It is important for us to assess the value and significance of endangered species such as these, not only for their own intrinsic value, but also in terms of the international commitment we have towards conserving the world flora. There is a sense of urgency, then, in terms of conservation, but there is also commercial urgency because we only have to look at countries such as South Africa, Israel and California, where quite significant cut-flower industries have developed in recent years involving Australian plants. Banksia, Chamaelaucium and Anigozanthos are being grown in field conditions as crops and are yielding quite significant profit to those individuals who have had the foresight and the vision to develop these plants for use in the cut-flower trade in Western Europe, Japan and similar markets in North America. We have done a considerable amount of work in Australia, particularly in Western Australia, but there is a need for a more collective co-ordinated approach to be made to projects relating to the use of Australian native flora for cut-flowers. The President of the Australian Nurserymen’s Association has stated that in 1977-78 the total net plant sales in Australia was worth $110 million, and that for 1980-81 a conservative estimate is $200 million. These figures relate to the total nursery trade, not simply cut-flowers.
We have left the ephemeral annual species of the Australlan flora, which appear after the rains, virtually unexamined and it is more than certain there are very useful annual ornamental plants which could be grown from this very rich source. One has only to think of the way in which certain South African and certain western North American annuals are grown in gardens all over the world. But if we introduce such Australian annuals into commerce, it must not be at the expense of wild populations; field-crop bulking of seed in cultivation will have to take place to provide a commercial source of seed.
What other sorts of research projects can be considered by the Foundation? One important aspect of the improvement of native plants is that once a cultivar has been perfected, there are presently no trial grounds in which these cultivars can be grown-on to see how they ‘do’, and of course the size of Australia makes it necessary for trial grounds to exist in various different States, and also ideally, for the trial grounds to be duplicated in different climatic areas within the States. Setting up such trial grounds could be one of the sorts of projects with which the Foundation involves itself.
There are a number of native plants which are difficult to propagate using normal methods, and with the advance of techniques such as tissue culture, it is more possible for us to devise methods of vegetative propagation of these difficult plants in a way which was not open to our forebears.
Another aspect of the cultivation of native plants relates to their germination. We know very little about the percentage germination of seed of particular species under various temperature and water regimes. We know even less about seedling morphology, how the seedling develops, and how the ways in which it develops may assist our applied use of that particular species. We know very little about how long it takes a seedling to become established from germination.
Nor do we know a great deal about the cultivation and ecological requirements of Australian native species from subtropical and tropical areas of the country, in New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory. We do not know how these sorts of plants might be acclimatised in more temperate parts of the country, in Victoria, in South Australia and parts of Western Australia. It is very necessary, then, for these plants to be introduced and acclimatisation trials carried out to see how they ‘do’ in a park or street setting; we are over dependent on the use of exotic plants as street trees and park trees in urban areas. We could use broadleaf native plants for situations in which we presently choose exotic plants.
Another type of research that could perhaps be examined relates to brush-fencing. Brush-fencing is a common type of fencing in South Australia. and very often admired by people from interstate. But would it not be appropriate, some might ask, to actually crop the Melaleuca uncinata from which brush is collected in the wild? Would it not be appropriate to crop this plant in coppice fashion so that a renewable source of brush for brush-fencing could be generated on a commercial basis? One thinks also of the work done on the use of eucalypts as dye plants for dyeing wools, some very fine work having been done by the dyers and spinners associations. It might well be worthwhile for the larger dyeing firms to look at this renewable organic source of dye from leaves and for reintroducing the use of vegetable dyes with their subtle tints, moving away from the oil-based aniline dyes of the trade.