Garden inspiration: a threatened species (Scrub Turpentine or Rhodamnia rubescens)

It's Threatened Species Week this week, so I thought I'd share something a little different. This is a plant I'd have like to under 'Try growing'...but it's unlikely to be with us for much longer. 

The plant is Scrub Turpentine (Rhodamnia rubescens) and it's a tree that's threatened by the invasive Myrtle Rust (Puccinia psidii) to the point that it has been given a preliminary listing of Critically Endangered in New South Wales. Here are a couple of plants in relatively good health. Most look much more miserable or have actually died. 


Scrub Turpentine can become a fairly large tree. This is the largest healthy one I've seen in recent years. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
This little specimen is growing in central Wollongong near Woolworths. The yellow spots on some of the leaves are patches of Myrtle Rust. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
These leaves are Myrtle Rust-free, which is a very unusual sight these days. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
I wish I could tell you to pop a couple of these in your garden to create shade and give food for the birds. But unfortunately Myrtle Rust, discovered in Australia in 2010, kills its new growth and generally stops established plants from producing fruit. It also attackes the new leaves, and particularly the seedlings. Very few plants seem to have resistance, although one plant in the Berry area has produced fruit recently so we shouldn't give up hope just yet. Perhaps, with ongoing research into the species, I might be able to recommend growing it in a decade or two's time. 


At least one Scrub Turpentine is still producing viable fruit, so there may be some hope for the species. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Threatened Species Week is a time to reflect on what we can do to protect threatened species, and also avoid adding to the number that are under threat. Keeping an eye out for unusual pests or problems on the plants in your garden, and being careful to avoid invasive or weedy introduced species, are a couple of small steps we can all take. 

And here's an article by the Invasive Species Council that tells the sad tale of Myrtle Rust's spread in Australia, and makes some suggestions for preventing similar disastrous incursions by other species in future. 

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