Rare Painted Desert daisy proved to be endangered

Posted 15 January 2018.

New populations of the endangered purple-flowering Arckaringa Daisy (Olearia arckaringensis) have been discovered on a recent survey of the Arckaringa breakaways, north of Coober Pedy.

The species was only first discovered by chance in 2000 in the gullies of the Breakaways in an isolated pocket of Arckaringa Station, north of Coober Pedy by scientists Rob Brandle and Peter Lang.

This led to several visits by scientists over following years to learn more about the daisy, with only minor expansion to the known single population in adjacent gullies.

A further two populations were discovered in 2011 along the same breakaway cliff-line on the neighbouring property, Evelyn Downs, raising the possibility that the species may be more widespread.

In late 2017, a detailed survey was undertaken throughout areas that were believed to be suitable habitat along the Breakaways escarpment, with the hope of finding new populations and learning more about the Arckaringa Daisy.

And the search by the survey team, which took more than 100 hours and covered more than 100km of Breakaway country, paid off.

The survey team, which included staff from the SA Arid Lands region, landholders, volunteers, traditional owners, staff from the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, and experts from the State Herbarium of South Australia and South Australian Seed Conservation Centre, counted well over 2000 Arckaringa Daisy plants with several new populations found.

However the extent of their distribution was still found to be limited, with the known range only extended by around 10km, proving it truly is a rare and highly restricted plant.

Specimens of the Arckaringa Daisy and other flora species were collected for the Herbarium and Seed Conservation Centre. This is vital to build plant  knowledge and improve scientists’ ability to accurately describe and identify different species, whilst the collected seeds will be stored to insure against species extinction in the case of an unforeseen catastrophe to these highly restricted populations.

SA Arid Lands Region Community Ecologist Cat Lynch says the results of the survey are very exciting, and there is still much to learn about the Arckaringa Daisy.

“We were extremely happy to find additional populations of the Arckaringa Daisy and to be able to gather more information on the distribution, size of populations and potential threats to the species, such as grazing and erosion,” she said.

“It’s hoped that further surveys can be undertaken in the future to monitor any changes to the size and distribution of populations over time, and to develop effective ways of protecting this unique plant.”

Ms Lynch said it is thought that the species has gone undiscovered possibly due to its close resemblance to a saltbush when not in flower and appears restricted to the washed out, white shales forming the lower slopes of the spectacular Breakaways.

The plant is a small, compact perennial shrub which grows to around 30cm high, and has the ability to regrow from its woody base, which is useful in the arid zone where rainfall is infrequent.

The survey was funded by the SA Arid Lands NRM Board and National Landcare Programme, and would not have been possible without the support of landholders, traditional owners, volunteers and other support staff.

More information