A groundbreaking Kings Park field trip to remote reaches of Western Australia’s Kimberley has uncovered a treasure trove of new plant species that is expected to signal a new wave of botanical discoveries in the region.
Kings Park Scientists Matt and Russell Barrett discovered at least 10 new species and re-collected a Backhousia and Auranticarpa which had never before been seen in flower in an area near the Prince Regent River and the Mitchell Plateau in March.
New species discovered include Acacia, Hibbertia, a rheophyllous Melaleuca, Boronia, Triodia (Spinifex), Solanum (bush tomato) and Eucalyptus. These discoveries – made in just six days – highlight how little is known about this unique region which is of national and international significance. They are potentially very exciting discoveries as the horticultural and medicinal values of these new species are completely unknown.
Kings Park Science Director Dr Kingsley Dixon said the discoveries were likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.
“These finds help fill in the gaps about what we know of Kimberley flora and how it contributes to the unique biodiversity of the region. The Kimberley is the last great botanical frontier in Australia.
To date there are around 3000 known plant species in the Kimberley, an increase from 1500 when Kings Park scientists started exploring the area in the 1980’s, but there are possibly hundreds more plant species yet to be discovered.
It is amazing to think, in the Kimberley we can collect one new plant species a day; there are not many places in the world where this is still possible.
As new discoveries like these occur, the threats that undermine the Kimberley region are increasing, so if we don’t move quickly we may never know what we end up losing," he said.
Kings Park is committed to the conservation of Western Australia's rich biodiversity and are doing what they can to add to the Kimberley flora knowledge. Kings Park will now work to identify, record, propagate and further research the newly found species.
Matt and Russell Barrett are brothers who grew up on a station in the Kimberley and now work together, flying into remote and sometimes treacherous terrain to find and describe new plant species.
The brothers have been researching plant species in the Kimberley for the past 15 years, adding more to the knowledge about flora in the region than any other botanists in recent history. Dr Matt Barrett said there was a good reason why these species have remained a secret for so long.
“It’s remote, which means we have to fly in by helicopter and trek through rough terrain in sometimes extreme weather conditions, all the while trying to stay out of the way of the large numbers of crocodiles and deadly snakes that call the area home,” he said.
He went on to add that some of the species are quite shy, only coming into flower for a short period of time each year, so if you don’t come at exactly the right time you will miss seeing it altogether.
"We finally managed to get fresh flowers on two rare species which we’ve been going back to for almost 10 years. One of them, Auranticarpa, similar to Pittosporum, was collected by Allan Cunningham on the King expedition in 1821, then not seen for 180 years until we re-found it in 2001.
We’ve been searching for flowers on it ever since – even the original collection was only in fruit. It’s closely related to Pittosporum, so the flowers have a really sweet scent – definitely worth the long chase,” Dr Matt Barrett concluded.