The importance of seed in plant conservation
My last day was spent with the botanists and two teachers Emma and Hunter. We went back in on the Cascades Trail and headed to the Cascade Hut site. The scientists had thoroughly surveyed this site earlier in the week and now had to remove their tape markings. While we were there I helped Alex collect some seed from Calotus pubescens flowers that had finished. This plant is a threatened daisy species. One of the key threats to this plant is the Brumby horse which tramples it in these alpine areas.
When seed is collected in the field it is from the pod or fruit of the plant. Once the botanist has returned to their lab the seed is placed in a vacuum extraction machine where it is cleaned. The vacuum pulls off any extra material that is sitting around the outside. After this the seed is checked to see if the embryo inside looks healthy. If there are not many seeds of the type available there needs to be a lot of care taken to protect it so that it can be used for growth of a new plant. In this case the seed may be put through an X ray machine to check it's health! If there are more seeds available some other more destructive techniques can be used to check their health. Sometimes this can involve the scientist putting a small nick in the seed to look at the embryo underneath. Another alternative is for the seed to be cut and stained. This stain will turn red if the seed is respiring and producing carbon dioxide and this is evidence that the seed is alive and viable.
On the way back out along the trail we stopped several times for Andrew and Peter to do more opportunistic collections. This was when I learnt a lot about the lichen growing on many of the trees. Lichen is actually a symbiotic relationship between an algae and a fungi. They both benefit from the relationship. The algae produces food by photosynthesis for the fungi and the fungi provides a protected environment for the algae. Sometimes the algae even forms a protective layer over the fungi. The most prevalent lichen that we saw today was one commonly known as name is old man's beard. It is very thread like and hangs off the trees and shrubs like a fuzzy beard. Appropriately it reminds me of the beard of the Lorax.
The car ride was long today but we had such great conversation and so many laughs. I am going to miss my new friends a lot!