Helping Nematolepis wilsonii Rise from the Ashes
In 1979, scientists from The Royal Botanic Gardens discovered beautiful native shrubs featuring dainty, star-shaped white flowers growing in the Yarra River’s upper catchment area beneath some Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans). Dubbed the Shining Nematolepis (Nematolepis wilsonii), this small, isolated population was the only known location of this species in Victoria.
When the Black Saturday Bushfires tore across the state in 2009 destroying everything in their path, the entire Nematolepis wilsonii population was eradicated, with all known specimens wiped out. Extinction of just a single plant species in the wild can have devastating and unpredictable repercussions on its surrounding ecosystem and dependent species, and the loss of Nematolepis wilsonii could have had many unforeseen consequences. Hope for the species came in the form of the Victorian Conservation Seedbank located in the National Herbarium of Victoria, which was established in 1853 by the first director of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Ferdinand von Mueller.
Having gathered and stored seeds from Nematolepis wilsonii on a collection expedition prior to the Black Saturday bushfires, Royal Botanic Gardens staff and volunteers were able to use the supply of stored seeds to begin the lengthy process of trial-and-error required to germinate and propagate them, with virtually no information to work from. After their efforts revealed the seeds prefer to be chilled at 5°C for eight weeks, they were able to germinate the seeds and reintroduce Nematolepis wilsonii seedlings to their natural habitat.
A few years later, those plants are thriving in the wild, thanks to the many Royal Botanic Gardens staff and volunteers who fought to save the species. Bringing the Shining Nematolepis back from the brink of extinction is just one of the Victorian Conservation Seedbank's success stories, with many other once-threatened native species now thriving in the wild thanks to their work.
There are still a vast number of increasingly threatened species that are yet to have their seeds safely stored in the Seedbank by way of insurance should they become extinct in the wild. Click here to donate to fight plant extinction.