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DwarfMountainPine

Mt Tomah to release first Dwarf Mountain Pines

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mt Tomah is celebrating its 30th birthday this year with the release of the first Dwarf Mountain Pines to be made available to the public. They’ll also be making available a limited release of seed-grown Wollemi Pines. Both plants have been propagated at Mt Tomah, a cool climate refuge for species threatened by climate change.

As the highest Botanic Garden in the country, at 1000m above sea level, it’s protecting, preserving and propagating cool climate plants from across Australia and the globe.



smalldwarfmountainpine

There are only 760 known examples of the endangered Dwarf Mountain Pine, or Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii, left in the wild. An exquisite, bonsai-like pine, they’re only found on the cliff faces between Wentworth Falls and Katoomba. According to Greg Bourke, Curator Manager of Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, “We have been custodian to a conservation collection for a long time, but we’ve now decided to enlist the community in helping us to safeguard this species against climate change. We’re propagating the plants to enable people to grow them in their own backyards and to put some back into the wild if the opportunity arises.” They only grow to about one metre across, and tiny little plants (like the one in the photo above) could possibly be hundreds of years old.

Wollemi

The Wollemi Pine was discovered just 23 years ago in the nearby Wollemi National Park. With fewer than a hundred trees known to be growing in the wild, this critically endangered ‘living fossil’, was thought to have been extinct for the last 2 million years. Programs like the one being run at Mt Tomah, are essential for its survival.

A few other endemic species, as well as some interesting exotics, like maples, are also being propagated with the help of the Growing Friends of the Garden. They’ll be released later this year too.


Greg’s vision for the Garden is “to be that place that people 
come to, to learn how to do things better” - a demonstration site for growing plants, and for living sustainably.

They’ve already installed 30.47 kw of solar panels and aim to introduce enough solar to go off-grid. Green waste is recycled on site, and water is being collected off the roof, roads and paths. The on-site sewage treatment plant is also being upgraded, and Greg’s hoping that, eventually, no water will leave the site, and that they’ll be using treated water for the plants. 

Another important education and research focus of the Gardens is how to deal with the spread of pathogens that are increasing with climate change. In November 2005, for example, the virulent water mould, Phytophthora cinnamomi, was found to be infecting wild-growing Wollemi Pines. Phytophthora comes from the Greek and means “plant destroyer” - it’s one of the world’s most invasive species.

Phytophthora’s impact has been quite devastating, particularly in south western Australia where it destroyed large areas of forest, critical to supporting a number of threatened species. According to Greg, “because it’s invisible, its spread can be rapid and undocumented, until things start dropping dead. It’s when the forest is under stress that plants are most susceptible. With this summer’s unprecedented heat spells, for example, plants become stressed and then Phytophthora can take hold. With a little bit of rain, the pathogen can breed up to get into those plants, and then you’re likely to see mass dieback occurrences.”

“Human traffic is a key spreader of this pathogen, so we’re very careful with hygiene, and we encourage people to sterilise tools, feet, and vehicles, so they don’t spread it, particularly while bushwalking.”

To further tackle this threat, the BM Botanic Garden, with scientists from Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens and the Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan, will this year be doing germination trials with Wollemi seed in inoculated Phytophthora soil, “so we can look for plants that are genetically resistant to this disease. We’ll then grow these resistant strains.”

“This is a huge problem, but plants are quite quickly adapting, so we hope to fast track that through studies here.” If you’d like to find out how you can help, or where and when you can purchase the limited release Dwarf Mountain Pines and Wollemi Pines, contact Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mt Tomah, via www.bluemountainsbotanicgarden.com.au or by ringing 02 4567 3000.

 

Photo: Greg Bourke, Curator Manager of Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mt Tomah

Photograph and article: Lis Bastian

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