Meet a rare breed of staff in Perth this March!

By Gabrielle Stannus

Are you a breeder or grower of native plants? If so, don’t miss out on the Perth Production tour during the upcoming Healthy Plants, Healthy People conference.

The Healthy Plants, Healthy People pre-conference Production tour will provide participants with a behind the scenes look at five Perth nurseries, including Kings Park.

Kings Park is home to the Western Australian Botanic Garden, which displays over 3,000 species of this State’s unique flora. Its staff include expert breeders and researchers of native plants such as David Merritt.

WA Seed Centre
David is a Research Scientist with the Science Directorate at Kings Park and Botanic Gardens and he works closely with the WA Seed Centre. David’s team collect, store and test native seed for conservation and landscape restoration purposes, focussing on species under threat in Western Australia.

“Some species are not going to be able to persist under changed climates or their range limits will be reduced. By capturing the maximum genetic diversity through seed banking, hopefully we have the propagation material that has the maximum adaptability to these changed climates,” says David.

“We try to identify seed storage behaviour and predict how long they will live for and then we can inform how to manage the seed collection,” David adds.

David’s team is currently conducting trials to evaluate seed dormancy-break and seed enhancement treatments with the goal of increasing seedling establishment for mine site rehabilitation.

“We have many seeds which cycle in and out of dormancy. What we need to do is try to understand exactly what those cues are and then develop pre-treatments to kind of trick the seeds into germinating where we want to,” explains David.

Current foci include orchids and members of the Myrtle family (Myrtaceae) that may be at particular risk from myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii), if it arrives in WA. David’s team are also looking into wild crops including wild rice, wild sorghum, and Cajanus (Pidgeon Pea).

Kings Park plant breeding and development program
Growers looking for hardy ornamental native varieties to grow for a changing climate may find them through the Kings Park plant breeding and development program.
“What we want to do is allow more people to grow Australian plants in their home gardens. There is a very strong environmental idea behind that. Our view is that by growing plants that are adapted to our environment, they use less water, less fertilizer, and they provide habitat for local fauna. By breeding new unique varieties that are pest and disease tolerant, people do not need to use those chemicals that they sometimes use to control pest and disease,” says Digby Growns, Senior Plant Breeder at Kings Park.

Digby’s plant breeding program is currently focussed on iconic Western Australian plant genera including anigozanthos (Kangaroo Paw), grevillea, chamelaucium (Waxflower), boronia and corymbia as follows:

Anigozanthos: Working to reduce the susceptibility of this genus to inkspot and rust, as well as introducing new colours such as blue and magentas

Boronia: Breeding more fragrant varieties with brighter colours, e.g. Boronia merostigma

Chamelaucium: Breeding varieties suitable for the cut flower market and others with more compact forms that is suitable for smaller home gardens

Grevillea: Digby’s team bred the Grevillea ‘Spirit of Anzac’ for the RSL to commemorate the Anzac Centenary in 2015, of which 80,000 plants have been sold since its release. Their Grevillea ‘Scarlet Moon’ is also proving popular with its silvery-green foliage and white flower buds which open to become beautiful scarlet flowers.

Digby points out that while these native plant varieties are highly ornamental, they are protecting other plants and life in general.

“Many of these plants are absolutely loved by honeybees. Bees pollinate so many of our food plants. If bees disappeared, the world would starve. Having plants that sustain bee populations are very important,” says Digby.

Kings Park Nursery
Propagators interested in grafting native species will appreciate the expert advice of Amanda Shade.

Amanda manages the Kings Park Nursery, growing plants for display and conservation purposes. This team produces all the plants for use in Kings Park and the Botanic Gardens, as well as some for local parklands and bushland restoration.

Amanda and her team are currently conducting grafting trials of Western Australian flora with those species that either do not grow well on their own root systems, are difficult to germinate from seed or do not strike from cuttings.

“At the moment we are looking at a range of different darwinia (Mountain Bells), many of which are from the Stirling Ranges, which has just been decimated by bushfires,” says Amanda, “We are trying different combinations of rootstock to see if they are compatible and how long they might last. We are also looking at corymbias and eucalypts, particularly those rare species for which there is not a lot of seed available.”

“This work is enabling us to display a whole suite of species that we have never been able to display to the public before,” explains Amanda.

Book your spot on the tour now!
Native plant breeders and growers: What are you waiting for? Book your ticket to the Healthy Plants, Healthy People conference now and make sure you sign up for the Perth Production tour.

Places to visit at Kings Park and Botanic Garden whilst in Perth
Known for its stunning views of the Swan River, the Kings Park and Botanic Garden also has some hidden treasures. For those of you with a little more time to spare in Perth, Amanda, David, and Digby encourage you to visit these spots in the their ‘workplace’.

Amanda: “My favourite part is actually a bit deeper into the Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Woodland is designed to represent remnant Marri-Jarrah woodland ecosystems. I love the tranquil feel of this part of the park – it’s usually less hectic than higher profile areas!”

David: “I would recommend the Place of Reflection located within the Roe Gardens in the southern end of the Botanic Garden precinct. [It] was built a few years ago for people to go if they have suffered some personal loss or trauma [a healing place]. However, it is also just a nice sort of quiet spot to sit out of the way.”

Digby: “My absolute favourite is the Bushland just because I love those natural environments. Two-thirds of Kings Park is bushland. However, if you want a cultivated landscape, then I recommend the Roe Gardens. It is a spot that people do not really get to a lot. It has got a spectacular vista which you can see out over the Swan River.”