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Getting Them Home Alive

Ken Warnes

Note: Ken wrote these notes on field collection of Eremophila species and how to "get them home alive" for members of the Eremophila Study Group. The methods outlined are not restricted to eremophilas and should be of interest to other collectors.

Perhaps if we remember the six P's, viz. Planning, Preparation, Picking, Preserving, Packaging and Postage.


This involves researching the location of target species and monitoring the seasonal conditions where they occur. It's wise to go in at least a half-decent season as the trip will be long and not cheap and you may have to change plans accordingly. You will be going to remote areas so good maps and supplies have to be arranged.

The appropriate permits must be obtained for access to Aboriginal Lands and for the collection of plant material. You'd be surprised just how much of Australia has restricted access and how early you have to apply to the respective Land Councils for even a Transit Permit. You should have several permits even to drive on the Great Central Road from Perth to Alice Springs. On top of this you need permits to collect plant material from government authorities such as CALM in Western Australia and Department of Biodiversity in South Australia. In the Northern Territory you will be expected to sign a 17 page document guaranteeing to share 50/50 with the government any commercial gains from your collecting and of course ALL permits require a written report after your trip (and they will follow up on that). Still want to go?


This is not the place to go into detailed lists of vehicles, safety precautions etc. Suffice to say prepare well, especially if you are going to remote areas. GPS and reliable outside communications are desirable and give an extra degree of safety.

Your collecting equipment should include a note book, good snips, a plant press, a supply of green vegetable preserving bags and ties, labels (plastic, adhesive tape, peel and stick), pens, newspaper, a misting bottle and priority-paid postage bags. If you are still into 35mm slides take a good supply of film - you won't buy it in the outback.


Ideally you will take a scientific attitude because it's amazing how much valuable work is carried out by amateurs and how our collections have added to scientific knowledge with new species and new locations. The first specimen should go into the plant press to become a permanent record with the accompanying data on the exact location (GPS or accurate ground directions), topography, soil, habit, dimensions, accompanying plant species if known etc. This is where the peel and stick labels are handy. If you number your collections these should tie in with your propagating collections as well.

A precaution: There are considerable numbers of hybrids in the field and it is only human nature to select something that looks different. If you do see and collect something that appears out of the ordinary try and work out what's been going on. If you suspect a hybrid, the likelihood is that "Mum" is there also, after all that's where the seed has come from, and "Dad" may be in the vicinity. In this case small accompanying specimens are included on the same page with appropriate notes of explanation. It is very frustrating to the professional botanists to be presented with these oddities without full explanations and at least three proposed Eremophila species now are probable hybrids. The current list of bush and garden hybrids is approaching 50 so be aware of the possibility.

Having pressed your specimens you turn your attention to selecting the best forms for propagation. Most species grow in populations of a few to very large numbers of plants and considerable variation exists within the stand. Individual ideas of the perfect plant vary, but you should select on health, habit, foliage and trueness as well as flower colour, size and density. The best growth may be on the poorer flowering plants and vice versa. Ideally you will collect from more than one plant as this increases the chance of successful propagation and cultivation of that species.

Firm young growth is better than lush tips and remember that flowers, while they might look pretty, don't travel well. We usually try to take pieces which will give two cuttings each about 80 mm long or one 80 mm cut plus a 20/30 mm scion for grafting. This gives a variety of material and increases our chances of success. This will obviously vary with the species and with the woolly and very viscid species young tips are not desirable. We have found that many of the broom-habit species such as E.dempsteri and E.interstans require a larger, branched cutting, (little trees one member says,) while another uses 50 mm tips for most species. So it varies and only experience can teach you.

Preserving and Packaging

During the day you'll probably collect oversize material that can be trimmed down in camp. On collection, place the cuts in green plastic bags (so much better than clear plastic) with just a few drops of water, label, seal and store in a cool place. Don't sit them on the dashboard or throw them on the back seat with the sun coming in - a few minutes of heat and they will be useless. It is imperative to keep good notes and devise a suitable means of identifying your collections as you go. I know from experience that it's easy to become confused after a long day in the field.

In camp you can tidy up your day's collections and prepare them for dispatch. Our premier collector, Russell Wait, uses the following method.

  • Tidy up the rough collected material by trimming to size, removing surplus foliage and flowers, especially old flowers which rot rapidly.
  • Enough material to provide 10-20 cuts or grafts is wrapped with adhesive tape on which he writes a collection number (alternatively a plastic label and rubber band could be used).
  • A single sheet of newspaper is lightly misted with water from your pump action bottle and the bundle rolled in a single turn of the paper.
  • Another bundle, another turn.
  • He rolls up to six species in a single sheet and then packs several rolls into a green bag. In this way many species can be dispatched at low cost and, believe me, one of Russell's bags can take hours to set and graft.

Ideally keep them in the fridge or ice-box but in either case keep them away from the freeze chamber. Ice is as deadly as sun.

And remember; record. Record, RECORD, either with comprehensive notes or a hand held tape recorder to be written up at a later time. If you don't have GPS then accurate descriptions of location are needed. Not just "approx 60 km from Meekathara on Wiluna road", but "59 km from Meekathara on Wiluna road on west side of road under mulga on low stony rise". If it's something of interest it will be much easier to find again.

So we've covered Picking (selection), Preserving (pressing and recording) and Packaging (packing and storing).


We've found that pre-paid. Priority Post-Packs are a good investment. Quick and reliable, it is a long way ahead of general post. Keep in mind that there may only be a weekly mail run. Find out when it s as it may be better to try and store them yourself until mail day. Otherwise explain to the despatcher what's in the parcel and ask them to keep an eye on them in the interim - most are quite happy to help.

On one occasion Russell collected with me on the Nullarbor on his way to Western Australia and was unable to take the cutting material into that state. So it went into the fridge at the Inspection Point and was collected on the way home three weeks later. Despite the time lapse of four weeks the material grew well. This proves that if specimens are correctly collected and treated, time is not a major factor in "getting them home alive".

On your return, hand in your pressings and write your reports. Do the right thing and you'll find it helps no end when next you apply for your permits.

From the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (South Australia), August 2006.

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Australian Plants online - 2006
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