The original seed garden is a lifeline for endangered kangaroo island plants

In the summer of 2019-20, Kangaroo Island recorded the most devastating wildfire ever.

Located off mainland South Australia, the island is home to nearly 900 native plant species and is an ecological haven due to its isolated and unpolluted natural environment.

In response to the potential loss of the island’s endemic plant species following wildfires, a seed production park has been established to protect the island’s plants from extinction.

The primary purpose of establishing the garden was to provide seeds for restoration projects, said plant ecologist Bradley Bianco.

He describes the park as a place “that introduces the community to the rare and threatened species of Kangaroo Island in a pleasant environment to be in”.

For much of its history, the island’s native plants evolved by fire as plants adapted to burning. But now, ecologists have concerns about the rate and scale of recent wildfires.

Fires on Kangaroo Island have burned nearly half of the Earth’s surface.(Supplied: Sabrina Davis)

“One of the biggest problems is the frequency of fires,” Bianco said. “It seems that the intervals between fires are getting smaller, so we are seeing hotter fires covering more ground more frequently.”

“We are not sure how the plants will be able to handle this new fire regime.”

Burnt trees and dry land on either side of a windy road
The bushland was completely burned on both sides of the Cape du Couedic Road.(ABC News: Patrick Martin)

Plants suffer silently

Already, parts of the island’s plant life are under pressure.

A cracked landscape where only small fragments of vegetation have survived means fewer opportunities for new seeds

“They are isolated, their number is low, and to recover these populations we need an adequate and diversified resource base in the form of seeds,” Bianco said.

Koala sitting among trees and burning bush
A koala sits next to burning vegetation after the island’s 2020 wildfires.(Supplied: South Australia RSPCA)

In South Australia, one in four native plant species is threatened with some degree of extinction, with some classified as vulnerable and endangered.

Fires, land clearing, and numerous show animals are said to pose some threats to the island’s flora.

“South Africa is one of the most severely purged states, if not the most severely purged in the country, which has pushed a lot of species to extinction,” Bianco said.

Aerial shot of the site.
An aerial view of the site shows the proposed footprint of the park.(Supplied: Brandley Bianco)

Location

The 5,000-square-meter park is located 5 kilometers southwest of the island’s largest city, Kingscote, on land donated by environmental philanthropist David and Benny Patton.

“We are obviously passionate about plants and wildlife and can see a need on the island for such a garden to grow endangered plants,” Patton said.

The endangered plant seed production garden will be enclosed within an animal resistant fence within the Cygnet Park Sanctuary.

Launched with support from SA’s Nature Conservation Society, Bio R and SA Seed Conservation Center, the park will act as an “insurance policy” in the event of future fires.

Drawing an original seed garden concept.
A conceptual drawing shows the established garden complete with walkways and seating area.(Supplied: Bradley Bianco)

The sponsors hope the park will have multiple functions.

“I imagine it would look almost like a piece of bush, with paths to walk through…but yes, it would be a nice place to live,” Patton said.

“We certainly hope that this will become a hub for education and research as well as for the ecotourism industry.”

The plants for the seed garden were feeding “high and low through rain and shine” with some pulled from the freezer at the South Australian Seed Preservation Center.

Mr Bianco said nearly 60 species of endemic plants would be planted, but the process of getting the seeds wasn’t easy.

He said, “Visiting all the remaining plants in the wild is labour-intensive, and currently some plants endemic to the island suffer from a lack of pollination.”

community affairs

The park is a community project and a Friends of the Garden group is currently being established to encourage the local community to take over the day-to-day management of the park.

“At the end of the day, this is a project for the island community,” Bianco said.

“So, we foster and harness that enthusiasm and allow them to channel it and drive it with their own ideas.”

Among other things, the garden will be a place for the public to discover plants that are very difficult to find growing in the wild.

“Some of these plants have not been recorded on Kangaroo Island before and have not been seen for over a century,” Bianco said.

“It is a unique opportunity for both visitors and members of the local community to view and interact with plants in one convenient central location.”

Planting day at KI City's Threatened Seed Production Garden.
Planting day at Kangaroo Island’s Threatened Seed Production Garden.(Supplied: Bradley Bianco )

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