Botanist Bill O’Donnell grew up on the Gold Coast wandering through coastal swamps and forests as a kid.
Given that childhood, it’s little surprise that he undertook formal botanical studies and developed a strong interest in the historic and contemporary native vegetation of the Gold Coast and Northern New South Wales.
For 40 years, Bill has experienced first-hand some of the region’s most iconic landscapes, during a time of immense change.
Bill has a particular passion for the city’s coastal lowlands – the flat country between our coastal dunes and the hinterland foothills. It’s hard to visualise, but prior to coastal development, this ecosystem would have presented itself as a complex mosaic of sedgelands, paperbark swamps, woodlands, open forests, grasslands, heathlands, rainforests, mangroves and saltmarsh.
“Extensive low-lying areas between Burleigh Heads, Mudgeeraba and the Nerang River were subject to prolonged periods of freshwater inundation and soil waterlogging,” Bill says.
The result was a smaller, subtropical version of the infamous wetlands of Kakadu…right here on the Gold Coast.
Much of the coastal lowlands have been cleared for residential development, but residents who live in these suburbs can play a role in re-establishing some of the plants once found commonly in these areas. Bill has identified nine plants in particular, that play an important role in providing habitat for native birds, insects and mammals to re-establish a connection with the urban footprint.
Bill says re-establishing these plants “can partially mitigate against habitat loss associated with native vegetation clearing and provide the potential to slow down the local extinction of fauna.”
“These plants can also provide migratory species with food and shelter during their annual movements up and down the east coast of Australia,” he says.
Gold Coast is one of the most biodiverse cities in Australia and a priority of the City of Gold Coast (the City) is to ensure residents and visitors live in balance with nature. The City aims to conserve the Gold Coast’s unique biodiversity through the Our Natural City Strategy, and while it continues to grow, work with the community toward achieving 51 per cent native vegetation cover.
Flora and fauna within the urban area is an important part of Gold Coast’s DNA and while we can do our bit planting natives in our backyards to encourage biodiversity, the City is also doing its part maintaining 13,000 hectares of natural areas, including koala habitat and supporting private land conservation partnerships and community volunteer programs.
You can read more about the City’s work in this space, as well as its goals for the future in the Our Natural City Strategy. And in the meantime, you can do your part to support our unique, biodiverse native flora and fauna by planting your own patch with the species recommended by botanist Bill O’Donnell.
- Wallum banksia (Banksia aemula)
- Coast banksia (Banksia integrifolia)
- Hairpin banksia (Banksia spinulosa)
These three banksia species are prolific nectar producers supplying countless insects, birds and mammals with a seasonal, energy-rich, food that allows them to complete their life cycles and maintain a presence within city boundaries. The seeds of all three Banksias are also fed upon by yellow-tailed black cockatoos, especially those of Banksia integrifolia.
The wallum banksia, affectionately referred to as ‘wallum’ after the Aboriginal name for the species is the city’s floral emblem. It occurs in coastal heathlands and woodlands, on some of the city’s poorest soils.
Major Fruit Producers
- Yellow kamala (Mallotus discolor)
- Three-veined laurel (Cryptocarya triplinervis)
- Cabbage palm (Livistona australis)
“Three-veined laurel, yellow kamala (both associated with littoral rainforest) and the cabbage palm (commonly found in swamp forest) are major fruit producers that attract fruit eating birds with powerful long-distance flight capabilities,” Bill says.
“These tree species act as nuclei for the establishment of a diverse range of rainforest plants brought in initially as seeds in the gut of birds travelling between habitats.”
In the case of top knot pigeons, the seed they introduce may come from several kilometres away. These fruit bearing species act as ecological building blocks that can establish, maintain and increase the biodiversity of sites they are associated with.
Food and Habitat Plants
Broad-leaved paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia)
The broad-leaved paperbark serves as a major autumn supply of nectar and a year long habitat for insects, birds and mammals across numerous vegetation types, throughout the coastal lowlands.
Coastal cypress pine (Callitris columellaris)
Cypress pines provide important ecological benefits to a range of fauna, for example gum for native bees, arthropods for gleaning birds and exceptional shelter, shade and nesting sites for fauna that prefer dense foliage.
Quinine Bush (Petalostigma pubescens)
The quinine bush is a small, fire-adapted tree of sandy dry sclerophyll forests. It’s a fascinating plant that has a three-phase process for dispersing its seed.
Firstly, seeds are consumed by emus (a bird that was traditionally referred to as Murun by the people of the Yugambeh language region). Three days after ingestion, seeds were deposited in emu droppings where seeds dried and then exploded, scattering seeds up to 2.5m away. Then ants further collected and scattered seeds.
The life cycle of this plant is a unique example of the ecological relationships that most likely took place on the Gold Coast prior to European settlement. Quinine Bush populations in the contemporary Gold Coast landscape are severely limited in terms of population movement given we don’t have any emus cruising our suburban streets, which makes replanting this species even more important.
Where to buy Native Plants
- Burringbar Native Nursery (Upper Burringbar)
- Wallum nursery (Gumdale)
- Regen Australia (Burleigh Heads)
- Michelle’s Native Plants (mobile stall)
The Gold Coast Flora and Fauna website contains comprehensive information about the plants and animals that make our city one of the most biodiverse in Australia.
The Gro Native app, developed in partnership by Natura Pacific and Griffith University encourages the use of native plants in urban gardens by helping people select the best plants based on garden type and location.