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Byron Shire
October 6, 2022

Open day at Lismore’s Rainforest Botanic Gardens

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Micromelum minutum, commonly known as limeberry, dilminyin (east Arnhem Land). kimiar margibur (Murray Island), tulibas tilos (Philippines), sesi (Indonesia) and samui (Thailand), is a species of small tree or shrub in the citrus plant family Rutaceae. It occurs from India and Indochina to Australia. It has pinnate leaves with egg-shaped to lance-shaped leaflets, hairy, pale green or creamish, scented flowers arranged in large groups and yellow to orange or red, oval to spherical berries in dense clusters. Photo Phil Jarman.

If you didn’t know, then now you do – it’s the Botanic Gardens of Australia and New Zealand (BGANZ) Open Day this Sunday.

Established in 2004, BGANZ currently links more than 130 + botanic gardens.

BGANZ member, Friends of the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens (FLRBG), have been preparing for this special day – they have planned four guided walks, they are potting up plants for the native plant stall and organising displays in the Visitor’s Centre and children’s activities for the eucalypt lawn.

Plant power

This year’s theme is ‘Celebrating the Power of Plants’, in celebration of plants and their vital role in our wellbeing, weather and climate stabilisation, providing food and habitat, and in research and medicine.

FLRBG Volunteer Marie Matthews is very enthusiastic about the role Botanic gardens play in our ecology and community. ‘Botanic gardens are important as places of recreation, healing and education and the local gardens are sites focussing on the preservation of as many as possible of the plants that used to grow in the Big Scrub. They increase biodiversity, of plants, animals insects and more.

‘We have over 2,000 children a year visit the site in groups and have a small education team which work with them (not during Covid times!). Mostly preschool and primary kids but some from high school and the university.’

Gymnostachys anceps, commonly named settler’s twine, grows naturally in rainforests and humid Eucalypt forests of eastern New South Wales and eastern Queensland, Australia. Photo Wikipedia.

Settlers Twine

Ms Matthew says that plants, particularly rainforest plants, can be very helpful. ‘Taken literally, there is one plant which particularly interests me at the moment – Gymnostachys anceps (Settlers Twine) – which is an interesting example of the power of one plant.

‘In the mid-1800s it was displayed at a big Exhibition in Paris and it was commented that maybe it was the strongest plant on earth. Recently a few of us tested one of the leaves on this plant – a long-leaved clumping grass-type plant – and we held it up and kept adding weight until it broke at 56kg – just one metre long and one-centimetre wide green leaf!

Forest bathing

‘On a less literal vein – there is much research in recent years about the healing benefits of just being in nature. Japan has a special term for it – Shinrin-yoku – literally “forest bathing”. It benefits body, mind and spirit. Not just a sense of calm and quiet and coolness but actually lowering blood pressure and easing of feelings of tension and anxiety. I think walking into and through our gardens can be of great benefit to many people at this level.’

There are things in botanic gardens that you just can’t find in your own backyard. ‘Obviously, the very big trees can’t grow in small gardens. Also, the big groups of trees – our Hoop Pine Forest is a magical place to walk into. It is like walking into another world. A complete change of atmosphere. Another thing is the size of most back yards – it would impossible to fit in a big number of different species.  And some are very thorny or have poisonous or stinging leaves so in a family home with young children it might not be practical to grow them.

‘However, even in the smallest yard, it is possible to grow a small rainforest garden with carefully selected plants. We continually try to give information about plants that are suitable in the home garden and in fact we have a series of small brochures about some such plants, and the volunteers at our Nursery will always give advice.

‘But there is the other aspect that our gardens  – the size. Although not big by botanic gardens standards – it is still big enough to get lost in – to go down an unfamiliar track and find a completely new area. There is a special magic in that.’

Ms Matthews says that botanic gardens help in other ways as well:

Viola banksii, commonly known as native violet, is sold and grown throughout garden nurseries and grown and loved in gardens around Australia, especially in the east. Photo Marie Matthews.

Weather and climate stabilisation

‘The planting and growing of any trees helps to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and into the ground, the trees themselves. We are working at recycling what we can in terms of prunings, and non-seeding weed plants. Putting them back into the gardens as mulch.

‘We are gradually transforming the heavy claying soil into a much more friable texture, by continually adding back plant material and growing native ground covers to keep in moisture and shade very young plants.

‘Our bit of rainforest may only be small but any trees create shade and attract rain and help cool and moisturise the ground and surrounding air. And as the trees grow and mature this will give more and more benefit. By arousing the awareness of other people in the community we are encouraging the planting and growing of more and more local native plants. We propagate in our nursery and sell those plants at our Open Days and other events. We are spreading the message in a very practical and material way.

‘We would very much like to be using recycled water from the water treatment plant next door to water the gardens… but alas NSW state laws and the huge cost to us of giving the water its final treatment means that is it’s impossible at the moment.

Providing food and habitat

‘We are literally providing food and habitat to local native animals – 110 different Bird species have been sighted on the site since we started keeping records. There were Eucalypts on-site when we took over and they have stayed – Lismore is after all at the edge of the Big Scrub and the forest would have been changing into more open sclerophyll forest as it moved west.

Koalas use the areas as a corridor and we can usually find one or two on any given day.  There are some snakes, lizards, lots of butterflies, native bees and other insects, earthworms and other small animals whose names I don’t know. We do see the occasional wallaby. We also have shelters for human visitors including the Cool Cubby for kids – they love it!

Research and medicine

‘On another level, we are growing many plants which were used as food, medicine, tools, weapons, buildings materials etc by the local Bundjalung people and by the early European Settlers. And more recently by the Bush Food industry.

There are obvious ones like Finger Limes and Macadamia nuts but there are many more. Our Useful Plants Garden has an amazing mix of plants – all with interesting uses on many levels. A guided walk in that garden is an experience to be had.

‘There are also some interesting medicinal plants growing there. One of particular interest is Dubosia myoporoides which contains the drugs scolopoline which has uses for seasickness, as a sedative and also to treat some eye problems.

‘A large percentage of commercial medicinal drugs were found originally in rainforest plants in various parts of the world. If we destroy rainforest or allow rainforest trees to become extinct we may lose other possible life-saving drugs in the future.’

Friends of the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens host guded walks through the rainforest.

The value in botanic gardens

Ms Matthews says that not everyone sees that value in botanic gardens. ‘Some people seriously value the botanic gardens and see what we are trying to do. They come back repeatedly and are always excited about something.

‘Some come looking for the formal gardens of earlier times and are disappointed. I think some are put off by the fact that we are situated beside a Waste Facility. When we agreed to accept Lismore City Council’s offer of this site in 1997 it was thought that the waste facility would be closed by 2016. The landfill area would be filled by then and they would have to move elsewhere and gardens would cover the whole site. Our initial plans were to gradually move right over that area almost down to Monaltrie Road. Improvements in recycling obviously changed that and although it will probably happen eventually chances are it will not be for a long while yet.

Ms Matthews says it was interesting over the COVID lockdown period. ‘Last year when nothing was open we had a lot of people wanting to come to the gardens. Once we were allowed to open to limited numbers we ran extra guided walks – often with people from other towns and people who would not normally come to Lismore for a visit. A lot of people don’t know we exist. We put a lot of effort into publicity and I think numbers who do know are growing but still, we are relatively unknown in the area.’

You might even see this fella. Photo Phil Jarman.

Open day this Sunday

The first guided walk will begin at 9.45 am and bookings are essential. Email [email protected] to reserve your spot in a walk of either the Useful Plants Garden, the Hoop Pine Forest or the Native Bees as Pollinators Walk. A gold coin donation is welcome – there are no card facilities at the Gardens.

The Friends of the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens are also taking this opportunity to say thank you to two of the generous benefactors of the Gardens, Jeni and Andrew Binns. A sign acknowledging their continued, invaluable contribution will be unveiled at 10.45 am in the Sensory Garden.

More information is available on the website www.friendslrbg.com.au.

The Gardens are located at 313 Wyrallah Road,  three kilometres from the Lismore CBD.

Parking is available at the Environmental Education Centre, where there will be a morning tea stall and card and book sales.

BGANZ #plantchallenge is inviting plant enthusiasts to post a 45-60 second video or photo telling their own ‘Power of Plants’ stories.

BGANZ is a ‘not for profit’ peak industry body formed to build and maintain links with relevant national and international bodies, to benefit member gardens across Australia and New Zealand.

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