Cider gums under threat from fire, foraging and global warming, conservationists warn


In the coldest state of Australia, the most frost-tolerant eucalypt in the world is under threat.

Located in the Central Highlands, the Tasmanian cider gum has a rich history and is of cultural importance to the local Indigenous community.

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Andry Sculthorpe said there needed to be a focus on saving the much-loved gum.

“They carry with them an importance for our cultural heritage and with the living trees, the survival of those species is super important, but also there are the remains of the activities of Aboriginal people who tapped those trees,” he said.

Eve Lazarus is one of many concerned for the future of the trees.(ABC News: April McLennan)

Eve Lazarus from the Derwent Catchment Group described the gums as an icon for the central highlands.

“They produce this cider, this sweet sap that ferments naturally with the yeast in the air and we get this semi-alcoholic beverage which the Tasmanian Aboriginal people used to seek out as a resource when it was running in the warmer months,” she said.

“When you’re out and you’re walking around the trees and it’s hot and you get this amazing smell of fermentation like you’re at a cider bar, except you happen to be in the middle of the bush.”

Dead cider gum trees.
Even dead cider gum trees are striking in their form.(ABC News: April McLennan)

Graveyard of trees

The trees are in decline due to a combination of global warming, insects and animal attacks.

In fact, a graveyard of the gums lining a road in the Central Highlands has become a tourist attraction.

“Even in death, as they stretch out their pale limbs towards the sky, they cast a very eerie silhouette across the landscape that people are quite fond of,” Ms Lazarus said.

But now bushfires are posing a threat to the species, with the Great Pine Tier blaze that burned through the area in 2019 ravaging some of the gums.

Joe Quarmby at a cider gum tree plantation.
Joe Quarmby says after recent fires, many of the burnt cider gum trees unexpectedly dropped seeds.(ABC News: April McLennan)

The Tasmanian Land Conservancy’s Joe Quarmby said they were concerned the trees affected by fire would not recover.

“We came out after the fire and found that most of the large trees had not re-sprouted, so had potentially died and there wasn’t much sign of re-generation,” he said.

“That caused us to look at caging around the base of the trees to hopefully get some regeneration from the plants that were left and hopefully if there was some seed regeneration, that the cages would protect those seedlings.”

A cage in a cider gum plantation, used to protect new growth from feeding animals.
A cage in a cider gum plantation, used to protect new growth from feeding animals.(ABC News: April McLennan)

A TLC volunteer group installed 34 cages to protect the plants and found them to be effective, with minimal browsing inside the cages.

“The animals come back in after the fire, they’re very hungry and these guys are first on the menu,” Ms Lazarus said.

“They are like sugar to children for all of our browsing animals.

Bushfire plume from a Tasmanian fire near Federation Peak
The bushfires of 2019 destroyed large areas of forest and wilderness areas in Tasmania.(Supplied: Mark Holdsworth)

New life

The TLC discovered a mass “recruitment”, with new seedlings sprouting both inside and outside the cages.

“With cider gums they flower episodically, so maybe every five to 10 years you might see flowering,” Mr Quarmby said.

“And from that flowering, they only produce a small amount of gum nuts, so seed within the gum nuts.”

Close up of hand with cider gum nuts.
Joe Quarmby says a “huge opportunity” exists if the seedlings can be protected.(ABC News: April McLennan)

After the recent fires, many of the burnt cider gum trees unexpectedly dropped seeds.

Mr Quarmby believes the trees must have flowered last season or two seasons before, for such a large recruitment event to occur.

“I’ve never seen it and it’s something I don’t think has been recorded or observed for this species ever before, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence,” he said.

“It provides a huge opportunity for the conservation of the species if we can get in and protect the seedlings.”

Flames burn on the ground in the Tasmanian wilderness
Andry Sculthorpe says “cultural burn” methods could mitigate against wildfires and escaped burn-offs.(ABC News)

Fire future

A conservation area was established on the Central Plateau in 1978 and a few years later it became a World Heritage Area.

That has meant fewer burn-offs in the region, which some believe has increased the risk of bushfires taking off and spreading to farm land and reserves.

While the trees are now on the road to recovery, another big fire could lead to extinction.

“In a traditional way, a cultural burn would be a lot more sensitive and cooler burn in those landscapes, which would mitigate against wildfires and escaped burn-offs,” Mr Sculthorpe said.

“The loss of the cider gum would mean the loss of a cultural practice, it’d mean the loss of a species that is recorded within our history and losing that is a tragedy.”



Source link

Conservationists push to save Banksia vincentia from extinction


Conservationists from around the country are working to save a critically endangered species of banksia from extinction.

Fourteen Banksia vincentia plants were discovered 15 years ago in the New South Wales South Coast town of Vincentia.

But now, with only four remaining in the wild, conservationists from the Booderee, Wollongong, Australian, and National Botanic Gardens are collaborating to keep the species alive.

“In NSW the plant has been declared critically endangered, which in terms of conservation and declaration, is a rarity,” Booderee Botanic Gardens acting curator Stig Pedersen said.

A bright native Australian flower.
The Banksia vincentia is the focus of a planting spree taking place in Booderee.(Supplied: Stig Pedersen)

Seeds of survival

Banksia vincentia is among six species that occur in the Shoalhaven region, but it does not grow naturally in the nearby Jervis Bay suburb of Booderee.

Where it has grown has left it vulnerable — eight years ago half the population was wiped out by fire, and then in 2016 the remaining seven plants were affected by wet conditions.

“Parts of the other half that survived became inundated with water for weeks,” Mr Pedersen said.

A small banksia shrub.
The Banksia vincentia only grows to about a metre in height.(Supplied: Stig Pedersen)

While things are looking dire in the wild, the push to propagate the plants in the Booderee National Park is proving successful so far.

“A decision was made that we would actively do some conservation establishing seed orchards,” Mr Pedersen said.

“Now at Booderee we have well over 1,200 individual propagated plants.

“We aim to establish 800 plants in the wild.

“We’ve planted 400 so far, with another planting session this week and a final one in August.”

A red banksia flower stands out against the green foliage.
The Banksia vincentia’s striking flower.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

‘I’ve killed hundreds’

The banksias need good drainage and mild conditions year-round to survive, and Mr Pedersen said getting the plantation going took some trial and error.

“One thing we’ve found is that, like many Australian plants, they do not like fertiliser, in particular, phosphors,” he said.

“We are at a stage now where we don’t give them any fertiliser until they are well established, and we use a seaweed-based liquid.

A bright banksia flower shines in the sun
Rare beauty … the Banksia vincentia in bloom.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

“I would estimate I’ve killed hundreds.



Source link