Against All Odds: Endangered Fern surviving on Fleurieu Peninsula

When the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre team identified a plant at risk of extinction, a search erupted to try and relocate the Bat's-wing Fern in the Mount Lofty Ranges.

Against All Odds: Endangered Fern surviving on Fleurieu Peninsula
Three tiny patches of Bat's-wing fern were located on a property near Nangkita on the Fleurieu Peninsula

What do the records show about the Bat's-wing fern?

The Bat's-wing Fern (Histiopteris incisa) is an endangered fern species in South Australia which is found in wet swamp ground.

State Herbarium records show that the species has been recorded in just three locations - the Mount Burr region back in 1977, along the De Mole River on Kangaroo Island in 1996 and in the Mount Lofty Ranges in 1998.

While the lack of records of this species are alarming, many of these recordings are over 30 years old and a lot has changed in the wet, swampy environments that it occurs.

Several anecdotal observations have been made by people since 1998, but these have never been formally validated.

The status of this fern is not well understood, and a concern existed that it may have indeed become extinct in the Mount Lofty Ranges.

Who last saw the fern and what are we doing to locate it?

The South Australian Seed Conservation Centre was funded by a generous donor of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens Foundation to protect the flora of the Fleurieu Swamp - a nationally listed Threatened Ecological Community.

One of the species identified for the project was the Bat's-wing fern.

The Seed Centre team worked with noted field botanist, Denzel Murfet, who last saw the fern in the Mount Lofty Ranges at Nangkita, to visit all the previously recorded locations and it could not be found.

A number of the observational location records for Bat's-wing Fern were no longer able to be found or were actually another fern, such as the rare Ruddy Ground Fern (Hypolepis rugosula).

Against All Odds: Endangered Fern surviving on Fleurieu Peninsula
Landholder Jim Simmonds next to the new enclosed space on his property which holds thought to be one of the only collections of Bat's-wing fern left in South Australia.

A population secured, but where do we go from here?

Not to be disheartened, the Seed Centre team reached out to its amazing network of partners and supporters.

Expert botanical volunteer Kieran Brewer answered the team's call and suggested that a neighbour to the original location at Nangkita had a population, but he feared it was also extinct.

Kieran provided the contact details and suggested the Seed Centre team visit the swamp - potentially the last opportunity to secure the species in South Australia.

Finally, after many hours of fruitless searching they did stumble across a very small population of three tiny patches.

Senior seed collection officer Dan Duval re-visited the site and, with the help of the property owner Jim Simmonds, erected a fence to protect the area from the grazing pressure of sheep and deer.

It is hoped that natural recruitment will occur and allow the freshly discovered fern to develop to a size where spore collection can take place.

Once the plants have been grown the idea is to establish them in suitable swamp habitat in the Mount Compass area to create insurance populations - this will give us a much better opportunity to see these plants in the wild for our next generation.

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