Australian Plants Awards 2019
Every two years two medals are given in association with the ANPSA Biennial Conference, one in the professional and one in the amateur category. “Amateur” is not intended to signify less valued or amateurish. On the contrary, the recipients invariably are people who have unstintingly given their time and made significant contribution in the area of their interest and expertise.
At the 2019 ANPSA Conference in Albany, Western Australia, Australian Plants Awards were conferred upon Professor Kingsley Dixon (Professional award) and Glenn Leiper (Amateur award). The citations accompanying the awards are reproduced below.
Professor Kingsley Dixon
A botanical professor at Curtin University’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, Professor Dixon has been the Foundation Director of Science at Kings Park Botanic Garden for 32 years. His support of students and practical teaching methods have encouraged many to pursue higher-degree research in his laboratory, while his innovative programs have received $24 million of research funding from 44 industry partners in the past decade. His work has established WA as an international hub in mining environmental science. “It’s hugely complex – some sites involve 800 species – but nothing is more exhilarating,” he said.
Professor Dixon’s discovery of the chemical in smoke that stimulates germination in many Australian plants has had widespread application, valued at $100 million per annum in terms of potential benefits to agriculture, restoration and horticulture. His team named the smoke molecules karrikinolides, from the word ‘karrik’ meaning smoke in the local Noongar language.
Professor Dixon also helped devise a method of seed treatment called flame ablation, which exposes seeds to a micro-second bursts of thermally controlled flame to clean the seed surfaces, making it easier to coat the seed with a mix of karrikinolides, soil microbiome and other compounds to improve germination when mass planting. “I got the idea watching the advert for burgers being flame-grilled,” he said. “It took a few years to find the right gifted engineering student to make it happen.”
His collaborative work in orchid biology and ecology includes research on the hormones employed by orchids that mimic female wasps to attract males in order to pollinate the plant. But he said the bulk of his work had been exploring the complex ecological links between orchids and micorrhizal fungi in the soil. “By reintroducing fungi to the soil [lost due to human disturbance] it has allowed seed to germinate in the wild. We are now seeing plants go through to their second year, which is a world first.”
As well as receiving the Linnean Medal for Botany (2013) and being admitted as a Fellow of the Linnean Society, he was named WA Scientist of the Year at the 2016 Premier’s Science Awards, and in 2017 received the title of John Curtin Distinguished Professor – the highest honour bequeathed by the university for its academic staff. Other awards include: three Golden Gecko awards for Environmental Excellence, the Chancellor’s Medal at UWA, and Award of Honour of the Australian Orchid Foundation.
Glenn Leiper is a retired educator who now devotes his time to recording and preserving the indigenous plants of south-east Queensland.
“I retired to try to achieve some of my botanical goals; my love is getting out into wild areas, especially around Queensland, and trying to see plants in their natural habitat,” he says.
This involves a lot of voluntary work, often with the Queensland Herbarium: “I go out with botanists as a volunteer and photograph plants to get them on file at the herbarium. We’re trying to increase our knowledge of plant distribution in the region, and at the same time often trying to find long-disappeared plants from the field.” His shared successes include rediscovering the rainforest myrtle tree Gossia gonoclada, which was thought to have become extinct in the 1880s; finding a new population of native violet (Viola hederacea), and spotting a 15cm-high Androcalva leiperi – named in his honour – from a car window while driving past.
“It’s always in partnership with other people,” he says. “I get taken along because I’ve got good eyes!”
He follows up his ‘spotting’ with action, advocating for Murrays Reserve to be bought by Logan City Council in the 1990s after Gossia gonoclada was discovered there, and acting as conservation officer for Native Plants Queensland (NPQ). He dedicates much time and effort to collecting seed of local plants for the Logan City Council revegetation programs, and propagating plants for sale by the Logan River Branch of NPQ, of which he is a member.
Glenn’s own interest in native plants started as a primary-school teacher, when trying to green up the bare land around Eagleby South State School, where he was teaching at in the 1970s and ’80s. “We started a bush tucker garden and published our own book of bush tucker and it just took off.”
He later ran the Jacobs Well Environmental Education Centre for the Queensland Education Department for nearly 25 years, first as teacher-in-charge and then for about 10 years as the teaching-principal.
“There was never a dull moment there, with visiting students from all ages and all areas of south-eastern Queensland, with canoes, boats and a 12 metre catamaran. We had the islands of southern Moreton Bay and all the forests and mangroves of the area at our disposal for exploration and study by the students.”
While learning the names of the new plants he was being introduced to, he started taking photos, then, with three others from the Logan River Branch of NPQ, set about compiling a basic field guide. Many reprints and two editions later of Mangroves to Mountains, the team has more than doubled the number of plants described to about 2,500, and are still selling about 15 copies a week. Their book is described by many as the ‘plant bible’ for south-eastern Queensland.
Glenn was featured in an episode of the ABC’s ‘Gardening Australia’ when Jerry Coleby-Williams visited Glenn’s suburban backyard that is growing some of Queensland’s rare and threatened plant species.