Hunting for the Suggan Buggan Mallee in the Snowy River Wilderness
Save A Species Collections
by Gavin Phillips, Seedbank Assistant, Australian PlantBank – Australian Botanic Garden
As a result of the fund-raising for this year’s Save A Species Walk, PlantBank seed collector Gavin Phillips was recently able to join the National Parks and Wildlife Service on a mission to the Byadbo Wilderness area of Kosciuszko National Park to survey and collect seeds of the endangered Eucalyptus saxatilis, one of the 11 ‘hero’ species of the 2016 campaign.
In late July, a trip had been planned by National Parks staff to re-locate and survey populations of Eucalyptus saxatilis on some of the most remote mountain tops of the lower Snowy River gorge near the Victorian border southeast of Jindabyne – some of the only known locations where this rare tree is found. Requiring a lengthy drive along some extremely steep mountain tracks and some scrub-bashing to the summits, these trees - not seen for several years - were not going to be an easy task to get to! Despite this, I was privileged – and quite excited – to be invited on the expedition to help with the survey and collect seeds of this interesting Eucalypt.
Meeting with the Parks team on a very frosty morning in Dalgety on the Monaro Plain, we set off into the wilderness to find the trees. After driving across several mountains into the usually inaccessible wilderness area we parked on a ridge not far from the Snowy River. The team then had to hike the rest of the way up to our destination on a rocky spur jutting out high over the river gorge. After a bit of wandering through the not too dense scrub we emerged into the granite boulder field of the exposed summit, the preferred habitat of the Mallee. After not too long, we found our first trees – the beautiful, copper-coloured bark and fine, grey-green foliage making it stand out from the other species nearby.
The initial survey found a good population on the first part of the mountain and a modest seed collection was made. Some of the trees were obviously quite old and gnarled with quite large trunks. We also measured some of the old lignotubers at the base of the stems with some being metres across and having several large stems growing from them.
As we adventured further toward the end of the ridge, we found more and more trees – with many clinging to the rocks and overhanging the sheer drop to the river far below. We also found some larger trees that were laden with fruit, so we used a small throwline to get further seeds and specimens.
By the end of the ridge (which made a spectacular late lunch spot) we had estimated there to be several hundred trees along the summit and had made seed collections from across the population ensuring a good genetic capture within the samples. This will ensure that the seed collected reflects as much genetic diversity of the population as possible – which is key to the success of a conservation seed collection. We then began the slow hike back to the vehicle – finding more trees as we went!
The trip was ultimately a success, with the seeds now secure within the PlantBank at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan. This collection is thanks to the time and effort of our Save A Species Walk teams and the generous donors who supported their cause and now means study of the seeds can now add further knowledge to the data we gathered in the field. This way the beautiful, yet rare Eucalyptus saxatilis can be managed to ensure its ongoing existence in our amazing environment.