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The flora of Murdoch University: A guide to the native plants on campus

Dell, B. and Bennett, I.J. (1986) The flora of Murdoch University: A guide to the native plants on campus. Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia.

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Western Australia's wildflowers are recognized throughout the world for their colour, form and uniqueness. Many can be observed in the metropolitan area close to the city of Perth. Despite this, there has been very little scholarly documentation of them. This book provides an account of the flora of Murdoch University. Though the campus was disturbed first by farming and later by arboriculture, small but significant areas of the original bush remain. This scholarly account provides a valuable record of those native species that enrich the Murdoch campus after the first ten years of its operation. It should prove useful as a data base for future conservation and planning strategies, as well as providing a valuable reference source for staff and students. It should also have strong appeal to local residents who are curious about the plants which characterize the white and yellow sands of their surrounds and as a guide for visitors to the campus. The work, though written for the amateur naturalist, is scientifically sound and attempts to simplify the identification of plants using ink drawings and colour photographs in combination with keys. The Murdoch University community is grateful to those of its members whose enthusiasm and skill have made possible this lasting contribution to the celebration of our tenth anniversary. I congratulate them.
RONALD WILSON KBE, CMG, LLM Penn., LLB HonLLD W.Aust Chancellor, Murdoch University

Murdoch University lies at the interface of two dune systems on the western third of the Swan Coastal Plain. To the west lie the tall Spearwood Dunes, mainly yellow sands over limestone. The older and highly leached white sands of the Bassendean Dune system lie to the east. Separating the two systems is a chain of freshwater lakes and wetlands, the closest to Murdoch being North Lake.

Murdoch is part of the once extensive eucalypt/banksia woodland that clothed the well-drained ridges of much of the metropolitan area. Quite subtle changes in elevation, slope, drainage and soil chemistry provide a range of habitats resulting in a rich and diverse flora. As a result the Murdoch flora contains not only elements of the Kwongan sandplain vegetation (heathlands on infertile soils, e.g. Calectasia cyanea, Daviesia triflora), but units or species characteristic of the jarrah forest (e.g. Banksia grandis, Eucalyptus marginata), coastal woodlands on calcareous soils (e.g. Eucalyptus gomphocephala, Olearia axillaris) and freshwater wetlands (e.g. Astarte a fascicularis, Melaleuca preissiana).

Trees form the dominant and most familiar components in the region. Of the 200 indigenous species now on campus it is perhaps surprising that only fifteen reach the stature of trees (defined as plants with a single woody trunk and over 4 metres in height). There are four species of eucalypts, two paperbarks, five banksias, and one she-oak, Christmas tree, woody pear and acacia. Clearly, therefore, most diversity is to be found in the shrub and herbaceous communities and much of this book is devoted to these groups. The number of species and their present distributions have been strongly affected by agriculture and forestry pursuits.

Recent History
Parts of the southern half of Murdoch were used to graze cattle, horses and sheep until the mid 1970s. The grazing must, however, have been light in the existing Banksia Woodland because the under-storey is quite intact and there is little weed growth. Limited cropping was also undertaken. Earlier, Chinese market gardeners established vegetable plots near the south-east corner of Melaleuca Swamp. Part of the market garden now has Melaleuca regrowth and the raised beds can still be seen in aerial photographs. Just to the west of the old gardens lies a narrow raised track lined on the eastern side by a single row of Pinus trees. This track once passed north, up the main campus ridge and onto where Riseley Street is today. These and other tracks i n the area were probably once used to haul jarrah logs and billets to small local saw-pits or further afield on the limestone track (now Leach Highway) to mills in Fremantle. A few large jarrah stumps remain on campus, e.g .below Bush Court . In addition to jarrah, tuart was also felled for timber. This species is at the eastern edge of its range, and there are a few remaining trees in Bush Court.

The northern half of, Murdoch was part of the University of Western Australia Endowment Land (Cockburn Sound Location 549). In March 1926 an agreement was made between the University of Western Australia and the Conservator of Forests whereby the Forests Department undertook to establish a pine plantation. The area was to be cleared and planted at the rate of 100 acres per annum and the lease period was fifty years. The scheme was inaugurated at a time when there was a strong movement to get parliamentary permission to sell Endowment Lands, and was a challenge by members of the University of Western Australia Senate to find a way to use them profitably. The following description of the. Somerville plantation is from The West Australian (31 May 1938) - 'The plantation was divided into areas of about 25 acres, each of which was ' surrounded by a firebreak 15 feet wide. Each group of four such areas was surrounded by a firebreak one chain wide and each 300 acre lot was surrounded by a two-chain firebreak. The trees were planted about 7 feet apart'.

Wildfires in the Somerville area were small and frequent, for example there were sixty-one in the 1 973-74 season. In the early 1960s a lookout tower was erected west of Kardinya to replace the treetop lookout on the edge of South Street.

Most of the Murdoch section was planted from 1937 to 1940 with Pinus pinaster. A small area of P. radiata was planted near South Street in 1955. Later, the beginning of the construction programme for Murdoch University was symbolically marked by the felling of one tree on 7 February 1973.

Publication Type: Book
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: Murdoch University
Copyright: Murdoch University, Murdoch Western Australia
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