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My slice of the island

Fossil evidence suggests that Lomatia tasmanica has been surviving in its location within sight of Tasmania's rugged south coast for more than 40,000 years.	Photo: Margot White
Fossil evidence suggests that Lomatia tasmanica has been surviving in its location within sight of Tasmania's rugged south coast for more than 40,000 years
Photo: Margot White
 
Planocarpa nitida. Photo: James Wood
Planocarpa nitida
Photo: James Wood

An edited extract of an article by Mark Fountain, published in the Feb/Mar 2011 issue of Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania (RACT) members’ Journeys Magazine

Mark Fountain, Deputy Director Collections and Research of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, shares some little-known facts about some of Tasmania’s intriguing plants.

The ancient Mount Read Huon pine, found near Rosebery in the state’s west, covers more than one hectare. It is essentially a genetically identical single male clone – in other words, just one tree. Scientific evidence indicates that the pine has been reproducing itself on this site for at least 10,500 years.

Like the Mount Read Huon Pine, the King’s holly (Lomatia tasmanica) is a sterile shrub and a clonal oddity. The population currently numbers around 500 plants, and based on fossil evidence, it has been surviving in its remote location within sight of Tasmania’s rugged south coast for at least 43,600 years. Staff at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens nursery are investigating ways to propagate and cultivate this challenging plant.

In 2010, staff from The Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre took a memorable field trip in Tasmania’s Central Highlands. They made a number of significant seed collections from Lake Augusta’s alpine sand dune system, including the black cheeseberry (Planocarpa nitida), a plant found only in this habitat. Alpine dune systems are globally very rare and fragile landforms; Tasmania’s most famous example of this landform was the now-vanished original Lake Pedder.

Another intriguing Tasmanian plant, the alpine purple star Isophysis tasmanica, was described recently in a French magazine as “quasi-mythical!” This primitive member of the iris family was photographed flowering on the slopes of the Sentinel range overlooking Lake Pedder during a weekend ‘spotting’ trip for the Seed Conservation Centre.

Read full article on pp:45-47 of the RACT Journeys Magazine