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Seed orcharding south-eastern Australia’s Small Purple Pea

The Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) is working in partnership with the ACT Government and NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to establish a seed orchard for Swainsona recta (small purple pea). This small herb with bright purple flowers was once widespread across south-eastern Australia but its distribution is now limited to a few fragmented populations in NSW, the ACT and Victoria. Surveys have shown that there are only 2700–4000 individual plants surviving in the wild. Swainsona recta is threatened by loss of habitat, invasive weeds, grazing and soil erosion.

Swainsona recta is listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and is one of 30 priority plants identified under the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy. The Strategy includes targets to improve the conservation trajectories of these priority plants by 2020 and identifies priority actions that may support S. recta, including seed collection and replenishment of wild populations from propagated plants.

Engaging the community in conservation projects is important for building support and understanding for conservation goals. (Photo: Anna Newton-Walters, ASBP)

Swainsona recta (small purple pea) can be recognised by its striking purple flowers. (Photo: S. Bond)

The Australian National Botanic Gardens’ seed orcharding facility has been purpose-built to allow the Gardens’ experts to meet seed production outcomes for conservation. (Photo: Anna Newton-Walters, ASBP)

Seed orcharding of S. recta is being undertaken to produce a reliable source of high quality, genetically diverse seed for use in restoration efforts. The individuals in the orchard will be grown from seed collected from many parent plants across multiple local populations to maximise genetic diversity. Consequently, this genetically diverse seed will be suitable for supplementing diversity in existing populations to improve their viability and for establishing populations in new locations.

This ambitious ten-year project will draw on ANBG’s purpose-built seed orcharding facilities and staff expertise in order to grow plants from which a large amount of seed may be collected. Careful monitoring of the status of the plants will ensure that seed production outcomes are met. The S. recta seeds produced in this project will be made available for use in research projects and in restoration efforts across the southern part of its natural distribution.