There were no guarantees that seed collector Gavin Phillips would find the Mongamulla Mallee (Eucalyptus deuaensis) when he set out early from Braidwood in the Australian Botanic Garden four wheel drive collecting vehicle, armed with a GPS navigation system and plenty of food and water. Gavin spoke about the planned seed collection with caution in the days leading up to the field trip, watching the weather closely, studying topographic maps and gathering together all of the records of previous sightings, most of which are older than he is.
After three hours driving on steep and sometimes slippery terrain through the Deua National Park, the GPS indicated that the rocky outcrops where the Mongamulla Mallee was last seen, were just a bushwalk away. Gavin set his coordinates and trekked the last few kilometres with nervous anticipation and all senses set to search mode, looking for the small, scraggly mallee with its distinctive spaceship-shaped gumnuts.
It was only when the dense scrub finally opened up to a dramatic bush valley view that he spotted the first tree clinging to the cliff edge, nestled between rocks and exposed to the elements. Immediately, other Mongamulla Mallee trees became visible along the edge of the outcrop, meaning that Gavin could collect from around 30 individuals. Gavin paused for a moment to take in the view and touch the tree that he had so hoped to find, he was struck by just how isolated and wild the location was and how lucky he was to be there documenting its existence more than 30 years after the last botanist from the Royal Botanic Garden had visited. A call to his boss Peter Cuneo back at Mount Annan at the Australian PlantBank was the next priority, surprisingly with full mobile reception he shared the good news and described the beautiful scenery. Now, to collect the precious seeds.
Local media in Batemans Bay, Moruya and Braidwood were excited to share the story of Eucalyptus Deuaensis with their readers. The Deua National Park is special to all who live in the area and its rugged landscape and inaccessibility means it remains a safe haven to many plants and animals. There is estimated to be a few hundred Mongamulla Mallee trees growing in the Park and as far as anyone knows this is the only place in the world where they live.
The Mongamulla Mallee, Eucalyptus deuaensis, was one of many target species on this season’s seed collecting list and the 10,000 seeds collected by Gavin will be stored at the Australian PlantBank, Australian Botanic Garden (Mount Annan) and at the Royal Botanic Garden Kew as part of the Global Trees Project. This field trip was kindly sponsored by Hermes who were proud to support the conservation of a very special Australian tree.