit with a few extra clicks, cut and paste actions. The question is: would the initial programming cost of  $5000.00 or the current cost of $300, 000.00 be justified in increased efficiency? and increased access facility to the users? we think not.


  9. In 2007 the number of languages is in excess of 70 and the number of scripts in excess of 22. To illustrate the intention clicking on a language in its foreign script will take you to the relevant index.


Scope of the project

Presently, as indeed was considered 8 years ago, the intention is to cover as many useful plants as possible. What is useful in one part of the world however can be a weed, even a noxious weed, in another. Our political stand is that, whether it is a selection or a species, if it is declared useful by some people, provided that we can get a minimum of information about it and that we can handle the data, it is in. We basically foresee 8 categories of plants. In order of decreasing importance we will consider: Vegetables, Cereals, Fruits, Mushrooms / Fungi, Herbs, Pasture / Fodder Crops, Medicinal plants, and what may be termed "Utilitarian crops" such as fibre, oil crops, stimulants etc. We feel that in the last fifty years the first 3 categories have been attracting far too little attention from taxonomists, especially below the species level. These three groups of edible plants include all the world staple foods and their related cultivars and selections. These have been bred and improved over centuries. They are the basic ingredients of the world ethnic cuisines. These precious resources are caught in an ever increasing turmoil, caused basically by "economic rationalism", and the extent of which has probably never been seen since people started to domesticate plants (one can check our little compilation of alarming stats). Yet the organizations involved in their genetic preservation compare poorly in numbers and capacity with those involved in the equally important wildlife preservation efforts the world over. We hope that our modest project will go towards redressing this sad state of affairs by providing an aid to those who catalogue and organize the all important field work.




People: It has taken many years to advance this project to this point, originally conceived in the late eighties. My enthusiasm alone, as great as it was and still is could not possibly have sustained the efforts required to overcome the ever present apathy, inertia and get over all the political and administrative hurdles. The encouragements of many people have been vital over the years. I am very grateful to the following, in order of appearance on the scene. Dr Uwe Radok, Professor W. Budd, Dr D. Jensen, Alan E. Williams, Mr H.U. Schwarzenbach, Mr. Ian Clarke, Mr Michel Fanton, Dr John Wiersema, Professor Lindsay Falvey, Professor D.J. Connor, Dr Lindsay Thomas, Dr R. Baird.


Encouragements alone are still not enough. The following people have provided vital practical help as well as encouragements: Dr D.A. Kane, Maynard Chen, Dr T.V. Tchen, Ms Shouline Tchen, Dr Baird, Dr Wiersema, Dr Kieran Mundy, Ms Akiko Mundy, Dr. Ione Fet, Dr. Li Jun, Dr. Wang Wei Li, Dr Xingren Wu, Dr Yang Bang Liang, Dr Jian-Chun Lu, Ms Noriko Asami, Ms Takako Asaoka, Ms Sandra Silcot, Jeffrey Friedl, Professor Jim Breen, Roland Cottin, Martin Gleeson, Dr Peter Ades, and Professor Glyn Rimmington. David Cavagnaro, professional photographer, the Photography Section of the Media Unit of Melbourne University, and Clive Blazey, Director of Diggers Seeds have donated copies of their valuable photographs.

In response to requests, from 1998 onwards, each page published will have a list of acknowledgements relevant to that specific page. The reason being that the project spans many years while people move around evermore and do not necessarily keep in close contact. A few students who contributed in the early stage of development of the project have now reached the status of Dr. or Prof. whilst the names they have contributed have not yet made the transition database to internet. Contributors therefore prefer to participate for a while and move on to other projects.

Most of the brain twisting work was done by yours truly Michel H. Porcher between 1988 and the present. Of course I could only have done it with the kind assistance of the numerous great people acknowledged throughout the on-line material. All beneficiaries of this work and I are indebted to this truly global and multi talented team.


Equipment: A wide range of Macintosh computers from MacPlus to the PowerBook 1400 series. Unix servers Sparc stations and of course the Internet, the World Wide Web in particular, were vital to this project. The occasional PC was used to check for possible incompatibilities. In 2004 a new PC joined the team and a new modern era started. What the succeeding generations of Macs had failed to do, despite our desperate calls to Apple dealers and consultants who did not want to know us, could at last be achieved : reading difficult languages such as Czech, Persian, Hebrew and others. July 2004 saw the birth of our first 3 pages taking advantage of what Unicode has to offer.

A wide range of software was used over the years. Among the most useful packages were Netscape (various versions), FileMaker (different versions), Microsoft Word 5.1 (mostly), Mini SQL, Photoshop 3 & 4, Powerpoint, Mishu Wuhan, Mishu Tainan, Claris Home page, BBEdit Lite 3.5, rtftohtml 2.7.5, Fetch 3.0.1, cliptogif.

Apart from the limited freeware, the hardware was purchased by The University of Melbourne, as the official sponsor of this project. This equipment was used occasionally at the School of Earth Sciences, The Institute of Land and Food Resources (formally the Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Horticulture) and The Landcare Systems Research Laboratory. The vital laptop and its software was purchased and donated to the project by Michel du Mont Gisborne a private business. The communication software was supplied by the University of Melbourne, the Unix database mini SQL1 was kindly supplied by Bond University's Hughes Technologies.

Post-2000 acknowledgements for services and equipment will be attached to separate sections or pages of the on-line project.



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Date created: 05 / 06 / 1995
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Last modified: 15 / 11 / 2007
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Copyright 1995 - 2020 The University of Melbourne.
Maintained by: Michel H. Porcher