- Evolutionary ecology research
- Horticultural research
- Plant diversity research
- Amalie Dietrich project
- Australian freshwater algae
- Australian mesic zone biota
- Biology of Myrtaceae
- Cycad evolution and diversity
- DNA of ground orchids
- DNA studies of Restionaceae
- Evolution of Australian Utricularia
- Evolution of Proteaceae
- Fern biodiversity of Australia
- Key to the Lichen Genus Pertusaria
- Lamiaceae & Urticaceae
- Lepidoziaceae - southern liverworts
- Marine algae
- New Species and phylogeny in Restionaceae
- Phylogenetic biome conservatism
- Phylogeny and new species of Australian Utricularia
- Phylogeny of Orchidaceae tribe Diurideae
- Pollination studies in Prostanthera
- Project Camellia
- She-oaks - tough survivors
- Telopea special edition
- Theaceae of South-East Asia
- Trees of Papua New Guinea
- Tristaniopsis in south-east Asia
- Urticaceae of Java
- XVIII International Botanical Congress
- Plant pathology research
- Herbarium & resources
- Scientific publications
Wild Camellias of Indochina
Dr George Orel (Research Associate), Dr Adam Marchant (Senior Technical Officer) and Tony Curry (Assisting Scientist)
The Camellia is well-known as a garden ornamental, but the domestic familiarity of this plant has the danger of obscuring the great significance of this genus for biodiversity and conservation, and of the fascinating questions to be addressed concerning its evolutionary affinities and biogeographical history. The species most familiar in Australia, are C. japonica and C. sasanqua, of which hundreds of ornamental varieties have been developed over centuries of domestication. Even more familiar is C. sinensis, which produces tea. Another species of major economic importance is C. oleifera, which is an edible oil seed crop in China.
The natural range of genus Camellia is in east Asia, from Korea and Japan in the north, to Indochina and Philippines in the south, and Tibet in the east. The genus may contain up to about three hundred species, although authorities differ greatly in their estimates, and recognition of specific distinctions. Many of the species are very localised and rare in their natural habitats, and are seldom brought into cultivation. Very few of them are known outside of their native country, and there are many species that remain to be discovered and botanically described. The centre of diversity of Camellia appears to be in southern Indochina - so, they are primarily tropical species, despite their most familiar members being from the temperate regions.
Our project is investigating the diversity, distribution, and inter-relationships of Camellia species, with a particular focus on the relatively unexplored south-east Asian region. We are investigating such questions as the geographical origins of the genus Camellia, and attempting to unravel its sub-generic phylogenetic relationships. Numerous expeditions to the region, over the past decade, have amassed a living collection of 120 species, and over 1000 specimens for botanical examination and molecular genetic analysis. Several new species descriptions have been published, and more are in preparation.
As well as the ex situ conservation contribution of our living collections (maintained in Australia as well as Vietnam), we are endeavouring to raise awareness of the vulnerability of species in their native situation. Camellias are forest understory trees, and, as such, are threatened wherever the forests in which they live are threatened. As well as being eradicated by deforestation for agriculture, recreation (golf courses), or settlement, wild camellias are incidentally destroyed in timber-cutting operations, and opening access into forests for this or other purposes leads to camellia trees being cut down for fire-wood for domestic cooking.
Conservation activists know that efforts to save a well-known, iconic, species - which can generate strong public and official support - have the 'incidental' bonus of helping to preserve their habitats, ecosystems, and the many other species in them which may be less marketable, but are equally deserving and in need of protection. Camellias are widely known and loved as ornamental plants world-wide. Well publicised research on newly-discovered, rare, and threatened Camellia species in south-east Asia, together with encouragement at local and international levels for the conservation of these beautiful plants, will be a contribution to the efforts to try to save natural habitat in one of the world’s major centres of biodiversity.
Project Camellia Report for 2011-2012
The South East Asian geographical region spans the Vietnamese-Laos and Vietnamese-Cambodian border region. A wide variety of southern Vietnamese plant species are relictual endemics and considering our current knowledge of this area, their number cannot be reliably estimated. To date we have discovered and described some 35 Theaceae species restricted to the area.
The southern Annamite Mountains (which include the Dalat Plateau and the Lang Biang Massif) are well known for their biodiversity. The preserved remnant forests of this region are little explored. The highly complex geological, topographic and climatic gradients present in this eco-region create highly variable forest structures, which contain a wealth of fauna and flora, not seen in other regions of the world. Wet evergreen forests at 600 m to 900 m elevations are dominated by a multitude of plant species, including those of the Theaceae. Lianas form an important component of this forest community. Lower elevation areas are dominated by wet evergreen forests in mesic sites and semi evergreen forests in drier sites. A number of Camellia species can be found virtually from the coast to mountain foothills and up to elevations of over 1800 m.
Cooperative agreements have been developed with several Vietnamese scientific institutions. As a result of these agreements we were invited to participate in the exploration of the Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park.
It is estimated that the Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park contains some 1993 plant and 398 animal species, although the number of plant species may be questioned. To this date a number of new plant species have been found in this geographical area and further new finds are expected.
Photos: George Orel.