Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Trees of Papua New Guinea

Dr Barry Conn - Principal Research Scientist

Since 2004, the New South Wales National Herbarium (Botanic Gardens Trust) and the Papua New Guinea National Herbarium (Papua New Guinea Forest Research Institute) have jointly collaborated on a major research project into developing a ‘Guide to trees of Papua New Guinea.’ Dr Barry Conn is the project coordinator and principal researcher of the project, with Kipiro Damas acting as within-country coordinator. The aim of this long-term research project is to provide government and non-government agencies with simple tools to assist with the identification of common tree species, including important timber trees of Papua New Guinea. Funding for the establishment of this project was by the Australia & Pacific Biological Foundation.

During the last year, Dr Conn and the Papua New Guinean team of researchers have compared species descriptive data gathered over the last three years with recent plant collections held at the Papua New Guinea National Herbarium. These collections had been gathered from different parts of Papua New Guinea since the project had begun. Field testing of the descriptive data set was carried out in a lowland site (Madang Province) and the high altitude Mt Wilhelm site (Eastern Highlands Province) of the country. Corrections to these data, together with new information were added to the PNGtrees descriptive database that manages these data. All the diagnostic features of each tree species were checked so that an interactive identification tool (key) could be finalised.

The scope of this project has continued to be expanded since it began in 2004, with more than 500 tree species now included in the ‘Guide to trees of Papua New Guinea’. The first phase of the project has now been successfully completed and is available on the pngplants website pngplants website, together with the complementary projects that Dr Conn has undertaken while researching the trees of Papua New Guinea. Preparation for publishing this first phase of the project, in book format, is well-advanced. It is hoped that the different publishing formats will increase the availability of this important tree information for government and non-government agencies working in more remote areas of Papua New Guinea.

The field studies in the Mt Wilhelm area also highlighted the frequent lack of taxonomic knowledge of the species occurring in these tropical forests which has resulted in less than optimal conservation and resource management decisions being made throughout the country. Symplocos cochinchinensis is a relatively common species that occurs over a broad altitudinal range, throughout much of the country. However, three collections of this species from Mt Wilhelm clearly represent three distinct, but as yet unrecognise,d species that are readily distinguished by many morphological features

The descriptive data set were also field tested in the near-coastal community of Kamiali (Morobe Province). Sixty species were examined in the field; thirty of these were new additions to the project, with important mangrove species being added to the dataset for the first time. The Kamiali locality was of particular interest because it contained species that are restricted to ultramafic soils, which are common to this site. Corrections to these data, together with new information, were added to the PNGtrees descriptive database. Several possible new species have been identified and are being studied further to evaluate their taxonomic status. Dr Conn has continued to hold workshops and training sessions on management of electronic plant descriptive data for staff of the PNG National Forest Authority’s Highlands Regional Office in Goroka (Eastern Highlands), for research students and staff from the University of Goroka, staff and researchers of the New Guinea Binatang Research Center and staff of PNG Forest Research Institute, Lae (Morobe Province).

Update 2013

Barry Conn continued his long-term collaborative project on the trees of Papua New Guinea with Kipiro Damas (Papua New Guinea National Herbarium, Lae). With the generous funding from Mundango Abroad and the African-Caribbean-Pacific Secretariat of the European Union (FORENET), tree species were documented from the lowland and montane forests of the Kiunga-Tabubil region in the Western Province, and from Kamiali and Oomsis (Morobe Province). Based on these studies, Saurauia rufescens was described as a new species in the family Actinidiaceae.












Lesson in fern reproduction with local village guide and his children in Teptep, Medang province Papua New Guinea. Photo: Shelley James (Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawai’i (U.S.A.)

Fagraea racemosa
Fagraea racemosa (Gentiaceae) Photo: Barry Conn

Kipiro Damas and Barry Conn
Kipiro Damas (left) and Barry Conn, in Wanang, Madang Province

Ficus nodosa
Ficus nodosa (Moraceae) Photo: Barry Conn

Grevillea papuana bark

Bark of Grevillea papuana (Proteaceae) Photo: Barry Conn