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Local Plant Extinctions

Twenty years ago, while surveying flora in the Shannon Creek area, my wife and I found a shrub called Spicy Everlasting (Ozothamnus argophyllus). It was growing well north of its known range, so a specimen was sent to Sydney for confirmation. Today, that specimen is recorded on the “Australian Virtual Herbarium” (AVH) website, and our photograph appears on the “PlantNet” website.

A year later the plant was killed by bushfire, and never regenerated, and it’s the only time we have ever seen it, before or since.

The closest record of the species, one backed by a specimen, was collected 70 years ago at Guyra, and the second closest was collected at Port Macquarie in 1891.

The species isn’t rare, in fact it’s relatively common south of Wollongong, its range extending along the coast to Melbourne, with records in Tasmania and several Bass Strait islands.

So, assuming those populations at Guyra and Port Macquarie still exist, our local extinction represents a minimum contraction of the species’ known range, by at least 130km.

A carbon copy of this story is that of a Sticky Hopbush, Dodonaea viscosa subsp spatulata, which we photographed around the same time.

As the Sydney herbarium had no records of this species from the North Coast bioregion, that’s east of the Dividing range from Newcastle to Queensland, we again sent a specimen for confirmation. That record also appears on the AVH and PlantNet websites.

The nearest recording was again from the Tablelands, that specimen held at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, was collected in 1859 by Hermann Beckler, a medical man who travelled extensively, gathering plant specimens between Port Macquarie and Morton Bay.

Like the Spicy Everlasting, our small leaved Sticky Hopbush was killed by fire within years of our finding it and has never regenerated. There may well be more specimens of both species out there waiting to be discovered, but until they are found, they’re assumed to be locally extinct. That’s how the extinction process begins, it’s happening all around us, and we humans are 100% responsible.

John Edwards

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