Rare plants damaged in Black Summer to be protected at National Botanic Gardens

Australian National Botanic Gardens executive Dr Judy West, who is helping with a conservation mission to protect plant species heavily destroyed by Black Summer bushfires. Picture: Keegan Carroll
Australian National Botanic Gardens executive Dr Judy West, who is helping with a conservation mission to protect plant species heavily destroyed by Black Summer bushfires. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Some of Australia's rarest plant species hit hard by the Black Summer bushfires in Namadgi and Kosciuszko national parks will be protected as part of a new conservation scheme.

The program, a joint-partnership between the ACT government, the Australian National Botanic Gardens and conservation groups, will help to collect seeds of plant species burnt out by the fires and help create a reserve population.

The three-year Survive and Thrive project will first aim to collect five species identified as having their population heavily damaged during the bushfires, before securing a further seven at-risk species.

Work will begin later this year in the Namadgi and Kosciuszko national parks to help find parts of the plant populations that were impacted.

The plant seeds will then be stored at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, where research will be undertaken on the species' germination and biological cues.

That research will go on to help create a back-up population of the plants for future generations.

Among the species included in the project are the Namadgi tea-tree, the slender parrot pea, dwarf violet, shiny phebalium and the daisy bush.

In many instances, between 70 to 100 per cent of the plants' population were destroyed by the bushfires.

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Australian National Botanic Gardens executive director Dr Judy West said timing was critical to help protect many endangered species.

"Some got burnt throughout their whole geographic range, and we wanted to target those plants," she said.

"For many of them, we don't understand enough about them, so we can bring them back to the seed bank and then work out what germination cues they have so they can be grown back.

"We'll also be collecting vegetation materials for roots and cuttings so we can then get the whole plants back into the field."

While there are hundreds of plant species in the sub-alpine areas that were heavily damaged in the bushfires, Dr West said the five that were chosen to be cared for as part of the scheme also had a broader focus.

"We have chosen species that have relatives in other parts of the country, so the research that we do can translate to a range of other species," she said.

"The first part will be getting out into the field and finding them and then bringing them back.

"They then need to get to a point where the plants can rejuvenate themselves, and then we could have a large insurance population."

Other groups involved with the scheme include the Australian Alps National Parks Cooperative Management Program, the National Parks Conservation Trust and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

The fund's head of healthy land and seascapes Darren Grover said while much was known about the impact of animals from the bushfires, little was known about the loss of plant species.

"We still don't know a whole lot about how some species respond to fire events, and this is an important knowledge gathering component," he said.

"The program is still very much in the planning stage, but it is all coming together and we have a trip to the alpine regions planned for September."

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This story Green shoots planned for plant species damaged by Black Summer fires first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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