Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

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Visit to Little Brothers of Francis Hermitage

On 1 February 2013, Graeme Errington and Richard Johnstone from the NSW Seed Bank at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan, visited the Little Brothers of Francis Hermitage, Eremophila, between Tabulam and Drake, in northern NSW. It is one of two known locations for the endangered shrub Triplarina imbricata (the other being near Nymboida, south of Grafton), and has been on the target list for seed collecting ever since the NSW Seed Bank has been sending seeds of NSW species to the Millennium Seed Bank (UK), in 2003.

As part of a field trip to the north coast in Jan/Feb 2013, Brother Howard of the Little Brothers of Francis was contacted to organise a mutually convenient date and time for us to visit (contact is via email or by leaving a voice message on their phone, which is some distance from the residences), and we organised to visit 1 February, in the hope of being there at the right time to collect seeds of the Triplarina. Prior to that Richard had sent bags to Brother Howard to bag some of the branches as well, to maximise our chances of obtaining a reasonable collection; Brother Howard is very well informed about the local plants and wildlife.

When visitors arrive at the hermitage, the dense shrubbery formed by the thicket of Triplarina is immediately obvious, being the dominant species between their access road and Plumbago Creek, and it did not take very long to realise that we were a few weeks late to make an optimal collection, although we still managed to collect from the bagged branches, and remnant fruits on the plants that had mostly opened already. After cleaning and assessment, the collection came to c. 3600 seeds, of which half was sent to the Millennium Seed Bank at the end of February (that was less than a half teaspoon of the very small seeds).

Even though the collection was not optimal, it was a valuable learning experience, and we are intending to make a return visit a little earlier next year, to try to make a larger collection from a wider range of parent plants.

Eremophila is situated in a beautiful location, in a rocky granite gorge above a deep creek, and is surrounded by undisturbed eucalypt forest. The Brothers have their own veggie garden and run sheep and goats as well, and these are guarded by a Maremma sheepdog, which apparently does a great job at keeping foxes and dogs away from the flock. Much to our surprise the sheepdog also regards the local brush-tailed rock-wallabies as part of its flock - we were told that their numbers had built up to between 30 and 40 individuals. The wallabies in the flock were completely tame and unfazed by the presence of strangers, being quite happy to accept offered leaves for them to eat out of our hands. So it was a great bonus for us to be able to collect an endangered species of plant, while being observed by an endangered species of mammal, and a very cute one at that.

 

Graeme-Errington-and-Brother-Howard-at-Eremophila
Graeme Errington and Brother Howard at Eremophila - Little Brothers of Francis Hermitage (plants of Triplarina imbricata on the left with dark trunks)

Brush-tailed-Rock-wallaby-(Petrogale-penicillata)
Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata)