Discovery of plant thought extinct highlights importance of flora conservation
It was pure curiosity that lead botanist Libby Sandiford to rediscover a plant species that had not been seen for almost 90 years.
Shoved up against the side of a busy highway in Cranbrook, 90 kilometres north of Albany in Western Australia, Ms Sandiford noticed a plant that was slightly different.
This Acacia prismifolia was thought to be extinct for almost 90 years. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone )
“The reason I collected it was that I thought ‘I actually don’t know this plant’, and I want to know what it was.
“So I had no idea that it was a presumed extinct plant at the time.”
When she ran her small specimen through an identification process it came back as the Acacia prismifolia, a plant last seen in the Stirling Range in 1933.
Andrew Crawford, a research scientist with the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, said it was an incredible find.
“It’s an amazing feeling — no one had recognised what it was for 90 odd-years,” he said.
The forgotten conservation
Libby Sandiford and Andrew Crawford are hoping to collect seeds from the presumed-extinct Acacia. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone )
But Mr Crawford knows their enthusiasm is not shared by everyone.
“To find something that hadn’t been seen in over 90 years to me is incredibly exciting,” he said.
“For some reason it doesn’t generate that excitement.”
He said while it is important to conserve the whole ecosystem — work to save native flora is often forgotten about compared to work to protect native fauna.
“In WA we have over 400 [plant] species that are considered endangered — which is almost twice as many as the endangered animals, but for some reason we don’t hear about them,” Mr Crawford said.
“Who has heard of the Cunderdin Daviesia?
“It’s a critically endangered species down to three plants in the wild.”
A flora ‘insurance policy’
The Acacia plant found by Libby Sandiford has been bagged to catch the seeds once they naturally fall from the plant.
Those seeds will be taken to the Threatened Flora Seed Centre in Perth, where seeds from 80 per cent of rare flora and 20 per cent of poorly-known priority species in WA are housed.
Seeds of about 80 per cent of the rare flora in WA are housed in the Seed Centre. (ABC South West: Kate Stephens)
Mr Crawford said the centre operates like a seed bank, collecting and storing the seeds for decades, before attempting to replant them in the wild.
These seeds have been collected from the wild to be housed in the Perth Seed Centre. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
He said it is an insurance policy for native plants.
“There are populations that have died out where we actually have seeds that were collected before they died out and have now been used to recover those populations back in the wild,” Mr Crawford said.
The WA seed bank has helped to translocate more than 50 species of threated flora back to its natural environment.
While the work may not be as popular as saving cute, furry marsupials, Mr Crawford knows it is making a difference.
“When there’s only a few plants left on a road side we need to do everything we can to ensure their long-term survival,” he said.