An unusual discovery in NSW north coast

Studded with volcanic outcroppings, Coorabakh National Park, north-east of Taree is filled with scenic views and a myriad of beautiful, and in some cases rare, wildlife.

Banksia conferta

Millions of years ago, volcanoes sculpted parts of the eastern Australian mainland, leaving resistant rocky plugs surrounded by rugged sandstone ranges and escarpments interspersed with conglomerate caves and overhangs. Three of these volcanic outcrops can be seen in Coorabakh National Park, dominating the area: Big Nellie, Flat Nellie and Little Nellie.

The park contains a stunning and varied world of low shrubby heaths on exposed rocky outcrops and cliff lines with tall wet sclerophyll forests and cool subtropical rainforests in sheltered gullies. There are 18 distinct forest ecosystems within the national park.

Andrew Steed and Luke Foster from the Office of Environment and Heritage were excited to be able to spend four-days in Coorabakh National Park in June bush-bashing, climbing rocky peaks and collecting soil, as part of the conservation work being funded by the Saving our Species program.

The pair set out on the field trip to collect soil samples to test for the presence of the dieback pathogen (Phytophthora cinnamomi). What they did not expect to find was a new population of the critically endangered Glasshouse Banksia (Banksia conferta subsp. conferta) – but to their surprise and amazement that is exactly what they did find!

“We couldn’t believe it when we stumbled across the Glasshouse Banksia as this plant usually prefers a different type of soil and geology so to see it growing and thriving in this remote and mountainous area is amazing,” said Andrew Steed.

The Glasshouse Banksia was previously only known to live in a small area within Coorabakh National Park as well as the Glass House Mountains and Lamington Plateau in Queensland. The new population discovery is great news for this rare plant.

“We haven’t counted the exact number of plants in this population as yet but we think it could be in the thousands, which is why we will go back later in the year.”

During the research expedition, the pair also found extensive populations of two other vulnerable plants – Big Nellie Hakea and the beautiful weeping Dracophyllum macranthum. “This trip was very encouraging as finding more plant populations fills us with hope of being able to secure these endangered or vulnerable plants in the wild into the future,” Mr Steed said.

The Glasshouse Banksia is an interesting looking shrub growing to four metres in height. Branchlets can vary in colour from orange to red or brown and its individual flowers are yellowish-green to pinkish-brown in bud and golden when open.

Recent monitoring of the plant under the Saving our Species program has identified the species is able to survive fires by reshooting for lignotubers, but it suffers from a lack of seed set with only a very small proportion of fruit (6%) being fertilised and carried seed.

Animals such as the Feathertail Glider and Sugar Glider as well as the threatened Pygmy Possum and Squirrel Glider are known to pollinate Banksias but there are no records of them in the park. Further research needs to occur to explore this problem further.

There are plans to undertake more searches for threatened plants in Coorabakh National Park over the coming months, including using National Park and Wildlife Service drones to survey inaccessible rocky peaks and cliff lines.

Find out more information on the Banksia conferta subsp. conferta.