2 June 2023

Prehistoric survivors find a safe new home at Wollongong Botanic Garden

| Jen White
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Two men in front of garden at Wollongong Botanic Garden

Botanic Garden curator James Beattie with Colin Wilson at the new cycad collection display. Photos: Jen White.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth much of the plant life around them were cycads.

They were tough, hardy plants, some poisonous and they managed to hang around much longer than the dinosaurs.

Today, however, many of the species are endangered largely due to habitat clearing, the illegal plant trade and over-collection for food or medicines.

Wollongong Botanic Garden is helping to maintain the survival of the prehistoric species, thanks in part to a large collection donated by the late Ian and Norma Edwards. A new collection of cycads featuring many of the Edwards’ plants has just been unveiled.

The remainder of the 34 cycads were replanted from elsewhere in the Garden, and five were donated by Stan Walkley from the Sunshine Coast.

Ian was a doctor and passionate plant collector and served as director of the International Palm Society for four years.

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According to longtime family friend Colin Wilson, who was bequeathed the collection to ensure it was relocated and donated, Norma was the green thumb in the family.

“Norma said to me, ‘I know you’ll be able to save the garden’. So when she died her family rang me and said well, you better come and get it,” Colin said.

“Some of these plants are 50 years old and endangered. This is now a conservation project and it’s very, very important for that to happen.”

It was no easy task to relocate the collection from their home in Burraneer, in the Sutherland Shire, to Wollongong Botanic Garden. The move involved extracting each plant by machine and transporting them on large trucks to the Garden where they have been carefully nurtured and cared for while a garden was prepared.

The Garden’s Living Collections Curator James Beattie said the relocation was a real team effort, with help from the Edwards family, Colin and the Friends of Wollongong Botanic Garden, among others.


Some of the cycads in the new collection.

James said cycads had been in the Botanic Garden for many years but there hadn’t been a perfect spot to display the more sun-loving specimens, so work had been carried out to improve and lift the garden beds, soil and improve drainage for the sun-loving plants of the species. Others will be planted under the canopy of forest trees.

“This ancient plant group was around in their heyday 150 million years ago and the collection tells a story of incredible survival through the era,” James said.

“They do have various conservation ratings and we’ve got right through to critically endangered species on display here so it’s a very important collection we can share with the public and educate them about these wonderful plants.”

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The collection includes five critically endangered and eight endangered plants, some native to Taiwan, Kenya, Tanzania and the Philippines.

It will help to support conservation efforts through education and seed sharing via botanic gardens networks around the world.

The cycads are located on the northern side of the Garden, near the Joseph Banks Glasshouse.

The Wollongong Botanic Garden, set on 27 hectares at the foot of Mount Keira, is open daily from 7 am to 5 pm.

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