5 April 2005

Hiding under power lines and growing between abandoned mines and clay pits near Ipswich is one of Australia’s rarest plants.

Only 17 of the native Cooneana Olive shrubs have been identified in Australia and all of them grow along the Cunningham Highway at Ebbw Vale and New Chum.

The shrubs grow to between one and two metres tall with dark green leaves, occasional yellow flowers and dark blue olive-like fruit.

They were discovered in 1976 but when plant enthusiasts returned a few months later to collect samples they found the site covered in overburden.

It wasn’t until late last year that the plant was formally named Notelaea ipsviciensis.

A team of UQ Conservation & Wildlife Biology students has mapped the Cooneana Olive population using Global Positioning Satellite technology and produced a recovery plan to save the plants from extinction

Team spokeswoman Bronwen Forsyth said the Cooneana Olive population could be expanded to 250 shrubs within five years if seed was collected and grown at other suitable habitats.

“These rare shrubs have survived mining, highways, housing construction and industry,” Ms Forsyth said.

“Ipswich residents drive past these shrubs every day not knowing how rare they are.”

The recovery plan provides for seed collection and propagation, protection from weeds and human disturbance, technical and financial incentives to landowners and more research.

It would cost $41,250 which the students believe was cheap to save a species.

Ms Forsyth said the plan was well received when she presented it to the Ipswich City Council and local Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service officer.

“It’s great to be able to make a practical difference to the environment by assisting the survival of the Cooneana Olive as part of our studies.”

The team of Gillian Benson, Alec Cheney, Bronwen Forsyth, Kerrie Lock and Joel Stibbard were helped by council officers and naturalist Lloyd Bird.

Course Coordinator Dr Frank Carrick of UQ’s School of Integrative Biology, said the project component of the Conservation and Wildlife Biology course was rare because it allowed students to achieve real outcomes.

The Cooneana Olive report was the latest of several student produced conservation plans that had been adopted by authorities.

Media: Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (phone: 07 3365 2619, email: m.holland@uq.edu.au)