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Living Collections

Botanic Gardens do not just serve the purpose of maintaining beautiful and interesting horticultural displays, but along with plantations and ‘field genebanks’, maintain plants away from their natural habitat, as an additional insurance policy against their loss. 

For the purposes of conservation, living collections may exist so that seeds or vegetative material can be collected which is then used in restoration projects, research, education as well as horticultural development and display. Living collections are particularly important for species:

  • that have poor seed quality or do not produce any seed at all
  • that have desiccation sensitive seeds that cannot be stored in a seedbank
  • that are intended for transplanting in which case large quantities of plants are required
  • whose genetic diversity is at risk in the wild plant
  • who have been (or will be) impacted in the natural habitat or if plants take a particularly long time to reproduce.

However, where possible, maintaining plants in living collections is preferably one of several methods used to help conserve species and it is definitely not used for all. This is because it requires a lot of time, effort, space and funds to establish and maintain, and genetic problems can occur in the collection reducing plant quality. Unlike tissue culture, living collections do not require plants to be frequently 'turned over', but possibly 'potted up'. The collection can be expected to last as long as the plants live, and therefore recollection or propagation may be required at some point to ensure ongoing successful conservation.

Living collections, if they are to be used, can be established in a number of different ways.

This may include sowing seed, taking cuttings of plants or dividing off suckers, it may involve tissue culture, grafting rare plants onto root stock of plants that are more common, or transplanting from other locations. Using seed to establish a living collection is preferential as this has the greatest potential to broaden genetic diversity within the new population. 

Aniseed Myrtle, Anetholea anisata a rare eastern Australian rainforest plant with leaf oils that smell of licorice! - Zoe-Joy Newby

Narrow-leaved Palm Lilly, Cordyline stricta growing at the Australian Botanic Garden - Zoe-Joy Newby

Brown Tuckeroo, Cupaniopsis flagelliformis is a tropical and subtropical rainforest species - Zoe-Joy Newby

Davidson's Plum, Davidsonia pruriens from north eastern Australia with edible fruit - Zoe-Joy Newby

Everistia vaccinifolia var. nervosa seedlings from dry rainforest in NSW - Zoe-Joy Newby

A Macadamia tree growing in the Fruit Loop of the Australian Botanic Garden - Zoe-Joy Newby

The Lime Berry, Micromelum minutum is believed to be extinct in NSW rainforest - Zoe-Joy Newby

The Birdlime Tree, Pisonia umbellifera a wide-spread but sporadic rainforest species from Asia and the Pacific Islands - Zoe-Joy Newby

Smooth Psychotria, Psychotria daphnoidies grows in both moist and dry rainforest - Zoe-Joy Newby

The Magenta Lilly Pilly, Syzygium paniculatum is endangered and restricted to coastal rainforests in NSW - Zoe-Joy Newby