“Tell me what you reckon of this…” I typed, fingers shaking. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were telling me as I gazed at the photos of a flowering vine I came across earlier that day.
“Looks like the second record for QLD Tylophora linearis to me!!!!!”, Craig Eddie replied.
My insides by now were twisting and I could feel the prickling of goosebumps. Was I being a fool or could this be for real? Tylophora linearis (Slender Tylophora) is a rare plant for which no one in Queensland had seen since close to 60 years ago. If it was an animal, it would have been classified as extinct by now. Myself, fellow Boobook ecologists and numerous other amateur and professional plant hunters have looked for this species for decades. As a delicate twining vine recorded growing amongst forested, shrubby woodland – this is the botanical needle-in-a-haystack search. It was recently (2003) rediscovered and studied at a handful of localities in northern NSW but no others had surfaced over the state border.
Slender Tylophora is listed as an endangered species in Queensland and nationally though was downgraded to vulnerable in NSW since rediscovery there. It is known in Queensland from one specimen collected from “Myall Park” near Glenmorgan in May of 1960 when at the time, smart phones or other handheld GPS devices did not exist. Instead, paper maps were used to determine location coordinates which in this particular case, place the site anywhere within a 1.6×1.6 km area. Unfortunately, very little descriptive information of the collection site is provided with the specimen adding to the ambiguity of this record.
Slender Tylophora is an inconspicuous herbaceous vine that can regenerate aerial stems from its thickened rootstock. This is believed to occur annually and/or when they have been shed in times of drought. Plants studied in NSW populations have revealed several individual shoots were traced to a common horizontal rhizome and perhaps populations are clonal. It would be easy to miss if searching for this species at a time when it is not actively growing. Therefore timing is everything when it comes to this vine.
Though this plant has always been at the back of my mind, its discovery feels like a wonderful stroke of serendipity. On the morning of April 3rd, 2019 I began a weed survey north of Miles for a client. The Miles district has a wonderful plant diversity (including a handful of rare species), so as keen botanists and ecologists, we always keep on the look out for unusual or rare plants when working in the area.
The main focus of this survey was the detection and recording of client-specified non-native plants within a nominated area. While walking through a particularly densely vegetated forest, a delicate vine with clusters of purple flowers and buds caught my attention. In past experiences of finding vines with purple flowers, they have turned out to be Climbing Purple-star (Rhyncharrhena linearis), which has a close resemblance to Slender Tylophora. Optimistically I took some photos to look up later though expected they would rule out Slender Tylophora and confirm another population of Climbing Purple-star.
Later that evening after triple-checking and then rechecking a few more times, I was in disbelief. At long last Slender Tylophora had been rediscovered in Queensland and was subsequently confirmed by the Queensland Herbarium. This is a fantastic find for Queensland botany and we look forward to plenty more!
You can join Rose on tour as your very own Botanist Tour Guide. She has developed Wildflower Guides for each of our tour destinations, which comes in very handy when you have a keen interest in flora. Rose mentions our very exciting EcoScience Expeditions, for more info click here.