17 October 1999

Sub-Antarctic plants could soon be gracing the world's tables and its gardens thanks to a University of Queensland collaboration with industry.

For the past four years, a University of Queensland Botany Department team have worked with botanical garden staff from the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania collecting and maintaining sub-Antarctic plants for display and as potential foods.

Senior researchers Dr Dana Bergstrom and Dr David Doley and program manager Kate Kiefer have a three-year, Australian Research Council SPIRT (Strategic Partnerships with Industry - Research and Training) with the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, the Australian National Botanical Gardens and the Department of Parks and Wildlife for the project.

A new display house featuring sub-Antarctic plants will be opened this summer at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart - the city's biggest tourist attraction visited by more than $300,000 people each year.

The Sub-Antarctic Plant House is a teardrop-shaped, solid walled, clear-roofed display facility with high curving walls to maximise opportunities for visual display.

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens horticultural operations manager Mark Fountain said the building was a unique response to the problems of creating a cool climate house.

"The plants will be cooled by piped cold water at ground level while air-conditioning and misting systems will cool the air," he said.

Most of the plants for the house were collected by Dr Bergstrom, Ms Kiefer and postgraduate students Craig Tweedie and Justine Shaw. Mr Fountain said the collaboration will result in the public being able to see Macquarie Island's unique flora for the first time.

Sub-Antarctic plants grow in wet, windy conditions and temperatures as low as minus six degrees Celsius on six island groups between the southern continents and the Antarctic. Australia owns administers one-quarter of the islands including Macquarie and Herd islands.

"Known as mega-herbs, these plants flower magnificently and feature many edible parts. For example, a big herb called Stilbocarpa is wonderful in stir-fries with a crunchy, celery-like taste and texture," Dr Bergstrom said. "The project is very important from a pure science perspective because these plants live in the part of the world experiencing the most radical climate change. If we understand how they cope with this, we can better understand the likely effects on other flora throughout the rest of the world."

For more information, contact Dr Dana Bergstrom (telephone 07 3365 2773) or Mark Fountain (telephone 03 6234 6299).