What are our hero plants?

Date posted: 07 February 2017

I recently witnessed more than 4,700 people pour into Adelaide Botanic Garden’s Bicentennial Conservatory to see the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) over 36 hours.

The passionate response to seeing this “hero” of the plant world makes me reflect on how we can showcase other plant heroes and share stories and create wonder about them.

What makes a particular plant species a hero? What are those key elements that create the wow and wonder?

The Titan Arum brings a lot to the table through a sense of drama – the sheer magnitude of its flower, the unforgettable pungent odour, the speed with which it grows once its corm has sent out a shoot and the gorgeous regal purple velvet as its flower unfolds.

For me the heroes are those plants that link to culture, plants that surprise me and have that visual wow.

Drive along Mt Nebo Road through Brisbane Forest Park and you can’t help but be wowed by the annual shedding event from the eucalypts in the forest – the striking orange is stunning (unfortunately the species name escapes me!).

The wonderful shape of Brachychiton rupestris (Queensland Bottle Tree) always makes me smile, and I always recall the stories about how it has provided sustenance for both people and stock alike with its seeds, roots, stems and bark.

My annual visit to teach in Peru provides me with the fantastic opportunity to regularly see and hear about a definite hero in my eyes – the Brazil nut trees (Bertholletia excelsa) in the forests.

The castañales (Brazil nuts) are endemic to the Amazon basin and can only be produced in a healthy ecosystem.

Indigenous communities in the Tambopata Nature Reserve manage the lowland rainforest ecosystem and harvest these for their livelihoods.

These trees are recognised for their important role in the forest and their economic value and it is illegal to cut them down in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

Botanically it is the seed from the tree’s fruit that we eat. They’re rich in fat, protein, B1, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc.

The agouti, a large forest rodent, can be seen throughout the forest feeding on the fallen fruit.

I’ve asked staff at the Botanic Gardens of South Australia and State Herbarium to consider their hero plants and I can’t wait to hear their ideas and stories around the plants they select.

On that note – what are your hero plants and why?