Located on Cygnet Park Sanctuary adjacent the Cygnet River on Kangaroo Island (KI) is a multi-purpose garden designed to safeguard the many rare species of plants that grow only on the Island and to showcase the diversity of habitats the Island has to offer. Established in 2022, the Garden has a conservation, research and educational focus as well as being a beautiful, inspiring and welcoming place.
The original concept was the creation of a Seed Production Garden for the threatened plants of KI, a place where seeds could be collected, stored and used for restoration projects on the Island. There are about 180 species of threatened plants on KI and some are found nowhere else on the planet. Many of the plants have just a few hundred plants left in the wild and are only known from one or two places. A single event like a wildfire could easily wipe out all the plants in the wild, hence there is a need to collect seed for insurance purposes, as well as to increase the number of plants and places where they grow. The devastating fires of the 2019-2020 summer were the catalyst for this project, as scientists from the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre made multiple trips to KI following the fires to search for previously known populations of rare plants as well as to look for new populations of threatened plants. Fire is a catalyst for some species to appear after a long absence and, after fire, the more open habitat makes species easier to find.
A Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grant assisted with the field work and the Garden was created with assistance from partners – Nature Conservation Society of SA and Bio-R – and the donation of land by the owners of Cygnet Park Sanctuary. A herbivore exclusion fence was erected over a 50m x 100m area and raised beds, ponds, paths and garden beds were installed over one-third of the site ready for the first plantings in July 2022. Over 50 species were planted by community members and the first seed was collected in October 2022.
A Friends of the Kangaroo Island Rare Plant Garden (KIRPG), with assistance from a part-time Engagement Officer and a part-time plant expert, help maintain the Garden by collecting, cleaning and storing seed, propagating plants in the adjacent nursery, weeding in the nursery and Garden and marketing the tubestock, so that the rare plants can go back into the wild on KI. Over time, school and community groups will adopt a species and become the custodians of that plant, from seed collection to propagation and then planting back into the KI environment. The Garden will play a part in conserving the flora of the Island into the future by nurturing a dedicated and passionate volunteer group across multiple generations.
As well as providing a hub for research and education into the rare flora of KI, we envision the Garden as being an attractive place where visitors can explore the many habitats of the Island in one place. There are beds dedicated to the plants of limestone cliffs, the ironstone plateaus of the Island’s west and the threatened Narrow-leaf Mallee communities of the east, as well as ponds, wetlands and swamps showcasing the many plants of the riverine and lower-lying parts of KI.
Trails lead the visitor through the various plant communities of the Island and in the long-term signage will provide information on those communities and their plants, as well as stories about insect/plant interactions, the life-history of the plants and their importance to ecosystem function.
While storing seed under optimal conditions at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens is important, it is only one insurance against species extinction. In 2021 and 2022, fieldwork carried out by the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre following the bushfires aimed to collect seed from multiple locations of threatened flora to increase the genetic diversity of their banked seed. The next step was to plant seedlings into the KIRPG that reflected that increased genetic diversity with the aim of collecting the large amounts of seed needed for large-scale restoration projects on the Island. The KIRPG not only provides an additional insurance policy for the threatened plants species, but it becomes a living laboratory, where research into the propagation techniques for difficult to grow plants can be carried out and where knowledge of germination and growing techniques can be disseminated to community members.
The SASCC was established by the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide in 2002. For more than a decade the Centre has been helping to conserve South Australia's threatened plant species and support on ground restoration.
NCSSA advocates for nature conservation with a focus on protecting native species, habitats, and unique ecological communities – particularly those that are threatened.