Travels through Witjira

Date posted: 11 February 2016

Last September saw us travel to the beautiful Witjira National Park in the north of the state, on the western edge of the Simpson Desert.

The Desert consists of sand dunes stretching hundreds of kilometres across the corners of three states (SA, Queensland and Northern Territory), and Witjira contains ephemeral wildflowers that burst into bloom after a soaking rain.

The National Park also contains the national heritage-listed Witjira-Dalhousie Springs complex – a supergroup containing about 60 springs, extending over an area of more than 50,000 hectares.

Some expert volunteers, Cath Dickson & Thai Te – ecologists with Nature Glenelg Trust – joined us on our mission as we rolled out of Adelaide to make the long car journey to our destination.

Overall the trip was a success, aside from Thai's Range Rover leaking and making some horrible noises early on, which meant we all had to squeeze into one car for the next few days. Starry nights sitting in the hot springs while endangered fish nibbled at exposed parts of our bodies (sometimes a bit too much!) was a fond memory.

And the work? There are a number of species restricted to this localised region in South Australia, which we targeted in our field work. Here’s a few (see the images in the image gallery at right):

Dalhousie Tobacco-bush (Nicotiana burbidgea)

This plant’s only known from a very restricted area within the National Park, growing on the powdery-gypseous banks of ephemeral creeks. It is a fleshy short-lived shrub that grows to one-metre tall and has long tubular white flowers. We managed to collect more than 150,000 seeds from two subpopulations for this rare species.

Pink pussy-tails (Ptilotus aristatus ssp. aristatus)

This is only known in SA in this localised region in the north of the state, near the NT border. It’s a small herb to 30 centimeres tall with bright pink flowers, which is very rare, but it responds to heavy rains. We only observed this plant species at a single locality in the park, growing with another pussy-tail Ptilotus whitei.

Mound Spring Goodenia (Goodenia anfracta)

This grows on the alkaline gravel outwash of mound springs in the far north of the state. This small rare almost leafless herb only grows to about 15 centimetres tall and can be easily overlooked, but we observed a number of plants near the Main Dalhousie Spring. The slow and precise grasping of tiny fruits between the forefinger and thumb while on haunches for two hours yielded a total of more than 3,000 seeds.

Mound Spring Bindyi (Sclerolaena fontinalis)

This rare compact rounded shrub is endemic to SA. The plant grows to 30 centimetres high with fleshy green leaves, and it’s covered with white woolly hairs. There are currently only four State Herbarium records of this shrub and they’re localised in the area near Dalhousie Springs. During the trip we found the plant to be more widespread than records indicated and we’ve now added two more specimens to be databased. This species may have been under recorded as it has a similar appearance to a more common species, Sclerolaena lanicuspis, except that the prickly fruits have five spines instead of two.

Stay tuned for next month’s blog when the Seed Hunters travel to Kangaroo Island to collect more seeds for endemic and threatened plant species.