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The trials and tribulations of mid-west wildflowers

Published 31 Oct 2023

Restoring nature is a bit like restoring a house. You start with the big structural components. For nature that’s the trees and shrubs. And then you work on the finer details. But the difference is, most nature restoration projects don’t get to the finer details. 

The Bush Heritage team at Eurardy, in mid-north Western Australia, Nanda Country, are leading an innovative project to demonstrate how we restore the finer details or in this case the iconic understory of annual wildflowers. 

This pilot project ‘Re-wilding the mid-west: Bringing wildflowers back to country’ is supported by funding from the Western Australian Government's State NRM Program. 

An everlasting flower in sandy soil.

Eurardy is a 30,000-hectare property just north of Geraldton. When Bush Heritage acquired the property 10% of it had been cleared for agriculture. 

Since 2019, the partnership team of Carbon Positive Australia and Bush Heritage have been restoring this cleared area. But this is the first time we've tried to restore groundcover species at Eurardy.

Bush Heritage Flora Restoration Ecologist Fiamma Riviera is leading the project, and she explains why it's so critical:

“It's important to restore vegetation in its entirety. Annual wildflowers with their profusion of flowers in spring, act as an important food source for insects, which in turn act as an important food source for birds and reptiles. They also provide habitat for ground-dwelling species.”

Through a state NRM grant, we've set up a trial to reintroduce wildflowers into the area where trees were planted in 2021. The goal is to roll this out in island patches across the whole restoration area:

“Annual wildflowers produce lots of seed, which is then scattered by the wind. So, the idea would be that if we create lots of little islands, over time the wildflowers should just fill in the gaps,” Fiamma explains.

In the field at Eurardy Reserve.

At the start of last summer, the team collected wildflower seed from the remanent patches of York gum woodland using a giant vacuum cleaner often used by farmers to clean up horse poo. The seed was processed and stored. 

In May 2023, the team cut eight 250 metre-long furrow lines and sowed the fluffy wildflower seed into this nearly 2km area. 

On an unseasonably warm day in late August, we head out to see the results. The sun is high in the bright blue sky, it beats down on the hard-working team.

Fiamma and Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Trainee Ranger Kurt Wright from adjoining Kalbarri National Park are on their hands and knees in the red dusty soil. They carefully survey one square metre grids in the pilot area.

This time of year, tourists flock to the mid-west to see the iconic wildflower display. We should be surrounded by carpets of blooming wildflowers. Instead, the earth is dry and bare, just one or two flowers are battling to be in the whole area. Even the weeds haven’t come as they normally do this year. Fiamma explains part of the challenge has been the rainfall this year: 

“Eurardy is on the edge of the winter rainfall area in south-west Western Australia. It just depends a lot on how far north the rain comes in any particular year. This year is a very dry season. We've only had about 60mm of rain for the year so far, and we're at the tail end of winter. Normally it would be around the 200mm mark. What that has meant for our wildflower trial is that we haven't had any germination.”

Fiamma isn’t disheartened by the results. For her this is all part and parcel of working in restoration and in the challenging landscape of Eurardy:

‘’We just have to accept that our trial hasn't worked for this year; however, the seed will be there next year. And next year if we get good enough rainfall, the seed will come up, the plants will germinate, they will bloom, set seed, and hopefully then set up a cycle where they perpetuate themselves, adjusting through the good and the bad seasons,” says Fiamma.

As we face climate change projections of drier, hotter seasons and greater seasonal variability, understanding more about wildflower germination cues and ensuring that landscapes are fully restored is more important than ever.

“Landscapes are more resilient to climate change when they're more intact, when those remnant patch sizes are bigger. By restoring, we are increasing the resilience of the landscape,” says Fiamma.

Science is about testing, learning, and adapting. By restoring nature – you work to nature’s timelines. Patience is a core skill of any skilled restoration ecologist:

“It’s not a quick fix. It takes time, it takes years. Not everything's going to be perfect. We're going to have some successes, but we'll also have some failures. We're going to have to learn from those, and adapt, and change. This will likely be the first of many trials,” explains Fiamma.

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An everlasting flower in sandy soil.

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The trials and tribulations of mid-west wildflowers

Our team at Eurardy, in mid-north Western Australia, Nanda Country, are leading an innovative project to demonstrate how we restore the iconic understory of annual wildflowers. This pilot project ‘Re-wilding the mid-west: Bringing wildflowers back to country’ is supported by funding from the Western Australian Government's State NRM Program.

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