Before we went south to the Coorong and the Great Ocean Road
I made the Fella we went to Port Augusta. For a couple of years I had wanted to visit the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Garden there. To be completely open I wanted to see if they had any of the Cullen genus growing. Unfortunately not, but there were other things to see, and I found a plant that I certainly had not expected.
I was walking around I heard a rustle in the bushes. I envy you if you live in a place where, when hearing a rustle in the bushes, you don’t automatically think “SNAKE!”. I jumped and panicked because I was not wearing sensible, anti-snake clothes. Then, bravely walking on, giving wide berth to the rustling bush, I looked and saw….this magnificent fellow.
I don’t think he is a Showy Daisy Bush, despite the label he is sitting next to! Instead he is a Sand Goanna, Varanus gouldii.
A little further on I found this bush, and this where my story about this plant begins.
The plant is the Spiny Daisy, Acanthocladium dockeri. Not much to look at, and I wouldn’t have given more than a passing glance if I hadn’t read the sign that began
First collected 1860 by the Burke and Wills expedition in South-Western New South Wales.
My immediate thought was “Beckler!” Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will go “Ah, Beckler”. Those of you who are newer will go “Huh? Beckler?” So I have to explain. If you know who I am talking about, skip over this part.
As the sign says, in 1860 the Burke and Wills Expedition travelled through south-west NSW on their way to transverse Australia from south to north. The whole saga is fascinating and click here if you want to read more, but the Spiny Everlasting Daisy and I are staying in the south west, at Menindee. It was here that part of the Expedition, including Dr Hermann Beckler, stayed for a number of months. Beckler was fascinated by Australian plants and collected about 120 plants in the area during the enforced stay. These specimens were sent to his colleague, Ferdinand Von Mueller, who had established the Herbarium in Melbourne.
Fast forward 150 years…a group of botanical artists, including me, have a project, Beckler’s Botanical Bounty, to locate, identify, collect (with permission) and then paint these 120 plants. In fact a couple of weeks earlier I had been in Menindee for our annual collection and painting trip.
So, when I saw the sign I knew that this had to have been one of the plants on Beckler’s list. One that we needed to paint. Even that would have been exciting, but it was even better. I will let you read the rest of the sign.
Oh wow! Believed to be extinct, but 4 sites were discovered in South Australia!! I did some detective work, thanks to the internet. This is from the Australian Government’s Species Profile and Threats Database
The Spiny Everlasting was first recorded in NSW near the Darling River by Dr H Beckler during the Burke and Wills expedition in 1860. The species was not recorded again until 1910, when herbarium specimens were collected at Overland Corner on the Murray River in South Australia. By 1992 the Spiny Everlasting was believed to be extinct, as extensive searches in its general known localities failed to locate it (Davies 1992).
In 1999, a population of Spiny Everlasting was discovered near Laura, in the mid-north of South Australia; a further four populations have since been located in the region, with the latest population discovered in January 2007.
So yes, it was on Beckler’s list. Even more importantly, it is not extinct. Hanging on by the wispiest of roots, but still there, enhancing our world. It is still critically endangered, especially from these threats outlined in the Species Profile and Threats Database:
- Habitat Fragmentation, Population Isolation and Low Genetic Variability
The grassland habitat in which Spiny Everlasting occurs has been heavily fragmented and selectively cleared for agriculture in the Southern Lofty Ranges [South Australia] (Davies 1982, 2000), with the result that all remaining subpopulations are isolated from each other. The five known subpopulations represent five quite distinct genetic clones (Jusaitis & Adams 2005, Jusaitis 2007).
- Pollen Viability and Seedling Recruitment
Trials have found low levels of seed set as a result of low pollen viability. In the field, plants have only been observed reproducing vegetatively by suckering from roots and shoots. In the laboratory, seedlings have only been successfully raised by tissue culture, indicating low seedling vigour (Jusaitis & Adams 2005; Robertson 2002a). …….Lack of successful sexual reproduction threatens Spiny Everlasting in the longer term, as it prevents maintenance of genetic diversity through recombination.
- Herbivory by Snails
The introduced common White or Vineyard Snail Cernuella virgata has a dramatic impact on individuals of Spiny Everlasting during the wetter months. Trials have shown that the snails actively graze on both stems and leaves of the plant during winter and spring (Jusaitis, cited in Robertson 2002a). This removes the outer tissue layers, resulting in weakening or ringbarking of the stems, death of leaves and often death of complete shoots above the site of injury. Plants may resprout below, or occasionally above, the injury (Robertson 2002a). These snails have been in the Laura district for only about 10 years and their impact may be increasing. They are found at the sites of all Spiny Everlasting subpopulations (Robertson 2002a, b, c, d, e). If snail numbers continue to increase, their impact is likely to become increasingly severe, making the subpopulations more vulnerable to other factors.
- Grazing of Habitat by Vertebrates
The Spiny Everlasting has apparently become extinct along the Murray and Darling Rivers. Davies (1992) and Robertson (2002a) hypothesise that one contributing factor was degradation of its former habitats by rabbits and sheep grazing.
There is a plan in place, including five translocation sites that have been established for education awareness in public gardens. These are at the Laura Parklands, the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta, Hart Field Day Site, the Mid-North Plant Diversity Nursery in Blyth, and the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.
Another three translocations have been established to provide back-up for the natural extant subpopulations.
The Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project will not be able to collect any specimens of the Spiny Everlasting Daisy, but perhaps we will be able to go to one of the translocation sites and paint this amazing plant. That would be another great story to add to Project.
There is another personal layer to this too. After we left Port Augusta we camped for a few nights at Melrose, at the foot of Mt Remarkable. Somewhere close to Melrose is one of the sites where the daisy was rediscovered. We had coffee in the Laura bakery. I was that close to seeing it in the wild, but I didn’t know until I had passed on by. I am not sure that I would have gone looking for it. A species that is critically endangered needs to be treasured and supported, not tramped over. I am just happy that it is still in our world.