Climate Change Flora

Climate change ready border
Climate change ready border, December 2019


Global Warming is having a similar effect as putting my Brisbane garden on a trailer and slowly dragging it to Townsville.

I planted my Brisbane garden in 2004 with plants I expected would grow successfully into our emerging new climate: palms, cycads, pandanus, ferns, bromeliads, succulents, bulbs and other perennials. I planted a few for food and medicine, others for fragrance and ornamental foliage.

I anticipated conditions predicted for Brisbane 2030: hotter, more humid, reduced cloud cover, heavier and more widely separated falls of rain, reduced winter chill – and seriously dodgy hail storms. I was guided by the report ‘Climate Change: An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts’, published by the Australian Greenhouse Office, in December 2003*.

In November 2004, I planted 150 different kinds of plant to start a Climate Change Ready garden.

Planting native trees in Brisbane? My Queensland bottle tree is a dry rainforest species, and this plant community includes many pretty and tough species. Capable of withstanding greater climate stresses than wet rainforest species, I regard them as climate change ‘winners’. Kumbartcho Sanctuary and Nursery is a good source of dry rainforest species not found in commerce.

If you want to grow a native tree, consider its natural distribution. The Atlas of Living Australia is a useful reference. If your chosen species has a natural distribution that extends north of Brisbane, gather seed or buy stock originating from its northernmost location. Those northern plants will already be better adapted to a more extreme climate and their seed will be primed and ready for the stresses and strains of Brisbane’s emerging new climate.

For example, Pandanus cookii is a tropical tree which occurs from Mackay northwards. I sourced a seedling from Cairns in far northern Queensland in 1995. It turned out to be a female and she is very at home here. Planted before a succession of record breaking hot Brisbane summers, she’s looking great. Instead of carrying fruit in autumn, she now carries fruit all year round.

Horticulture has no option but to keep up with climate change and even certain Australian botanic gardens have realised they can no longer ignore the need to adapt their collections as I did here in Brisbane in 2004.

In 2019, ABC News published a good illustrative guide showing how global warming has already and will continue impacting horticulture, food production and the general liveability of Australia.

“We estimate that the shift in climate has cut average annual broadacre farm profits by around 22%, which is an average of $18,600 per farm per year, controlling for all other factors.

The effects have been most pronounced in the cropping sector, reducing average profits by 35%, or $70,900 a year for a typical cropping farm.

At a national level this amounts to an average loss in production of broadacre crops of around $1.1 billion a year,” Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, December 2019.

The Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis, is vulnerable to extinction. Here, it produces miniature coconuts all year round and fruit after heavy rain.

Some of the plants illustrated below were removed because even with just natural rainfall during the Millennium Drought they grew too big, too fast. Others did too well during the floods in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The Jubaea chilensis, the Chilean wine palm, was purchased as a tubestock seedling in 1995 and planted here in 2004. Since 2009, it started flowering and it has never stopped growing, flowering or producing miniature coconuts. In Sydney, this palm fruits each autumn. Here in Brisbane it requires a flood year to fruit. Fruit taste something between a sweet apricot and a slightly under-ripe peach; quite delicious if de-seeded and cooked with pandan leaves and sugar before bottling.

As of January 2020 there remain 135 different kinds of plant.

Clicking on each image opens the notes.

* The Australian Greenhouse Office was initially independent of government interference, but subsequent reshuffling brought it under direct control and its functions have now been diluted by other government departments.

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