This World Rainforest Day we’re celebrating a truly incredible plant – the Illawarra socketwood.
As its name suggests, this small rainforest tree is endemic to the Illawarra escarpment. While it might be hard to tell apart from other rainforest trees, the Saving our Species program and Royal Botanic Gardens uncovered some amazing adaptations surrounding its reproduction.
The team analysed 24 populations of socketwood, finding they reproduce asexually by ‘cloning’ themselves through suckers that spring out from underground stems. These clones can span truly staggering distances – one clone has been found to spread over 900 metres.
The project also discovered that this tree produces a fruit containing no seed. We’re not yet sure why, but it could be contributing to the low seed germination rates for the plant.
With assistance from Wollongong Botanic Garden, these fruits were split open and inspected, revealing insect larvae within. The larvae were reared with help from University of Wollongong, and it turns out they were an entirely new species of fly, from the family commonly known as a ‘gall midges’.
Who knows what other surprises this plant has in store for us as we continue our research?