With inputs from Angela S., hobby botanist, database lead and volunteer at the Wetlands Centre.
The thriving native plant life is what makes our wetlands places of immense beauty and wonder. Their roots nourish the land and help with nutrient recycling and removal of toxins. Their lush cover provides shelter and habitat for our wildlife.
They add so much character to the wetlands, reflecting seasonal changes like wetland moods – flowering, and shedding. These plants have evolved to adapt to the cyclical nature of wetlands so well, coping in ever-varying conditions of dryness, wetness, salinity or freshness. And if you observe the wetlands you will catch their different tones.
It is incredible to imagine that these plants start their life as tiny seedlings that then grow into sturdy saplings and mature plants. We, at The Wetlands Centre, do our bit in helping our native plants flourish – by ascertaining the best times to collect seeds and factors for maintaining genetic diversity, collecting seeds, storing and cataloguing seeds, propagating seeds, potting on seedlings, and then planting and rehabilitating the bushland and wetland with native plants.
We work hand-in-hand with our team of volunteers, community members, and our primary sponsors – The City of Cockburn, who are keen supporters of our work. Our established wet and dry Seed Propagation Areas or SPAs and our fully equipped “Norm’s Nursery” is where the magic happens. We’ve been maintaining detailed records of all our efforts in a comprehensive database that is proving to be very helpful in our endeavours. All the collected data can be analysed for some fascinating trends and interesting insights.
In this blog post, we offer you a tour of our SPAs and nursery, as well as our seed store and database. While we’re expanding our knowledgebase, we are eager to learn and incorporate from your experience. We hope you’ll be able to join us in our effort to preserve, conserve and rehabilitate our precious wetlands.
Collecting and Storing Seeds
It takes special knowhow to collect seeds from native plants. Some seeds are incredibly toxic, like the bright red seeds from the Zamia, and collecting them can be tricky. A whole bucket of Banksia seedpods may produce just 10 seeds (or fewer) while, Juncus and Lobelia are more prolific and only one teaspoon worth of seeds may produce over 20,000 plants!
Norm Godfrey, a wetland visionary, was a pioneer in this science. We, till date, use the list that he compiled of what seeds are best collected when. For this and for his enormous love for the wetlands we have named our water-wise garden – “Norm’s Garden” and our nursery – “Norm’s Nursery”, in his loving memory.
We collect seeds from the bushland and wetland, and we involve volunteers in all tasks, including seed collection. The collected seeds are then catalogued and stored. They are sorted by the year of their collection when they are stored. We have seeds going back to the years 2002/2003 in our seed store!
The SPAs and Norm’s Nursery
The centre has one wet and one dry seed propagation area (or SPA). It is here that the seeds are propagated and transplanted. We use a handy (unofficial) zone guide to determine and pick the zones.
Norm’s nursery is a little haven for our native plants. There are 139 native plants that are officially confirmed as local to our area (there may be more that are not confirmed yet) and we grow all of these. We currently have a maximum holding capacity of up to 22,000 plants!
The City of Cockburn is our primary sponsor and most generous supporter. We grow native plants for them that they then use to rehabilitate predetermined areas. Over and above this we also use the plants to rehabilitate areas within our precinct, such as Horse Paddock Swamp. We often announce our planting day events in advance and are joined by many involved and enthusiastic members of the community.
Our Comprehensive Database
Our comprehensive database is the cornerstone of our management efforts. We use the database to maintain records of all our seed collection, propagation, germination, transplanting and planting activities.
We can use the database to extract specific insights – about the timelines for the various phases of seed propagation and if these coincided with any major weather events, about the yield for each batch and if there were factors contributing to an especially high/low yield, about the best methods and techniques for growing native plants, and about the amount of seed that will give us acceptable returns in terms of plant maturation.
The database is also helping us make our operations more economical. For example, we now understand the quantity of seeds that we need to sow for the output we require, and we are not over-sowing or over-producing. We are also gathering information on seed viability and the various factors that affect plant health. For example, we were able to keep records of how much sodium bicarbonate we added per watering can and eventually worked out the best amount to bring liverwort and other mosses under control in the nursery.
We are assimilating this information, gathering context and improving our processes continuously. This makes management a little more scientific, precise and predictable.
Planting and Propagation Events
In our 26 years of landcare, education and conservation work, we have built a considerable knowledgebase. We are learning more and more about the behaviours of our native plants and the best ways of supporting them.
We are interested in sharing all the knowledge we have collected and we welcome groups and individuals to contribute, assist and partake. There is so much to learn and do together!
If you’re interested in what we do and want to help us in our efforts, come join us as a vollie. We will be delighted to have you. Optionally, you can join us for general landcare work on Thursdays and Fridays.
No formal qualification or working knowledge of plants is required to volunteer. Just an open mind and a willingness to learn and embrace new stuff. There are a range of diverse and interesting activities to indulge in. And our friendly team of staff and vollies will make it up to you with laughter, fun, a warm cuppa and lots of bikkies.
We encourage you to visit us or have a chat with us at The Wetlands Centre Cockburn – about how you can participate and help your local wetlands!