Protecting our understorey plants

Plant life beneath the canopy is precious. The University is protecting on-campus vegetation by recording the number of understorey plant species to inform Metric 3 of the Biodiversity Baseline data project.

Biodiversity Baseline Data Project

The understorey layer includes plants located between the forest canopy and forest floor. Examples of understorey plants include shrubs, small trees, saplings, herbs and grasses.

Understorey plants play a key role in forest functioning. A diverse understorey layer protects and enriches the soil, cycles nutrients and provides food and shelter for insects and animals.

Student pictured in the sun sitting in our Burnley Native Garden surrounded by native herbs and grasses.
The Native Grassland garden at our Burnley campus provides a variety of understorey vegetation for local fauna including skinks, insects and birds.

Plant inventories: saving our urban forests

To maintain the health of our on-campus urban forests, the University has developed plant inventory maps in collaboration with student sustainability interns. The maps show the location of species on campus and their conservation status, and will be used to monitor changes to understorey vegetation. Any removal of understorey plants from University grounds (for example as a result of infrastructure projects) will be replaced, helping the University meet its commitment of ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity.

These maps will be made available online mid-2022.

Did you know milkmaids produce long tuberous roots which were eaten by Aboriginal people? The roots are available year-round and were cooked before eating.

Threatened flora at Burnley

Ryan Fisher, former Master of Environment student and Biodiversity Intern, used 2016 plant census data along with site visits to create the Burnley plant inventory.

Ryan identified 1262 unique plant species on the Burnley campus, of which 303 were native and include species such as:

  • Grevillea obtusifolia  (ging gin gem)
  • Banksia blechnifolia (southern blechnum banksia)
  • Burchardia umbellata (milkmaids)

20 species found at Burnley are endemic to the region, meaning they have a restricted geographical range. One such species is the Acacia phasmoides (phantom wattle) which is listed as vulnerable under federal conservation legislation. The species is found in both Victoria and New South Wales with only 405 plants known to exist!

With our campuses supporting such unique and vulnerable flora, it is crucial that we monitor and maintain our vegetation for our future staff, students and community to enjoy.

Right image:  “Milkmaids” by John Tann is licensed under CC BY 2.0.