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Tasmanian Pines bring huge harvest

Collecting team breaking for lunch on the Tyndall Range, Southwest National Park
Photo: RTBG
Collecting from King Billy Pine on Mt Anne, Southwest National Park
Photo: RTBG
Collecting Pencil Pine at Lake Hansen, Cradle Mountain National Park
Photo: RTBG

After years of waiting for the right conditions the Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre was presented with a rare opportunity to collect four of Tasmania’s endemic montane conifers. Autumn of 2015 saw a major “masting” event across Tasmania’s western mountains, with these ancient icons of our states flora bearing large quantities of seed. Masting is a term used for the periodic mass production of fruit (or cones in this case) displayed in a number of plants from around the world. This unanticipated opportunity had DPIPWE staff rapidly planning to sample from the iconic trees of the mountains, the ancient King Billy (Athrotaxis selaginoides) and pencil pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides), as well as two lesser known shrubby conifers - Cheshunt Pine (Diselma archeri) and the threatened Drooping Pine (Pherosphaera hookeriana) that often co-occur with the trees. All four species are vulnerable to loss from fire and therefore at risk from climate change. These mastings occur irregularly and presented a rare opportunity for Tasmania’s seed bank programme to secure good, high quality seed collections to protect these iconic and vulnerable species.

Between March and May of 2015 employees of the Natural Values Conservation Branch and Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) were assisted by RTBG volunteers and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy in making 26 conifer seed collections across the western mountains of Tasmania.

This rapid and collaborative effort proved to be very successful. Over 12 days, 86.7kg of cone bearing material was harvested from 14 separate locations - from the Southern Ranges in the south to Cradle Mountain in the North and from the Tyndall Range in the west over to Pine Lake in the east. The sites were accessed from the ground, as well as by air. This collecting effort has secured approximately 1.57 million viable seeds, with an average collection size of 60,000 seeds. Seed quantities increased 9 fold for A. cupressoides, 27 fold for A. selaginoides, 65 fold for D. archeri and 127 fold for P. hookeriana.

These collections will provide an insurance policy against future losses through establishing seed reserves for restoration and other conservation measures to help ensure that Tasmania’s unique and ancient floral heritage is not lost to future generations.

Article prepared by James Wood, RTBG