Friday, 25 March 2011
A few of my favourite (plant) things*
For my final chat with Simon Marnie on the ABC Sydney Weekend Show I thought I’d select a couple of my favourite (plant) things in the Royal Botanic Garden.
I finished today as Executive Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, after seven and a half years in the role. In a few weeks I start work as Director of Conservation, Living Collections and Estates at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. It's my third 'Royal' appointment - I started at Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. As I said to someone recently, at least I'll know the words to the national anthem - drilled into me at primary school.
I will return to blogging from London, in some form, but this is my last posting as head of the Sydney Botanic Gardens.
Discovered in 1994, the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) is a species thought to have become extinct millions of years ago. With less than 100 individuals remaining in a few remote canyons north of Sydney, a propagation and commercialisation program has seen it spread across the world. Almost every botanic garden now proudly displays a specimen and you can grow one at home. The species won’t go extinct but we have to keep the natural location secret and protected to avoid fire and disease wiping out then relic from the dinosaur age.
One of the best palm collections in the world, growing amongst tropical and subtropical trees from the east coast of Australia. The oldest trees date back to 1822 and some of the palms are rare and threatened in their natural habitat. The flying foxes have destroyed what was once the beautiful heart of the Royal Botanic Gardens but once they are relocated we have 200 new species of palm ready to plant out. A must see part of the garden after, or during, summer rain.
The Royal Tree
The majestically named Chrysophyllum imperiale is from the rainforests of Brazil. Our largest specimen was planted by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and son of Queen Victoria in 1868. As we’ve discussed before, his Royal Highness had recently survived an assassination attempt at Clontarf, across the harbour.
The tree itself is rare in its natural habitat and you are unlikely to see it outside a few botanic gardens. In 1868 it was commonly found around Rio de Janeiro but that city’s spread has destroyed most of its natural habitat. In fact we sent some seed back to Rio to support their recovery program for this tree.
Every couple of years we have Amorphophallus titanum, the Titan Arum, on display in the Royal Botanic Garden Tropical Centre. It’s the biggest flower in the world. Ours tend to be a one or so metres tall but the biggest ever recorded was 2.9 m (and one I saw in Kew Gardens in London a few months ago was approaching this).
The Titan Arum only occurs naturally in Sumatera, in Indonesia. It consists of a giant tuber weighing up to 100 kg, a giant (divided) leaf up to 6 metres tall which lives about a year and then dies back to the tuber, and then every now and then, a massive flower that looks like a deformed banana in a pleated, deep red skirt.
There are about 1000 trees in the Domain (and another 2000 or so in the Royal Botanic Garden), including about 350 figs. Just under 150 are Moreton Bay Figs (Ficus macrophylla). We removed and replaced 10 of these Moreton Bay Figs near Hospital Road a few years back, when they became unsafe. The replacement White Figs, Washington Palms and Hoop Pines are going gang busters. We are nursing some of our Moreton Bay Figs, such as the Children’s Fig, into old age – fencing them off from the public. They love to drop large limbs early in the morning on a still, summer’s day so we have to be careful. But these figs, a legacy of early Director Charles Moore, are one of the images I’ll keep with me at Kew.
*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (under 'Weekends' or search 'gardening'), and is the gist of my 702AM radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday morning, between 9-10 am.
Image: The iconic Palm Grove in Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden, with cliveas, palms and Australasian rainforest trees. Great to visit in the rain.