Dry Tropics Biodiversity Group Inc.
(inform, educate, enthuse, implement)
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Characteristics of plants from the nursery trade.
Characteristics of plants sourced from the Townsville region
Conservation value of "local Gene Pool Plants".
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The genetic origin of all plants grown by the nursery trade are specially selected for attractiveness, for easy propagation and because they are fairly easy to grow. Because local nurseries have stocked the same species for a long time, they will usually be very familiar with how most of them grow in Townsville, especially the classic garden species. While Queensland has 8000 native plant species there tend to be only about 400 species from all over the world available in the nursery trade because of the economy of scale… they must be grown in large quantities to make money. Wholesale nurseries specialise in certain species, so to supply diversity many plants will be sourced from growers in Brisbane, or elsewhere.
It is always very difficult for retail nurseries to introduce a totally new species into their stock… no matter how promising, people will not buy them in anything like sufficient quantity to be economic. In fact millions of advertising dollars are spent to introduce new species so they have to be spectacular.
Many nursery hybrids loose desirable characters like their perfume, or their ability to provide nectar for birds and insects.
Wherever sold, from Sydney to Cairns, these plants will more or less have the same genetic makeup, invariably they are not from local genetic stock.
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Various nurseries present for sale a collection of locally sourced plant species. But we would chuckle if you thought these plants were anything like comprehensive, our region is incredibly rich in species.
Nurseries do really well to provide 50-100 of the 1000 local species that could be grown. Most of these will be big trees for revegetation. Some do stock a few specifically for landscaping, when they can get seed. If you are looking for a particular species it's a bit like winning the lottery to actually find it.
Our Townsville area is internationally and locally well known for it's bird diversity. The less well known but parallel plant diversity occurs for the same reasons. This diversity results from the wide-ranging habitats in the area: from long coastlines, dry rain-shadow areas that grade into really wet areas halfway to Ingham with it's "Cairns like" climate. Within all this are many different habitats caused by change in altitude.
People in the know realise that our region contains many plants that are every bit as fascinating as those sourced from elsewhere. Within the twin Townsville shire boundaries can be found 20% of all plant species found in Queensland. The entire flora of NSW is only 3 times the number of species found here.
We know that many customers will value the chance to grow plants from the local bush, adding to the satisfaction in their garden. There is increased conservation value from growing plants sourced locally. At the same time we will be learning more about our plants. Our bushland is indeed far more stunning than appears at first glance.
But do not expect magic. While many of these species will certainly look great in the garden, some will not, some will need pruning to look good, some will suffer from pruning, and some plants will die. For proven reliability, almost guaranteed performance and maximum flowering buy the mainstream nursery industry plants... the plants from locally sourced seed are not all tried and tested in cultivation.
Nurseries in Townsville grow local plants from the local gene pool.
In southern areas of Australia these are known as indigenous plants, and they are always sourced from seed collected within the local region. These are the plants that in theory grow most easily and reliably and would best support and maintain the birds, butterflies, insects and fauna that naturally live in your environment. While this is true generally, in fact your "Townsville clay plains" naturally occurring living species may be adapted very differently to those naturally occurring on the very well drained adjacent slopes.
However plants that only grow north of about around Crystal Creek lowlands, and those that only grow in the Casuarina uplands and the wetter highlands of our highest peaks strictly speaking ought not be considered "indigenous" to the Townsville lowland plains. The environment in these places is too different.
Most serious environmental weeds have been introduced as ornamental species with no other economic benefits, all have had well known non-weedy alternatives. Environmental weeds benefit some species in an ecosystem, and disadvantage others… but in the long term extinctions and major change will occur. Our knowledge about plant species that can become weeds is still very rudimentary. Insufficient knowledge and no effort to test species still allows "positive speak" to take over. Inevitably many species yet to be introduced will become environmental weeds. Australian plants exotic to an area are almost as potentially weedy as non-Australian species. The admirable Australia-wide push for the use of plant species that thrive with no additional water will accelerate the rate of introduction of weeds.
The only way to easily avoid every weed problem is to grow locally sourced species. There will be more than enough magnificent locally sourced species to completely satisfy gardeners. But the species are usually unavailable, and there is a lot to learn about local species.
Plants in gardens generally grow in a different environment to the wild, and many species are untried in gardens. Yet experiences in gardens will help understand species ecology to an extent, but many of the species on offer now are a bit experimental, especially in our clay soils.
For really tried and tested performance with lots of flowers the mainstream Nursery species and selections of species will often suit people better. In fact most are not potentially weedy and as such could well be really encouraged regardless of whether Australian or not. We are really keen to provide information about known potentially weedy species in this web page but that has to be only when we have the time and people to look it up.
The effect of pollen from nursery industry species mixing with local strains is of concern.
We promote plants from the Townsville Region…. from Paluma and Crystal Creek right through to the Burdekin. We think that local species are more environmentally friendly, and are great plants to explore.
Often local gene pool plants are cheaper than nursery industry plants. But if actual costs were really taken into account these plants should be double the cost of the nursery industry plants. Please be grateful to many volunteers and others working in the industry for low wages because of the real potential to enhance future lifestyle that is not valued in dollar terms.
Conservation value of "local Gene Pool Plants".D. Silke, (editor's note, note the theory, but often any local gene pool propagation material is often better than using Brisbane sourced material)
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One of the "best practices" that is becoming accepted widely throughout the revegetation business throughout the world and in Townsville, is to grow local ecotypes of desirable plant species. These are grown from locally sourced seed from plants that have grown and evolved in our climate, i.e. in the Townsville area. Often these plants look and grow better than many other commonly grown garden plants, and they all have additional value:
1. There is strong evidence that these ecotypes best support the existence of local fauna.
2. They are often best suited to our climate, especially where climate modification (e.g. by watering in the garden situation) and soil types are still suitable.
3. Local ecotypes virtually cannot be environmental weeds (i.e. become weeds in the bushland)
4. Furthermore there is a strong and growing opinion that the genetic content of our bushland species can be polluted by interbreeding between our locals and the "better looking" or "more available" ecotypes of the same species that are introduced from other areas.
Local ecotypes are presently rarely (if ever) available from local retail nurseries.
Can we use seed from cultivated plants to produce plants of "Local origin?"
Because nurseries producing plants sourced from local seed can so very easily and undetectably substitute plants sourced from seed from other locations, reputations and total honesty are critical to the conservation plant growing business. In the past (not in North Queensland) slight suspicions have given rise to invective that has seriously damaged a commercial nurseryman's reputation as a conservation grower.
This situation is not the same for enthusiasts, but clearly it is best to be strictly honest and to be seen to be honest. Even if you are certain that a 10 year old cultivated plant was grown from seed of local origin, will others be convinced? Furthermore perhaps it was pollinated by another plant growing nearby (or even some distance away) of the same species but whose origin was from another ecotype. Seed from cultivated plants certainly is easier and more reliably obtained, and is of value, but generally does not have the "local origin" conservation value.
Collecting seed from the wild, where it is possible, avoids these problems, and will be the best conservation practice for a long time.
Obtaining local seed collected from the wild.
Professional seed collection from the wild for conservation purposes will take seed from at least several different plants to retain a broad genetic diversity, preferably also from several different places in the local area. The harvesting code of practice suggests "collecting from 5 or more plants at least 100m apart if practical".
In particular seed should not deliberately be sought from the best looking plants as important (but not obvious) genetic content may be lost.
Seed from only one local plant is however much better than using plant cuttings for propagation.
Plants produced from locally obtained cuttings are identical to their parent so do not add genetic diversity, but are much better than not propagating anything local. (Plants are not nearly as sensitive to, or damaged by, "inbreeding" as are animals, but a wide genetic pool is still valuable)
Seeds contain the stabilising ability to throw back many generations, to a variety of characteristics... the gene pool.
What is this gene pool?....... Lookout..... The author is well and truly straying away from the topic....
The gene pool is information stored away inside every cell that contains all the information required to grow the species, inevitably also with a lot of "junky" "apparently useless" information, garbage collected throughout evolution. This information is real pirates treasure, of inestimable value. An ancient treasure trove of information with a value we certainly could not even begin to guess. Don't even suggest we may be "scratching" the information "surface".
This information goes back thousands (actually back millions) of generations. Did you know that parts of human cells are totally indistinguishable from the same parts in plant cells? This information must have been coded ("written down") when we and our plant friends were both algae. Yet the information is still there to be "read". Still in crystal clear condition as these cellular parts are being manufactured. Don't forget that a hell of a lot of other "construction plans" are no doubt in storage, being (temporarily?) out of manufacture!!!
(Hey... perhaps archaeology, as we know it today, has the potential to become modern history.)
Plant adaptations that have long been useless can again prove valuable when the unknown but inevitable future changes to the environment occur. (For example, tomatoes, and many other plants still grow a lot faster with much higher carbon dioxide levels in the air...... a throwback also to very early evolutionary times times!!!!). And we think modern computers have large memories! ....... Don't you think that this section was a particularly tasty red herring! Oops, perhaps you don't, back to the right tracks...
What distance away is considered local?
In the more densely populated southern states, probably anything within 50 km or so is considered local. Plants grown from seeds sourced outside this distance away are rigidly rejected from "local origin" status. One of the largest retail nurseries in Melbourne has virtually refused to sell me "local origin" plants when they found out that I lived in another area.
With changes in: altitude (affects temperature, humidity, and rainfall), proximity to creeklines, variation in soil types, drainage, slope and aspect - different plant ecotypes can exist within even a small area. Any defined distance is really rather arbitrary.
Although Paluma may be considered within the 50 km of Townsville, there is usually no point trying to grow most plants from Paluma rainforest down here in Townsville. The humidity and temperature is just too different, and plants will die. There are species that grow there, that also grow at much lower altitudes, for example within deciduous fringing rainforest alongside creeks. These species are more likely to grow in Townsville, even if seed is collected from Paluma located plants. However better "local origin" status would probably be achieved if seed was collected from the lower altitude plants since they may have evolved slightly differently.
One of the "best conservation practices" is to grow local ecotypes of desirable plant species. grown from locally sourced seed from plants that have grown and evolved in our climate, i.e. in the Townsville area
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