20 new Queensland plant species

Fairy lanterns and lemon-scented grass among 20 new Queensland plant species

A total of 20 new plant species were formally described in Queensland last year.

Science Minister Leeanne Enoch said some of the highlights included a 3.5 metre cycad, two new species of native daisies, a lemon-scented grass, and a new species of orchid that has no chlorophyall.

“The Department of Environment and Science, partnering with freelance botanists, documented these discoveries in the latest edition of the Queensland Herbarium’s Austrobaileya journal,”Ms Enoch said.

“They also discovered a further two species that are completely new to Australia.”

Botanists from the Queensland Herbarium undertake a number of field expeditions every year to become more informed about the state’s flora, and every year they discover new species of plants, fungi and algae in Queensland.

Aerial of Mount Mulligan, 95km west of Cairns

“Their discoveries fill in the gaps regarding what we know about Queensland’s flora and how they contribute to our unique biodiversity,” Ms Enoch said.

“The research is essential for conservation assessment and the management of our state’s ecosystems.”

Queensland Herbarium Science Leader Dr John Neldner said most of the new species were reliant on a particular localised habitat with small populations, and were often unable to adapt to change and therefore vulnerable to extinction.

“For example, our botanists discovered a new species of melaleuca – Melaleuca comosa – restricted to a single population in western Queensland,” Dr Neldner said.

“Our new cycad – Cycas distans – was discovered in two populations in the Mitchell River district. They also discovered a new species of Labichea, growing only on Mount Mulligan in the Einasleigh Uplands, west of Dimboola, in North Queensland.”

The 300 metre-high and 18 kilometre-long Mount Mulligan – also known by its Aboriginal names of Woothakata and Narrobullgin – is a well-known botanical hotspot.

“We discovered a new species of perennial grass, belonging to the Elionurus genus: Elionurus pupureus. The species has a strong lemon scent. It was found in several small locations on Cape York Peninsula.

“Meanwhile, the new orchid – Gastrodia umbrosa – only grows on the Atherton Tableland in north Queensland. It’s a member of the Gastrodia orchid genus, but the species in this genus lack chlorophyll, the stuff that make plants green,” Dr Neldner said.

“This lack of need for chlorophyll was also associated with another two species we found in the Wet Tropics in north Queensland, both from the Thismia genus, commonly known as fairy lanterns.

“These plants grow in dead or decaying organic matter, often not emerging form the soil until they are ready to be pollinated by insects. That makes them very difficult to find, only visible when flowering, which occurs during wet weather.”

Dr Neldner said the herbarium’s botanists also discovered two new species of native daisies – Olearia bella and Olearia orientalis – bringing the number of these species in Queensland to 26. Once again, both have highly restricted distributions.

For more information, visit the Queensland Government’s Austrobaileya webpage.

Image captions:

Image (1): The new cycad – Cycas distans – discovered in the Mitchell River district of Far North Queensland
Image (2) Mount Mulligan. Image courtesy © Tourism and Events Queensland.

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