Raising Rarity is using a new approach to help rare native flora
The Raising Rarity project team, made up of Meg Hirst and her Science Division colleagues at the Gardens, Sue Murphy and John Delpratt of The University of Melbourne, and a team of passionate volunteers, have been working on something exciting thanks to funding grants from the Australian Flora Foundation and Melbourne Friends. Over the past year they have run the Raising Rarity project, which has the potential to save rare and threatened species from extinction, by raising awareness of these wonderful plants with the aim to one day give home gardeners the opportunity to grow them in their own backyards!
Rather than propagating different species with the purpose of translocating them to their natural habitats, the Raising Rarity project focuses on assessing the horticultural potential of these species, to establish suitability for eventual introduction into cultivated systems, such as home gardens. The assessment program is elaborate - it requires germinating wild seeds, and monitoring growth and changes across all stages of maturation and repeating this process for multiple generations. If a species is successfully “tamed”, it may end up being available for the public to purchase through plant sales organised by the Cranbourne Friends, who will get involved with the project by growing the successfully cultivated species in order to sell them.
Propagating these rare species can be difficult. There is generally very little information regarding how to germinate them and ensure the survival of these rare plants, so the process can involve a lot of trial and error, using the germination process of similar species as a starting point. Some seeds are difficult to germinate, so you’re dealing with low numbers which can be harder to keep alive. Alternatively, some species germinate too quickly to the point where it’s difficult to ensure enough data is recorded for each stage of maturation as it’s blink-and-you'll-miss-it.
Volunteers have been instrumental to the success of the program, with about ten Melbourne University students and former students dedicating their spare time to observe the species, recording plant growth, flowering and other changes which are critical to assessing the consistency of each species. Meg and her team appreciate the effort of the volunteers enormously, “I cannot stress how having a team of volunteers makes everything run smoothly - especially really engaged volunteers - the program couldn’t run without them.” Visitors to the Cranbourne Gardens will be able to see the volunteers at work and check out a range of rare and threatened Australian species currently ‘on show’ in the Research Garden.