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First Cuttings

..odds and ends from the world of Australian plants....

Ownership of Plants

Plant Breeders' Rights (PBR) is the process whereby plant breeders can apply to patent plants that they produce and, if successful, it entitles them to legal ownership of the plants. The PBR process also allows the patent holder to seek damages from anyone who violates the patent.

Now I don't have any problem with PBR as a principle. A lot of expense goes into breeding new plants whether they are new strains of agricultural crops or new cultivars for ornamental growing and it seems only fair that a legitimate breeder can recover that expense and produce some kind of profit. But there are some "grey areas".

One area of uncertainty relating to Australian native plants is the patentability of "found" plants; ie. forms of natural species found growing in the wild and, because of their commercial potential, propagated for distribution. This has been going on for years and many of the plants now available in nurseries and found growing in gardens have resulted from exactly this process. The introduction of PBR, however, "muddies the waters" considerably.

In the case of a found plant there is no plant breeding involved. The discovery of such a plant is a chance event and subsequent distribution only involves propagating commercial quantities. Should PBR status be granted to such plants? A number of people (the editor included) find it offensive that anyone could be granted ownership of a naturally occurring plant. After all, any number of people could discover and propagate the same plant or similar plant and violate the PBR unwittingly.

I doubt if the PBR process was intended to cover this scenario but it would be nice to know the situation regarding the patentability of "found" plants. Several enquiries to the PBR office have not achieved any clarification of the issue.

By the way, basic details of plants (native and exotic) which have been granted PBR status can be viewed at the site maintained by the Department of Primary Industries.

Our First Authors!

Those who have been with us for a few issue probably realise that the bulk of the material published comes from other publications of the Society - newsletters, journals, conference papers, etc. As those other publications have a relatively small audience, it does no harm to re-publish the better material on line. However, its always been an aim for APOL to generate material in its own right - the experiences of readers in growing, propagating or just talking about Australian plants. I'm pleased to be able to report that this issue sees the first contributions which haven't been published elsewhere.

April Daly is an American who resides in Chicago. April has a passion for bonsai and she has been using a large number of Australian plants in her work. Her article describes how to go about choosing and establishing bonsai specimens and will inspire many readers to "have a go". It might even inspire this editor....although I could claim that I've been "bonsai-ing" plants for years by being too lazy to pot up my container specimens!

Alison Payne is a member of SGAP and calls Melbourne her home. Alison volunteered to review a piece of landscaping software that she was using to help re-design her own garden. Well, the review quickly turned into a feature article and should help anyone contemplating electronic assistance with their landscaping.

It's to be hoped that others might follow the lead of these contributors and, in fact, there will be at least two more articles prepared specifically for APOL in the next issue. As a non-profit organisation we aren't in the position to pay for contributions but I hope that won't stop you! If you have an idea for a feature article or a short item please send me an email.

Crazy Horse Cartoon

Cultivar Watch

New cultivars of Australian plants appear at regular intervals, some aimed at the commercial cut flower grower and others at ornamental horticulture. Some will become firmly established in gardens and others will disappear without trace....

Here are a few which have appeared recently. Keep a look out for them at your favourite nursery:

Cultivar NameDescription
Anigozanthos "Bush Pearl"A colourful small Kangaroo Paw with pink flowers on 40-60cm stems. Foliage is a grassy clump reaching about 30cm.
Brachyscome "Sunblush"A small, herbaceous plant growing to 15 cm x up to a metre spread. Large pink daisy flowers on long stems above the foliage.
Leptospermum "Pretty Polly" A selection of L.polygalifolium which grows to a rounded shrub 1 metre high. Masses of white flowers in spring. The flowering habit seems similar to the popular L."Cardwell".
Leptospermum "Rhiannon" A shrub to 1.5 metres with very large mauve/pink "tea tree" flowers. Some similarities to L.spectabile, which is included in its parentage.
Melaleuca hypericifolia "Little Gem"A compact form of this popular shrub. Grows to about 50cm x 60cm with red "bottlebrush" flowers.
Pandorea "Southern Belle"Climbing plant which produces large pale pink flowers with a dark pink throat. Appears to be a form of P.jasminoides.
Syzygium australe "Bush Christmas"A dwarf "Lilly Pilly" with a compact habit to 2-3 metres. Colourful new growth with white flowers and red, edible berries.
Wahlenbergia "Bonnie Blue"A grass-like mass of foliage with colourful blue bell flowers for a long period. Grows to about 10cm high by half a metre spread.
Westringia "Elizabeth Bough"A compact plant to 80cm tall with mauve flowers. It appears to be similar to the popular Westringia "Wynyabbie Gem", but lower growing.
Westringia "Starry Night"A little bigger than the previous Westringia (to 1 metre) with greyish foliage, a rounded shape and white flowers.

Felines - An Unjustifiable Menace??

Recently there was quite a vigorous debate in the pages of the newsletter of the New South Wales Region of the Society on cats and their effect on urban wildlife. Nothing was resolved, of course....some wanted the complete enclosure of domestic cats while others were of the opinion that better controls on the activities of cats was the way to go. Already some local Councils have instigated dusk to dawn curfews on cats and the issue is likely to become more prominent in the future.

An enforced curfew would at least go some way to protecting nocturnal wildlife but birds, which are active in daylight, would not benefit. Many people put bells on the collars of their cats in an attempt to warn birds that danger is present but cats are resourceful animals and, in my experience, bells are next to useless.

What do readers think about this? Are night time curfews effective? Are there ways (short of full time enclosure of cats) of protecting birds and other animals active in daytime? Is this sort of problem experienced overseas and, if so, is it an environmental issue there? Note that I'm referring to domestic, not feral, cats. The latter are a separate issue which will probably not be resolved without some disease being introduced into the feral population.

Media Watch

These are a few items from various sources. Please send any similar items that you think could be of interest to other readers.

Screaming PlantsThe Conservation Gazette of April/May 1997 reported on an invention by British scientists which listens to the screams of plants when they are placed under stress. The machine apparently measures ethylene gas which is emitted by plants when they are exposed to salt, ozone or cold.
Wildflower ResearchThe Campus Review (Feb 12-18 1997) reports on plant breeding being undertaken at the Centre for Australian Plants in Western Australia, a consortium of government departments and industry. Examples include inter-specific and inter-generic hybridizing with the Chamelaucium group of plants (Geraldton Wax and its relatives) and hybridization of Boronia heterophylla with other Boronia species. The latter aims at producing cultivars with a range of colours.
Strong Export DemandThe Northern Farmer (Summer 1996-97) reported on the strong demand for Australian plants as cut flowers in Japan and the USA. A grower on the north coast of New South Wales indicated that Kangaroo Paws provide the "bread and butter" returns but that other varieties including "Riceflower" (Ozothamnus diosmifolius) and NSW Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) have a big future. Riceflower returns about $1.50 per stem for first class material. The article, however, continues the misleading trend of inferring that South African plants (Leucospermum and Leucadendron) are Australian natives.
Australian Turf GrassGreenworld (April 1997) introduces Dryarna, the first Australian native grass available as turf. It is claimed to be a low-maintenance, general purpose grass which may only need mowing five times a year or less. The grass is drought resistant but not suited to shady areas.

Until next time...good growing.

Brian Walters

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Australian Plants online - June 1997
The Society for Growing Australian Plants