Kimberley, Blooming Wet

One week in the Kimberley during the wet season, 10-20 plants new to science. That's the tally from a field trip to the Prince Regent River Reserve and Lawley River National Park in March this year.

While from my recent and only experience in the region, I'd suggest that July is the 'wet season' I won't quibble. Matt and Russell Barrett have been exploring the Kimberley since they were teenagers, growing up on a local family cattle station.

For the last 12 years they have worked as scientists at Kings Park & Botanic Garden in Perth, and have been keen to explore the Kinberley in peak flowering seasons, during The Wet.

The story of their exploits is in the latest (No. 70, winter 2010) issue of For People & Plants, the Friends of Kings Park quarterly magazine.

The Barretts used aerial photography on Google Earth to pick potential collecting sites, finding safe places to land and good habitat variation. Anything to minimise the cost of helicopter time at $15 per minute.

They found on average two novelties a day, with a total of 10-20 new or interesting species. It may take months, or even years, to confirm which are new to science, new to the State or 'extreme variants'. All of which are interesting to scientists and for conservation.

The highlights include a new 50 cm high Boronia, a new scrambling Hibbertia, two new Calytrix species, three new Triodia (spinifex), three new Stylidium (trigger plants), a new Calandrinia and even a new Acacia (wattle).

They confirmed a species first discovered in 1821 by previous Director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens, Allan Cunningham. Aruranticarpa resinosa had not been seen for 180 years until rediscovered in 2001, but only as juvenile plants. Plants in fruit, as seen by Cunningham, were discovered a few years later but it was only on this trip that flowers wer collected for the first time - 'white large bunches...[with]...a beautifully sweet purfume'.

The Barretts also 'rediscovered' the Kimberley Lemon Myrtle, a new species of Backhousia, a genus otherwise only known from the east coast (Queensland and New South Wales).

These new finds come on top of 15 new species found during a trip with the Western Australian Museum in January and its thought there might be another 500 species to be found. Most of the new species are rare and need protection from inappropriate fire, overgrazing and possibly future development of the area.

Image: A Kimberley landscape between Broome and Cape Leveque from my recent trip.