Grampians Pincushion Lily (Borya mirabilis)
This lovely lily is close to extinction
Australia has many delicate and beautiful native lilies over 260 species are known. Of these, Pincushion Lilies are amongst the rarest. Of the approximately ten species of Pincushion Lilies – the majority of which occur only in the southwest of Western Australia – just one species grows in southeastern Australia the Grampians Pincushion Lily.
The Grampians Pincushion Lily produces clumps of brown, branched stems up to 15cm tall, with tufts of spiky leaves, each about 1.5cm long. During springtime, the plant produces attractive round heads of star-shaped white flowers on a stem at the ends of the branches.
Pincushion Lilies are examples of a very interesting group of plants that botanists call "resurrection plants". Resurrection plants appear to die completely during dry periods but, in fact, only enter a dormant stage. They regenerate from buds once they receive sufficient moisture again however, they can only regenerate if the period of drought has not been excessively long. Whilst this adaptation allows resurrection plants to tolerate very harsh, dry conditions, it also means they are poor competitors against other species.
The Grampians Pincushion Lily has an extremely restricted distribution. It is one of Victoria's most endangered plants, and its only known location is a single rock outcrop within the Grampians National Park. The whole population covers an area of just 60m by 20m, or a little over one-tenth of a hectare! The number of plants in the population is not known because the plants clump together and are connected by underground rhizomes, making it very difficult to count individual plants.
The combination of very restricted distribution, small population size and extremely low genetic diversity for healthy ongoing reproduction are the main reasons why this small but beautiful lily has been listed as a nationally endangered species. The lily's inability to produce viable seeds, and their poor health after recent prolonged droughts, may prevent the Grampians Pincushion Lily from breeding in the wild at all, with the result that no new seedlings are establishing to replace the older plants.
The very restricted distribution also means that the species is in grave danger of extinction should any serious disturbance occur to the site. Fortunately, the Grampians Pincushion Lily exists entirely within the Grampians National Park, where it should be safe from land clearing and human interference. The exact location of the population is kept confidential to further minimise any destructive human activities such as flower collecting. Unfortunately, the habitat of the Grampians Pincushion Lily remains threatened by other processes, notably soil erosion, digging by native and feral animals, potential wildfire and loss of native canopy cover. Erosion and loss of cover is exposing the species to more severe droughts and reducing its ability to recover and grow adequately.
A recovery program for restoring the existing habitat and encouraging revegetation is underway.
Habitat restoration measures include:
- eradicating feral animals from the local area to minimise soil disturbance;
- controlling erosion and excessive drying out of the soil by translocating appropriate mulch, understorey plants and soil to the habitat; and
- preparing fire control guidelines.
Revegetation measures include:
- monitoring the existing population for health and viability;
- selecting representative genetic lines for propagation;
- developing techniques to propagate the species in glasshouses and gardens; (it already has been successfully propagated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne);
- augmenting the existing population; and
- searching for suitable other habitats in which to transplant plants and establish new, viable populations.
You can help in the following ways and remember, these tips apply to the whole environment and not just the Grampians Pincushion Lily's habitat:
- practice "environmentally safe" bushwalking do not disturb the soil or trample the native vegetation excessively;
- be careful about starting fires in the wild and when camping, make sure all fires are safely managed and properly doused; and
- support the control of feral animals and plants in National Parks.
To find out more about saving your state's threatened species check out the Threatened Species Network web site at http://www.wwf.org.au/tsn/ or call the Network's National Office on (02) 9281 5515.
You can also find out more information about Australia's threatened species by calling the Department of the Environment and Heritage's Community Information Unit on free call 1800 803 772