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Seed hunters rediscover the Tarcoola pea

The Tarcoola pea was rediscovered in 2010, almost 60 years since its initial discovery. Photo: SA Seed Conservation Centre
The Tarcoola pea was rediscovered in 2010, almost 60 years since its initial discovery
Photo: SA Seed Conservation Centre
 
Seed hunter Thai Te collects seeds from the Tarcoola pea in northern South Australia. Photo: SA Seed Conservation Centre
Seed hunter Thai Te, collects seeds from the Tarcoola pea in northern South Australia
Photo: SA Seed Conservation Centre
 

Seed hunters from the Adelaide Botanic Gardens have rediscovered a native pea that has not been seen in outback Australia for nearly 60 years.

The South Australian Seed Conservation Centre’s seed collectors have an uncanny ability to locate plants that haven’t been seen for many decades in their natural environment. In the spring of 2010, its seed hunters set out to find the Tarcoola pea (Swainsona dictyocarpa). This little plant was discovered in 1929 by renowned naturalist, John B. Cleland, in the north of South Australia.  Only collected once afterwards, in 1954, little was known about this rare plant; not even flower colour or preferred habitat

Using information from Cleland’s original collection, seed hunters set off with little more than an approximate locality, gleaned from his hand-written notes. Extreme drought conditions had foiled two previous attempts, but recent rainfalls made the seed hunters confident of finding the pea. What a difference a good season made! More than 500 plants were located, some in flower and some with seed ripe for collecting.

Almost 20,000 seeds were collected, which are now being carefully stored in Adelaide’s conservation seed bank facility. Some of the seeds will be used in upcoming months for germination research. The collection will hopefully ensure the longer-term future of this rare native pea, and means that we won’t have to wait another 60 years to see it in flower.