17 May 2023
PROTECTING AUSTRALIA’S WILDFLOWERS
Step out into a national park in spring, and you’re sure to see a stunning array of wildflowers. With thousands of native wildflower species in Australia, this colourful display is something to behold. But the truth is that many of our native wildflowers are at risk. In fact, recent assessments show that more than 486 native flora species need urgent attention after the 2019–20 bushfire season. While our wildflowers have evolved and adapted over time, the climate crisis is a considerable challenge for many unique species. And we know it will take extensive effort to ensure we don’t lose them forever. That’s why Botanica by Air Wick has partnered with WWF-Australia to create The Rare Bloom Project™. In collaboration with the Australian Seed Bank Partnership, we’re working to help save 120 native Australian wildflowers from the threat of extinction. Through a dedicated conservation program of seed collection, germination trials and propagation, we’re making sure these beautiful wildflowers will be able to grow and bloom into the future.
Seed banking for wildflowers Native wildflowers provide food and habitat for a range of native fauna and pollinators. And some of these plants provide food and medicine for people too. So, they’re not just beautiful to look at – they also play an essential role in the health and biodiversity of our planet.
As part of the Rare Bloom Project, seeds from some of Australia’s rarest wildflower species are being collected from priority conservation areas, including bushlands severely impacted by the 2019-20 bushfires.
This includes wildflowers like Baeckea kandos in New South Wales, Craspedia canens (grey billy-buttons) in Victoria, Brachyscome muelleri in South Australia and Euphrasia scabra (rough eyebright) in the Australian Capital Territory.
These precious seeds are being stored in seed banks across seven Australian states and territories. Each of these seed banks is like a vault, where the seeds are stored at around -18°C to conserve them for decades, or potentially even hundreds of years.
Seed banks act as a vital safety net for plant diversity – and they help to protect our plants and biodiversity against future environmental crises or natural disasters.
Rare bloom research in action The Australian Seed Bank Partnership is playing a key role in the Rare Bloom Project. This partnership is made up of 14 organisations, including the major seed banks at Australia’s leading botanic gardens and the Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank, West Sussex in the U.K. (which has an underground collection of over 2.4 billion seeds from around the world).
Damian Wrigley is the National Coordinator of the Australian Seed Bank Partnership. He says the Rare Bloom Project has been critical in allowing partner organisations to get out into the field to collect and identify seeds – and to investigate how to best conserve wildflower seeds for the long-term. All of this work is being undertaken so that rare blooms can be reintroduced into the wild as needed.
“It's a collaborative network of seed banks working to understand how to collect, how to store, how to germinate, and how to propagate the seeds that we collect from native species,” says Damian. “We are having a real impact on-the-ground for the long-term future of these native species.”
One of the wildflowers that scientists have been working on at the Western Australia Seed Centre is the endangered Caladenia busselliana (Bussell’s spider orchid). “What it's allowed us to do is take seeds that we’ve had in cryogenic storage – in sub-zero temperatures – since 1999,” says Dr David Merritt, Principal Research Scientist, Kings Park Science. “We then take fresh seed collected from the wild and test the germination rate to see if what we are doing for storage longer-term is actually working.”
This rare orchid will be planted in the wild, initially in a secret location, to ensure it remains safe in nature over the longer-term.
Nature’s insurance Rom Stewart, Head of Science and Evaluation at WWF-Australia, says the Rare Bloom Project is helping to safeguard Australia’s unique biodiversity for future generations.
“The Rare Bloom Project is a really great example of an initiative that's combining a lot of different approaches and partnerships to solve some of these problems like habitat loss and wildfire, as well as different invasive species that are threatening our native biodiversity.”
“We’re very excited to see this project go forward to help develop a seed bank for future insurance of these species, as well as developing germination and propagation methods and replanting in the wild.”
Want to find out more about the Rare Bloom Project? Thanks to Botanica by Air Wick, we’re helping to protect our native wildflowers so they can continue to bloom into the future. To learn more, visit Rare Bloom Project.