Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia


Living Laboratory

Self-guided tour - available soon as smartphone app

This garden is a collection of plant experiments, vital to the Australian PlantBank’s conservation research. Here we observe and study local wild plants. Many Australian plant species are just beginning their journey from wild habitat to suburban garden; others have the potential to provide food, textiles or medicines.

All the plants have been grown from seeds and cuttings, gathered from the surrounding Cumberland Plain Woodland.  This critically endangered ecosystem is under threat from invasive species and the urbanisation of Western Sydney.

Come back and see the changes over seasons and years - and watch the garden grow.

Click on map for location of the Living Laboratory.

Discovering diversity

Australia is home to more than 25,000 plant species. Many of these are adapted to extreme environments and do not occur anywhere else.

Ferns are one plant group that demonstrates this amazing diversity. Around 450 fern species can be found thriving in a range of Australian habitats; from deserts to rainforests, swamps to dry woodlands. Ferns can cope with very poor soil, and some even grow clinging to tree trunks or cliffs.

Scientists are studying Australian plant species, to learn more about their diversity.

Banking on seeds

Seedbanks have always been important resources for investigations and developments in agriculture, horticulture, medicine and other plant uses. Today, a seedbank’s most urgent purpose is saving plant species; helping to preserve the earth’s biodiversity.

Staff at the Australian PlantBank collect and store seeds from common as well as rare and threatened plant species. Many different collection and processing methods are used. Each and every seed must be prepared correctly before it can be stored in the seed vault.

Living Lab-1
Seeds are cleaned, dried, packaged and then frozen in the seed vault for future use.

Seeds for survival

Woodlands and grasslands are important habitats for local wildlife, providing food and shelter. Repairing damaged habitats is possible, but replanting native species can be a very labour-intensive process.

In ‘direct seeding’, seeds are spread over the soil and nature does the rest. This method uses enormous quantities of seeds. Scientists at the Australian PlantBank work with the restoration industry to maintain the supply of seeds, and ensure the best conditions for germination and plant establishment.

Mechanical harvesting of Themeda australis for grassland restoration.

Plants in peril

Around 10 per cent of Australian plant species are threatened with extinction. Species such as the spiked rice-flower, Pimelea spicata, have all but disappeared from the Cumberland Plain Woodland.

Scientists in the Australian PlantBank are studying how to conserve plant species for the future. Although many endangered species can be grown using tissue culture, and seeds can be stored in the seed vault, it is always better to conserve endangered plants in their wild habitats.

Pimelea spicata
growing in tissue culture. This laboratory process is a last resort in the conservation of wild plants.

Healthy plants, healthy planet

From the Cumberland Plain Woodland to the Amazon Rainforest, plants play a vital role in stabilising the earth’s atmosphere, environment and climate.

The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have… In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth.
David Attenborough, Life on Earth

healthy planet: istock
If we protect the ecosystems in which plants live, they will continue to provide us with a healthy planet.

Gardening on the Cumberland Plain

The soils of the Cumberland Plain have a very high clay content which is a mixed blessing: they hold moisture and are generally very fertile; however, they can also set very hard and become waterlogged.

The climate of this region comprises hot summers and cold winters with frequent frosts. Droughts are common. Gardening here, as anywhere, is a matter of choosing the appropriate species, improving soils with mulch and creating microclimates. Happy gardening!

Big Idea
The Big Idea garden at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan, featuring a variety of native plants.

Green genes for the future

Every modern food-crop - from wheat to tomatoes - was derived from a wild plant species. Crop improvements, such as increases in nutrition and yields, can be made by cross-breeding crop species with their wild relatives.

The wild relatives can provide resistance to diseases and insect pests, or the ability to cope with stresses such as drought. Many crop relatives are under threat. If they become extinct, their potential to improve the world’s crops dies with them.

Living Lab-2
Macadamia nuts are a commercial crop developed from just two Australian wild species. They are now grown around the world.

Flowers in the forest

Over thousands of years, plant breeders around the world have created many beautiful and useful cultivars. In Australia we are just beginning to explore the potential of our native flora. Some local species are already favourites in home gardens and in the floral industry.

There is a poem in every form of tree or flower, but the poetry which lives in the trees and flowers of Australia differs from those of other countries. Marcus Clarke, Australian novelist and poet.

The stunning flowers of waratahs, Telopea speciosissima, are equally spectacular in the wild, the garden or the vase.

Restoring the woodland

When early explorers ventured west from Sydney Cove, they described the vast forest with its open grassy understorey and colourful flowers. Two hundred years of land clearing, cattle grazing and urban development made its mark on this landscape. Now the Australian PlantBank is working to conserve and restore the diversity of the woodland plant species.

Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived.
Edward O. Wilson, biologist, researcher, naturalist and writer.

The Cumberland Plain Woodland is an endangered habitat, restricted to small remnants scattered across western Sydney.


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