Thursday's stories at the Botanic Congress

At the Botanical Congress today

  • Secrets of a voodoo plant revealed – it could reshape Australian crops, and rescue African farmers from a disastrous plant parasite
  • How cotton was born: a million year-old mating opens up an improved future
  • Is there too much cyanide in imported cassava products?
  • Sister Water Lily meets the Big Bad Banksia Man – do they hold the key to a new era in botany education?
  • Why life depends on plants and what we need to do to for biodiversity and humanity – an op ed from Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus,MissouriBotanical Garden.

Here’s more on some of these stories. For additional details go to

 Within 5 km of News Limited in Holt Street, Sydney there are reports of at least 3,500 different animal species, and 2,400 plant species.

ABC Southbank in Melbourne is a neighbour to more than1200 animals and 519 plants.

Find out what’s living in your street with the Atlas of Living Australia’s public gateway launched today at the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, and add your own sightings to Australia’s species record.

“To get a really comprehensive view of living Australia we need the help of the public. We’re calling on Australians to re-engage with the natural world. We want them to report on their neighbours – not their human neighbours but on the plants and animals in their gardens, nature strips, paddocks and parks,” said Mr Donald Hobern, Director of the Atlas of Living Australia.

To see what’s living in your area go to and take a look. Then click on share to contribute your own observations or photos.

“There are huge gaps in our knowledge of Australian biodiversity. The best estimate we have for the number of Australian species is 570,000, and nearly three quarters of these are unknown or undescribed,” said Dr Kevin Thiele, director of the IdentifyLife component of the Atlas which provides a series of tools or keys to help people identify species. More at

How cotton was born: a million year-old mating opens up an improved future

A coming together and genetic merging of an American plant with an African or Asian plant one or two million years ago produced the ancestor of the bush that now provides 90% of the world’s commercial cotton. And although the resulting plant has been domesticated and changed genetically by breeding over thousands of year, it retains a genetic structure and capacity which is conducive to further modification.

These are some of the significant outcomes of the detailed studies of the cotton genome by Professor Jonathan Wendel and his colleagues at Iowa State University discussed at the XVIII International Botanical Congress.

Fighting famine with botany

A family of plant hormones, known as the strigolactones has provided researchers with a new lead in the fight against one of the world’s most devastating plant parasites, the African witchweed or voodoo plant, the XVIII International Botanical Congress in Melbourne will be told today.

The strigolactones, which are important to plant root development, also stimulate the growth of the parasite, which taps into the root system.

“African Witchweed can reduce yields of cereal crops to zero, and is considered the major biological constraint to crop production in sub-Saharan Africa,” says researcher Associate Professor Christine Beveridge who leads a team working on strigolactones and believes the hormone could also help improve fruit trees.

For more information:  call Niall Byrne on 0417 131 977,
or AJ Epstein on 0433 339 141 or email