17 minute read

Kids explore Bundaberg Botanic Gardens with new activity book

Roana O’Neill, Co-ordinator Communication and Engagement, Bundaberg Regional Council

A kids’ activity trail booklet, designed to get kids exploring and investigating the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens, was launched in the June 2020 school holidays with much success.

The self-guided activity trail features 20 stops around the gardens’ top lake. Each stop is identified with a numbered sign indicating where to complete the activity in the booklet. The booklet includes opportunities for drawing, matching activities, measuring, sketching, a word find, and decoding words. Activities range from identifying a plant and making a sound map, to animal spotting and measuring a tree.

The kids’ activity trail booklet. Gardens Curator Cody Johnson and I were

discussing ways that we could provide an engaging educational activity for children, close to visitor amenities. The trail allows families to work together, providing a fun outdoors activity, especially during times of social distancing. The Botanic Gardens are founded on scientific research, conservation, display and education, so it’s important that we communicate the significance of the gardens to all members of the community. I wrote the booklet for ages approximately eight to 13 years, however, it has proved suitable for a wider age group and for kids with a range of abilities. Kids can do the trail in any order, at their own pace and at any time of the year, and they don’t have to do the activity in one go — they can come to the gardens multiple times to complete the booklet. We hope this initiative opens children’s eyes to their environment, and connects them to plants in the gardens they may previously have walked past. The gardens are a community facility so we want to encourage that feeling of community ownership.

The Kids Activity Trail showcases some of the diverse plants and animals in the gardens, including the Brazilian Silk floss tree and the King fern, the largest fern in the world, through to the Australian brush turkey and eastern water dragons.

The booklets are provided free to the community and are made available at the gardens’ attractions, including the Hinkler Hall of Aviation, Café 1928 and the Bundaberg and District Historical Museum.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the book for children and Dana Maggacis, graphic designer at Bundaberg Regional Council, did a wonderful job of bringing the activities to life. In keeping with the theme of ‘caring for our environment’, the booklets have been printed on

From left to right, Tamika Spies, Blake Arnold and recycled paper. The day before we

Cr Wayne Honor on the kids’ activity trail.

released the booklet to the community, Bundaberg North Primary School, which is located right next to the gardens, brought some of their senior students to help us with a promotional video for the booklet. This can sometimes be a tough age group to engage, so we were really happy to hear their honest feedback that this was fun and that they were learning things about plants that they didn’t know. The students were very enthusiastic, and the teachers said that the booklet was fabulous and could be used as part of their studies. We printed 3,000 copies, and after the school holidays we were left with around 500 booklets, so the response from the community was fantastic. We then produced another activity booklet for our younger visitors for the September/October 2020 school holidays.

Other initiatives in the gardens include:

the development of a new brochure for visitors re-development of the website provision of a large whiteboard to keep visitors up to date with what is flowering and fruiting in the gardens a movable board that can be placed next to key plant species to provide a more detailed explanation the production of videos about the plant collections the development of fact sheets on key plant species that are often enquired about the provision of additional plant labels new activity sheets for younger visitors each school holidays showcasing of the latest flowering plant in the café.

Through these initiatives we hope to grow the community’s connection to and appreciation of the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens.

To download the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens booklet go to https://www.discoverbundaberg.com.au/learn-botanic-gardens

To see the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens booklet in action head to Bundaberg Now https://www.bundabergnow.com/2020/06/26/kids-activity-trail-book-gets-kids-out-and-about-inthe-gardens/

For more information on the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens visit https://www.discoverbundaberg.com.au/bundaberg-botanic-gardens

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Compiled and edited by Ariana Potamianakis Senior Gardener, Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha

First word

While COVID-19 has consumed what feels like most of our lives

Ariana Potamianakis.

during 2020, it’s important to reflect not only on its impact in highlighting just how essential our green spaces are to us day-to-day, but why they are so valuable, not only for our sanity, but for the bigger picture. If this global pandemic has taught us anything (including good hygiene, of course) it has taught us just how much we rely on — and almost default to — nature.

It wasn’t long ago that Australia’s bushfires and the climate crisis were saturating our screens and thoughts. Fast-forward a year on, and although the global focus has shifted to finding our way through this pandemic, on the ground, the effects and efforts following the bushfires are still real and ongoing.

I got in touch with the newly appointed Director of Horticulture at the Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney, John Siemon, and Director Research and Chief Botanist, Dr Brett Summerell at the new Australian Institute of Botanical Science, at the gardens to find out how nature has responded and what the future looks like for the protection of our native landscape.

Interview: After the fires — where we are now and where we’re going

The bushfires we are experiencing are unprecedented. Have they changed the future of the natural landscapes already or is it too early to tell?

Brett Summerell: It is really too early to be sure and there is no one answer to this question. It depends on the nature of the ecosystem, the type of vegetation and the intensity of the fires that went through. It is also important to remember that many areas were suffering extremely badly from prolonged drought prior to the fires and this had a very detrimental effect on many plant species. Ecosystems like rainforests and alpine regions that were burnt will take a very long time to recover and are of great concern — these areas may be fundamentally changed but it will be necessary to monitor and record changes and to increase protections for these systems.

Photos: Courtesy of Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney.

One of the most important things to ensure will be to prevent fires recurring too rapidly in areas that were burnt. It is critical that the plant species in an area have time to grow, flower, set seed and re-establish healthy populations before fire again occurs in those areas. If this does not happen then these populations will be headed towards extinction.

Which species have been the quickest to return after the bushfires? How have they done so? Are Australian plants unique in this regeneration ability?

BS: In those areas where the plant species are well adapted to recover from fire, and the intensity of the fire has not been too great, the recovery and regeneration is proceeding at a great rate. Fortunately, this has been favoured by good rainfall and the projections for follow-up rain are very encouraging. The eucalypts, banksias, wattles, etc. are all either growing from epicormic buds, lignotubers or from seed — our flora has many, many species that are well adapted to fire. It is always wonderful to be reminded of the resilience of many Australian plants to fire — spring and summer 2021 should be spectacular from a floral perspective.

However, our collectors and scientists have visited some sites where clearly the fire was very extreme and the lack of regeneration very distressing. It will be necessary to monitor these sites and document the recovery, assuming it occurs, over the next few seasons.

Photos: Courtesy of Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney.

The Australian bush is renowned for its resilience and diverse responses to climate hardships. What plants and/or responses have surprised you?

BS: So many plants surprised me — tree ferns and Blechnum ferns so lush and green so soon after the fires, an array of different species of orchids flowering within weeks, new seedlings of wattles, indigofera, etc. popping up so quickly… I could go on. Our collectors are also starting to observe the never-before-seen responses of populations of threatened species to fire. Hopefully, these populations will produce seed, some of which can be collected for the seed banks in 2021.

What resources do you employ to undertake such vast propagation projects? How much of a role will natural regeneration play?

BS: Across most of the fire grounds natural regeneration will be the most important process to re-establish healthy vegetation and it will be critical to carefully and scientifically monitor the recovery and the response of different species. Revegetation should be done carefully and only if needed, but there may be some species, especially threatened species, that require some intervention. This will need to be done carefully, taking into account the use of accurately identified species, genetically diverse propagation material and ensuring that weeds, pests and diseases are not introduced.

Fungi, mycorrhiza, etc. are the unsung heroes of our notoriously poor soils. What have been the impacts in this area?

BS: Soil-borne fungi were well protected during the fires and the soil is an amazing insulator. As a consequence, there were relatively little changes in soil temperature below ground and mycorrhizal fungi, and most soil-dwelling organisms, were well protected. These types of fungi are important in ensuring that plants can respond quickly, and assist in the uptake of nutrients and regeneration. There were many diverse species of pyrophilous fungi observed very quickly after the fires — the ability of these species to so quickly take advantage of the changed environment was amazing.

Photo: Courtesy of Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney.

The Wollemi Pine is a species that is well represented in botanic garden collections worldwide. Have these fires highlighted a need for other key species to be safeguarded in a similar manner?

John Siemon: The Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis is the poster child and role model case study for how a species, thought to be extinct, can be conserved through a concerted conservation effort. While the pines are now safe from extinction, by being grown in backyards across the globe, the fires nearly destroyed the wild population and severely damaged the wild translocation site, intended to provide a backup.

The fires have ultimately highlighted that a multipronged approach, including in situ and ex situ conservation actions, is required to ensure at-risk plant species are conserved through a range of conservation strategies. Ultimately organisations such as botanic gardens will be under increased pressure to host a growing number of threatened flora and will need to consider a range of conservation strategies from seed banking to tissue culture, in-ground and potted living collections, and distributing germplasm to other botanic gardens so that all our eggs aren’t in the one basket.

We do need to remember that while a whole suite of species is now at an increased risk of extinction, as a result of the scale of recent bushfires, other threatening processes, such as myrtle rust, haven’t gone anywhere and those species affected still remain in decline, without significant intervention.

Has there been any collaboration with local Indigenous groups with specialised knowledge of the affected areas?

JS: We have been actively discussing, even prior to last year’s bushfires, the re-introduction of cultural burning techniques to our botanic gardens. Now, this seems even more important — that we recognise the value, and reinstate the land management practices, of the traditional custodians. Through this process we aspire to work more closely with local Aboriginal groups to relearn and share cultural burning practices as well as obtaining exceptional ecological outcomes for the natural areas we manage.

Photo: Courtesy of Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney.

We saw the bushfires unfold before our eyes on social media — do you feel social media has changed the community’s response/relationship towards protecting our environment?

BS: Yes, I do think so, in a generally positive way. But we have struggled to get recognition of the impact on plants as the focus has very much been on affected fauna. We are still suffering from the general community’s plant blindness even though all the affected fauna need healthy plant communities in order to survive. I believe that with the fires and with COVID-19 people are starting to better value nature and the green environment — we need to keep pushing and promoting the importance of plants for the wellbeing of us all.

Photo: Courtesy of Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney.

How has technology and social media changed our response to bush regeneration and conservation? Has there been new technology that you have employed to assist in work of this scale?

JS: The immediacy and accessibility of digital and social media has really highlighted the impact and scale of the bushfires to a global audience. The same social media network has also supplied a great deal of misinformation. In some instances, poorly informed individuals have contributed to concepts such as fire-resistant plants. Ask anyone close to one of these mega fires and they will argue ‘if it is made of carbon it will burn’.

The rise of technology, or accessibility to previously cost-prohibitive equipment, does bring the promise that land managers can be better informed in decision making to plan for or manage post-bushfires. Despite the inherent ability for ecological processes to repair burnt ecosystems, recent media stories have spruiked the promise of replanting forests through drone-based technology firing pellets, loaded with seeds, into the ground. In the absence of robust scientific studies only time will tell if this method of restoration is appropriate for broad acre landscape-level restoration.

In the case of our own fire-impacted living collection at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, we have relied on the accuracy of our living collection database and mapping systems to verify damage and loss of specimens. We are also using detailed notes and records, GIS technology, drones and commissioned updated aerial imagery to map the extent of the fires and recovery, both visually and in terms of species diversity, in our living collection and natural areas.

How do other botanic gardens interact and support each other in times like this?

JS: The botanic gardens network across Australia and New Zealand is driven by passionate and dedicated plant conservation-oriented individuals and teams. Each botanic garden is far more powerful working in tandem with our plant networks and there are some wonderful projects being worked on by botanic gardens across the country, including collaborative cross jurisdictional projects such as the Tropical Mountains Plant Project or the Care for the Rare program, a BGCI initiative strongly adopted in Victoria.

Networks, such as the South East NSW Bioregion Working Group (SENBWG), really foster much stronger conservation outcomes, especially where they jointly tackle threats to biodiversity. When SENBWG members met for the first time in 2020, post-fires, we were challenged by two harrowing and emotionally charged stories from the curators of the only fire-affected botanic gardens in 2020, Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden and the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah [see the feature articles in this issue]. The SE NSW Bioregion members, and botanic gardens and other plant conservation agencies across the globe, have reached out to lend support, offer resources or to propagate and restore lost specimens from the living collections.

Photo: Courtesy of Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney.

A significant benefit of our shared plant conservation mission is achieved through the ability to distribute the biological diversity that each garden holds. Regardless of a garden’s skill, capacity or level of infrastructure, each contributes meaningfully through the sharing of its knowledge or expertise and the living collection — a genetic repository of ex situ collections — be it derived from a seed bank holding thousands of seeds of varying species or a solitary threatened species growing in a botanic garden.

What are some things readers can do to help protect their local biodiversity, especially in times of crisis?

JS: Risks to biodiversity have placed many species at the brink of extinction and while humans are a primary driver, they will also play an active role in finding solutions. Funding, or the lack thereof, for plant conservation remains a key challenge for most plant conservation-oriented organisations. Finding donors and corporate sponsors that don’t suffer from plant blindness, the underappreciation or inability to recognise plants in one’s environment, will certainly help to increase the funding available for collecting, researching, displaying and conserving biodiversity.

Dr Brett Summerell | Director Research and Chief Botanist

As the Director Research and Chief Botanist at the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, Dr Brett Summerell is championing the conservation of plants and all life that depends on them. He has been performing vital scientific research for the last 30 years and leading a team of world-class plant scientists for the last 15 at Australia’s oldest living scientific institution. Photo: Courtesy of Botanic Gardens

Dr Summerell is a fungi expert and has helped describe over 120 new species and published over 150 journal

articles, books and book chapters. He is considered one Greater Sydney.

of the world’s foremost experts on the deadly Fusarium pathogen, which can wreak havoc on our food crops and native plants.

In his role as Director Research and Chief Botanist, Dr Summerell is building on the garden’s legacy of studying, documenting and protecting plant life in Australia for over 200 years by advocating for plant conservation and highlighting the importance plants have in our lives. He also provides senior scientific advice to the gardens and to government and is mentoring and inspiring the next generation of plant scientists.

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John Siemon | Director of Horticulture at the Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney

John is a horticultural scientist and was the Curator Manager of the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan for six years before he was appointed to the role of Director of Horticulture for the Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney in 2020.

John’s interest in horticulture started at a young age, growing up in the leafy suburbs of Brisbane where he was fascinated by the world around him, and how the tallest trees could grow from the smallest seed.

Photo: Courtesy of Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney.

Having worked for CSIRO and the University of Sydney, John has been with the Botanic Gardens Greater Sydney since 2002. First managing laboratories and science infrastructure, he then had oversight of the largest botanic garden in Australia focussed entirely on native flora at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan before taking on the role of Director of Horticulture responsible for the management of all three botanic gardens in Greater Sydney — the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah and the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan.

As a horticultural scientist, John has worked predominantly in plant physiology, plant breeding, tissue culture and germplasm conservation. He has worked on a range of horticultural and agricultural crops including rice, tomatoes, soybeans and probably Australia’s most famous export after Paul Hogan, macadamia nuts.

John’s most significant achievement to date has been a project managing the Australian PlantBank, including securing $19.8 million in fundraising, and the architectural design and construction of this national repository for native plant seeds.

See Brett Summerell in the field: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHMtehkI6iU

The latest Branch Out podcast episode covers bush regeneration in the Blue Mountains https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/Science/Branch-Out/Bushfire-impacts-recovery-outlook