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Coastal Plants - Connecting Tasmania and South-east Queensland
Just over 50 years ago, as a ten year-old schoolgirl, Barbara saw a red bottlebrush flower in a Melaleuca swamp near the local school on Bribie Island. Now she introduces others to all the Wallum or coastal heathland wildflowers she knows and loves. In the early 50s Bribie Island was a wildflower paradise and its 'Boronia Patch' provided hours of pleasure for Barbara and her best friend, as they wandered barefoot in it.
Thirty years of work, marriage and family commitments passed before she returned to the Bribie Island Wallum with the Redcliffe Australian Plants Club, a member body of S.G.A.P. in Queensland, in 1979. Barbara joined the society 2 years later, became concerned about the rampant destruction of the Sunshine Coast Wallum, and became involved in efforts to save sensitive areas from motorway and other intrusions. Wanting to increase knowledge and awareness of Wallum wildflowers and their fate, she started the Wallum and Coastal Heathland Study Group in late 1992. Nowadays her greatest pleasure comes from introducing school children and other interested persons to her precious Wallum, hoping they will continue the work of other older conservationists and teachers of natural studies.
Basically, the topic of "Coastal Plants" covers a very wide range of plants around Australia's coastline, from the resilient beachfront species to the giant rainforest trees of hinterland ranges. In between lies an enormous variety of plant communities; littoral rainforest, wetlands and heaths, open eucalypt forests and woodlands, wet sclerophyll "scrubs" and the riparine vegetation (along waterways). It would be presumptuous to try to deal with all "coastal plants" in just one talk, so I will concentrate on those areas with which I am most familiar - the wildflowers of our coastal wetlands, heaths and adjacent woodlands and Eucalyptus forests.
This familiarity probably started back in a wonderful childhood on one of Moreton Bay's islands, Bribie Island. In the 1940s and 50s this island was isolated from the mainland, with access only by boat, so the natural environment was unspoiled, with a population of around 200. Both the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, to the south and north of Brisbane, were still pre-development, and the Wallum heaths were still covered with wildflowers which provided glorious spring floral visions in August each year. During the school holidays, my girlfriend and I visited the island's "Boronia Patch" often, collecting baskets of bright pink boronia and other flowers to take home. This was common practice with most Islanders, and didn't do any harm to the natural environment in those days.
Thirty years later I returned to Bribie Island to find many of my beloved bush places gone under development, but I learned more about all those "boronias', and have continued to learn, and to teach others, ever since. I discovered the Sunshine Coast and its wonderful wildflowers, complete with signs warning the general public against picking any of the wildflowers. This was when a lady from Caloundra was leading her fight to protect natural beauties around her area. Kathleen McArthur was before her time, with her writings, poems, drawing and paintings, and although she left us back in 2000, her books and artwork remain to continue her teachings to anyone eager to learn. Within SGAP in Queensland, I was discovering all our wonderful native plants, and it was in the mid-1980s that I decided to concentrate on the Wallum and its wildflowers.
My passion for this particular branch of Australian plants was helped by various people along the way, and by reading books, before I went along to my first SGAP Conference in spring of 1987, representing my local branch at Redcliffe, north of Brisbane. Coastal plants abound at Redcliffe, which is a small seaside city surrounded on three sides by sea and saltwater wetlands and creek. It even had some Wallum in its original low-lying areas prior to urban development. There is now very little remaining of Redcliffe's natural bushland and wetlands, but along the way I've learned about the plants which inhabit that part of the coastline, and especially those remarkable mangroves, of which there are plenty at Redcliffe.
In 1989 I ventured south to Bonny Hills, south of Port Macquarie, on New South Wales' mid-north coast, for a State SGAP Conference, based on the area's coastal headland. Another very pleasant few days, followed by a 'slow' trip home allowing me to visit a few coastal spots on the New South Wales northern coastline, and learn something about the coastal plants of another part of Australia. A couple of years later and I was off again to Western Australia for the 1991 ASGAP Conference and its tours. Again, I saw some of that State's coastal plants, finding those of Cape Leeuwin in particular very interesting. It was here that I learned why the beautiful pink Pimelea ferruginea won't grow here at Samsonvale - I don't have the winds coming off the Indian and Southern Oceans! I also saw Melaleuca nesophila in its natural habitat, right on the edge of the beachfront at Bremer Bay, on W.A.'s southern coast. I've also touched down on parts of the Victorian coastline, on both a private trip and during the 1995 ASGAP Conference tours. I've marvelled at the coastal plants along the Great ocean Road, especially the Banksia marginata and the Spyridium near Anglesea. It was interesting to note the difference in growth of Leucopogon parviflorus between Victoria and south-east Queensland - much larger down south than the dune shrub of our Sunshine Coast. A day trip to Tidal River on Wilson's Promontory left memories of wonderful enormous rocks at the beach, and Grevillea alpina along the pathway.
Whenever I've attended interstate ASGAP activities, I've purchased guide books on the wildflowers there, and am able to refer to them to learn something about the coastal plants of other parts of Australia, but Tasmania is largely a mystery so far. I have only one plant list, and that is for Rocky Cape, on the State's northern-western coast. But comparing that information with my local south-east Queensland knowledge, I find that there are quite a lot of coastal plants we have in common. So far, the Wallum and Coastal Heathland Study Group, of which I am the leader, has never had any members from Tasmania, so I don't have much data on the Island State's coastal heathlands. But I am hoping to fill some of the gaps in my knowledge during course of this Conference, and maybe see just a few of the plant species which we share, and some that will be new to me.
Among the plants Queensland and Tasmania 'share', there are several acacias, one of which , A.melanoxylon, grows right here at home at Samsonvale. Two of my Wallum species - A.suaveolens and A.ulicifolia - extend into Tasmania, and I hope I will 'meet' them. I've already mentioned one Leucopogon, and there is another, L.virgatus, which is much taller in Victoria's Gippsland than our little south-east Queensland form. Hibbertias are everywhere, and are one of my favourite group of plants, but their growth habits can differ from state to state. Meeting the challenge of growing Australian plants, I purchased a few hibbertias when in Melbourne in late 2002. Only two have survived, with H.stricta looking very happy here. But it isn't really much like the one we call H.stricta in our open forest understorey - ours is smaller with finer leaves, not as robust-looking as the Melbourne plant. Banksia serrata is at its northern limit around our Sunshine Coast, but keeps company with the confusingly similar Banksia aemula (Wallum banksia) to just south of Sydney. The Banksia serrata continues into Tasmania, with no chance of the confusion we experience when trying to identify these two species on Bribie Island where they grow almost side-by-side. Acacia myrtifolia is both coastal and montane here in Queensland, and to date is probably not in cultivation. I have found it difficult to sustain, but must try again, as it is both small and attractive. We share pea flowers such as Aotus ericoides, not quite as brilliant as its relation Aotus lanigera, which has clear yellow flowers; Dillwynia glaberrima which is a fine-leaved low-growing species of our wet wallum areas; yellow and red-flowered Sphaerolobium vimineum, which stays unseen until it flowers and still often goes unnoticed; Indigofera australis which grows in the open Eucalyptus forests back off the coast.
One of our loveliest Wallum plants is Epacris obtusifolia, apparently also in Tasmania. A massed show of the perfumed white bell-like flowers lights up the Wallum spring, but because of its preference for very wet conditions, it is not in cultivation - a pity. We seem to share many small ground orchids, ferns, grasses and sedges, in the coastal plants of the two States. Unfortunately, because of the past 50 years of intense urban and tourist development of south-east Queensland's Gold and Sunshine Coasts, many of our coastal plants haven't been thoroughly assessed for, or tried in cultivation - there hasn't been time to carry out the work before the coastal wetlands and heaths were destroyed. Once gone, they can't be recovered, and it makes me sad, and angry, that more investigation wasn't done into plants which had the potential to be very attractive small garden plants. Some of our coastal plants have reached our gardens and are used in other landscaping successfully, but the heathland species are a bit harder to 'tame', and our timeframe hasn't been compatible with them.
Urban and tourist development is continuing to go northwards from south-east Queensland, as our lovely little quiet seaside places are discovered by those who can only see $ signs, not wildflowers. From what I hear and read, this is also happening all along Australia's eastern coastline, including Tasmania. People love to live by the seaside, and while there is a $ for someone to make, our coastal plants won't stand a chance - they'll just go. However, if we can learn about what treasures we have, and can teach others to recognise our values, perhaps along the way, some of our coastal plants will survive in a natural environment.
I hope to learn a little about Tasmania's coastal plants during my very short visit, and extend my knowledge of more of Australia's native plants.
This article was originally presented at the ASGAP 22nd Biennial Seminar which was held in Hobart, Tasmania, January 2004.
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Australian Plants online - September 2004
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants