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Rediscovery of Grevillea batrachioides
Grevillea batrachioides was officially named with brief description in 1986 in "New Names in Grevillea", a paper published and circulated privately by D.J.McGillivray. The description of this new species was based on two specimens, the principal one, ultimately designated the holotype, being an undated collection by James Drummond without definite locality. This specimen, held in the Melbourne herbarium (MEL 63639) bears a blue label on which is printed at the top the words BOTANICAL MUSEUM OF MELBOURNE and at the bottom, FERD, MUELLER, PH. & M.D. In the middle, in Mueller's handwriting the words "Grevillea batrachioides Ferd V Muell ined G. asparagoidi viv valde cognata W.A. J. Dr." are penned. (Trans: Grevillea batrachioides F. v. M. unpublished, closely related to G. asparagoides, W.A. James Drummond).
The second specimen is only a vegetative fragment (possibly part of the type collection) and is mounted on a sheet containing two other species and all labelled, incorrectly, G.asparagoides by Mueller. Although Mueller, then Victorian Government Botanist, failed to publish a description of G.batrachioides, the name he chose was taken up by the ultimate author.
The relationship of G.batrachioides McGillivray to G.asparagoides Meisn, is indeed very close and consideration was given by Don McGillivray to incorporating the new species, along with G. maxwelli McGillivray, into one larger species (DJ. McGillivray pers. comm.). However, the decision to create three separate taxa was taken and the two new names were duly published in 1986.
Grevillea batrachioides photographed north of Mt Lesueur on 7 October 1991. Select the thumbnail image or plant name for a higher resolution image (47k)
Grevillea batrachioides was presumed extinct since no new collections appeared among the specimens during the revision of the genus, which included most collections up to 1985 (i.e. since Drummond's collection between 1839 and 1852). Presumably, clearing for agriculture, like so many species before it, had determined its fate. However, I am pleased to report that I managed to relocate the species on 7 October 1991, north of Mt Lesueur. This report details the rediscovery and reports on its current status.
Although the prognosis for G.batrachioides was not good, I have always remained optimistic. Initially, I searched the known populations of G.asparagoides from Wongan Hills to Wubin and west to Perenjori. This search, which took several days, revealed considerable variation in the population of G.asparagoides and in one area, west of Perenjori, I became confused by a population whose flowers bore very long pedicels (up to 14mm), which on this character placed the taxon in G.batrachioides. My initial elation fell to frustration, when the character proved unstable and variable. At this point, I began to wonder whether G.batrachioides ever really existed as an independent taxon. Perhaps the type collection had come from a single aberrant plant.
My next stop was at the Western Australian Herbarium. With the kind permission of Dr Neville Marchant, I examined all folders of closely related species, in the hope that a recent collection might give more information. No joy here.
|"Suddenly, I came upon a specimen which really popped my eyes, ....."|
Following this, I discovered two piles which stretched from floor to ceiling of unidentified Grevillea species. I began the process of identification, referring each specimen to known taxa. Suddenly, I came upon a specimen which really popped my eyes, for I recognized it immediately as Grevillea batrachioides, having seen the type while it was at Sydney in 1985. The collection, by Ted Griffen, a botanist consultant, had been made in October 1982 during a vegetation survey of the Mt Lesueur area, and had lain in the herbarium unidentified ever since. The fact that Drummond had travelled through this area during a trip to the Murchison River between mid-1850 and the end of 1851 further confirmed the collection.
By chance, Ted happened to be in the herbarium that day and kindly provided good habitat and locality data which reduced the search to a two kilometre area. Encouraged by this, I set off in company with another Grevillea lover, John Cullen, and Rare Flora botanist, Sue Patrick, superbly confident that this would be a breeze to find.
We arrived at the locality in the morning and began our search. By evening, having walked up hill and down dale, bush-bashing, battling heat, ticks and general unfitness, we had to admit defeat. The species was definitely not here anymore, probably wiped out by fires some years before, we reasoned. Sue went home. John and I set up camp. Next morning, we set off in completely different search zones as we had done the day before. Before long, the "low heath" was over my head and I was experiencing difficulty penetrating the scrub and, at the same time doing any productive search.
Basically, I suppose I had given up all hope at that point and was moving upwards only in response to a desire to reach a large, bare rock which dominated the surrounding landscape. Providentially it would seem, for I could see no reason to continue as I made for my final goal, I stepped onto a large open sandstone platform, which had been concealed by the surrounding vegetation.
From here I looked down and surveyed the surrounding country which stretched before me in a panorama, wondering just where Drummond had ridden that fateful day 140 years ago. Perhaps, he had come this high up to get his bearings. I turned and looked uphill and there waving its beautiful red flowers, not fifty metres away, was a solitary plant of Grevillea batrachioides.
The sight and beauty of that plant overwhelmed me. I whistled and cooeed to John who was well out of sight and hearing by this stage, hoping that the wind would carry my voice. There was no reply but he soon appeared like a rabbit out of a hat, unseen and unheard until he was almost behind me. For some time, we both stood in awe, savouring the moment rather like two connoisseurs sharing a bottle of great wine. Eventually, having drunk in its beauty, we began the more prosaic duty of photography and record-keeping. Cuttings were taken for despatch to Mt Annan Botanic Garden and Kings Park (Note: licence held). A search was conducted for more plants among the adjacent dense shrubland, which produced a further nine, including one young plant, a few plants up to 1.5m tall, the rest at varying stages in between.
Notwithstanding this recent discovery, the continued existence of this species is clearly tenuous. Although it apparently reproduces entirely from seed, population number is so low that a bad fire could wipe it out. Further searches may reveal more plants but, for the moment, this must be considered doubtful.
An appropriate rating would be 1E on the Briggs and Leigh scale of Rare or Threatened Plants, which is certainly a lot better than 1X. (Editors note: Now coded as 2ECt which indicates an endangered species with a range of less than 100km and whose total known population occurs within a conservation area).
- McGillivray D.J (1986); New Names in Grevillea (private communication).
- Willis J.H (1960); Summary of W.A.Journeys by J. Drummond - Unpublished Manuscript, copy at NSW Herbarium Library.
- The "Briggs and Leigh" scale of Rare and Threatened Plants is used as a measure of the degree of threat faced by Australian plant species. An explanation will be published in the next issue of Australian Plants online. As far as this article is concerned, Category "1" refers to plants recorded only from a very restricted area, Category "X" refers to plants believed to be extinct in the wild and Category "E" refers to endangered plants at serious risk of becomming extinct.
- Mt Annan Botanic Garden reports one successful cutting has struck which looks rather sick. Des Boorman, Gatton College, reports four successful grafts on Grevillea robusta all about 30cm high, growing and flowering vigorously.
Peter Olde has been the director of a small business since 1971 but has devoted much of his spare time persuing his interest in the Australian flora. He is a former President of the New South Wales Region of SGAP and is leader of SGAP's Grevillea Study Group. He is co-author (with Neil Marriott) of the three-volume "Grevillea Book" and has publshed a number of papers on Grevillea taxonomy. This article is reproduced from the February 1992 issue of the newsletter of the Grevillea Study Group
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Australian Plants online - September 1996
The Society for Growing Australian Plants