Banksia and eucalypts: the top 100 plants at risk of extinction in Australia may surprise you

By Angela Heathcote | February 1, 2019

Scientist have compiled a definitive list of the top 100 plants at risk of extinction in Australia, and it isn’t looking good.

A TEAM OF Australian scientists have compiled a list of 100 native plants most at risk of extinction, which includes various species of the iconic eucalyptus and banksia.

Botanists Dr Jennifer Silcock and Dr Rod Fensham of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub began their research into the state of Australian flora back in 2017.

The findings, recently published in the Australian Journal of Botany, were a result of almost 130 interviews with botanists from around the country, as well as extensive field work in areas never before surveyed.

Each species was ranked based on their risk to extinction and how rapidly they were declining. Overall, the team identified 296 plants, which the researchers say will now assist conservation managers to prioritise.

“Knowing which plants are at greatest risk gives us a chance to save them before it is too late,” Jennifer says.

Most common on the list were ground orchids, appearing a total of 15 times. “Many are naturally rare,” Rod told Australian Geographic. They also have small ranges, which are often heavily developed.”

Some of Australia’s most well-loved species also feature on the list, including the matchstick banksia that many may be familiar with.

“Even some species of eucalyptus – an icon of our country – are enormously threatened,” Rod says. “That these are endangered species just means we can’t be looking after the place too well.”

In the process of compiling the list, the researchers determined that land clearing was the number one threat. “The West Australian wheatbelt, a biodiversity hotspot bigger than Tasmania, has been extensively developed. South-east Queensland and south-eastern Australia were also places of concern,” Rod says.

Alongside land clearing. the study listed urban expansion and its flow-on effects – weeds, disease and interrupted fire regimes – as threats.

In light of the findings, scientists such as Rod are repeating their calls for an end to land clearing. “Australian governments need to get their act together and have a unified end to land clearing, You can’t keep clearing the bush,” Rod says.

“We had effective land clearing laws here in Queensland, and then we had a change of government and they were torn down and the clearing continues. It can’t go on.”

The Australian Senate is currently conducting an inquiry into the ‘extinction crisis’ following an investigation by The Guardian, which revealed mismanagement and a lack of funding. The inquiry, however, will only be looking at Australian fauna, not threatened species of plants.

“The flora is an important indication of how we’re going. You can’t ignore the plants,” says Rod.

According to Rod, around 70 per cent of the plants included in the study are already on the threatened species list. For the remaining 30 per cent, an application for formal conservation listing will be necessary.

Rod is hopeful that the findings of this most recent study will encourage an interest in botany. “To make this research possible we had to draw on a jigsaw puzzle of people who had thorough knowledge of the plants in their local area, but the jigsaw puzzle doesn’t have enough pieces.”