Photo - Robin Powell
Robin talks to Richard about discovering new plants and propagating them to bring them market.
One of the plants you have brought into commercial production is Stumpy Gold, a low-growing banksia which flowers in autumn. Tell us how you came to find it?
It was totally a chance find. I was in Catherine Hill Bay on the mid-north coast of NSW, waiting for a meeting about plants and just went into the bush
for a bit of a walk. I immediately saw these yellow cone flowers right at grass at level on this headland. I’d never seen anything like it before,
just a splash of yellow in the grass.
How did you feel?
It’s very exiting. You feel as you may have discovered something but you’re not sure. I took two very small cuttings but I was a couple of days away from
Melbourne, where I have a wholesale nursery, so I wasn’t too hopeful. But one struck and I grew that in the garden, and within a year or two it was
clear it was a different form – it was growing outwards as fast as it was growing upwards. This was before ‘Birthday Candles’ and other dwarf banksias
were on the market.
Do you believe there are many plants that are yet to be discovered in the Australian bush?
Yes there certainly is. Not so many new species, perhaps, though there still a few of those, but different forms of existing species.
'Stumpy gold'. Photo - Robin Powell
Did the Catherine Hill bay area provide you with more plant material?
There are certainly other plants there to be found. Another one we’ve developed is a prostrate form of coastal rosemary, Westringia fruticosa.
The commercial variety is called ‘Flat ‘n’ fruity’. I’ve also observed a squat mountain devil, Lambertia formosa, but so far have had no luck
in propagating it.
The locals there are fighting a battle against a huge development that would wipe out much of the native bush. Is that a familiar tale to you?
That’s right. It is particularly sad at Catherine Hill Bay. There are unique plant forms in that area that don’t exist on other parts of the coast. I guess
you’d call it rare and endangered. The thing is that you just don’t know what might be there. The environmental surveys tend to look no lower than
species, so they don’t note different forms.
How many native plants have you brought into commercial production over the years?
Off the top of my head, a couple of dozen, in that region.
What has been your big hit so far?
Of the chance seedlings out of our own nursery, I’d say the pink brachyschome. That sold in the millions overseas for a while. And of the bush collections
I’d say ‘Stumpy Gold’, which has just been a good steady seller over the years.
Text: Robin Powell