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The enigmatic Darling Daisy: endangered and endearing

The Darling Daisy cymbonotus maidenii flower

A land type found around Roma, principally to the immediate west and southwest, is locally known as ‘wooded downs’. It consists of native grassland with or without scattered trees and patches of woodland, growing on deep, relatively fertile clay on undulating plains.

It’s highly-valued farming and pastoral land. As anyone who lives there will tell you, after a good winter to spring rain it’s a riot of colour as native wildflowers burst forth in the sunshine. One of the showiest is a large bright yellow daisy, the Darling Daisy Cymbonotus maidenii.

The Darling Daisy in bloom

The Darling Daisy is a rosette-forming herb up to 40 centimetres across, with a ring of bright green deeply toothed leaves from which one or more flowers are produced on stalks up to 30 centimetres high. Both the inner part and the outer petals of the flower are yellow. Flowers are about the size of a fifty-cent coin. Mature flowers produce copious amounts of nectar to attract insect pollinators like butterflies, moths and beetles. They are highly perfumed: to my nose, the fragrance is rich and reminiscent of leatherwood honey. Like many daisies, it is an annual or biennial plant, that is to say, that it goes through its life cycle in a year or two.

Historical records and decline

Historically the plant was recorded in several locations in New South Wales and Queensland. In New South Wales, it was recorded from the Moree, Narrabri, and Wee Waa areas and from numerous locations along the Darling River.

In Queensland, it was recorded in the Toowoomba, Cecil Plains and Dalby areas, around Roma and Mitchell, and near Emerald. In all these cases, it is or was associated with plains of deep clay soils.

Many of the historical records date back to the 1960s or earlier, and in some areas, it has not been collected for many years. For example, government botanist C.T. White stated that the Daisy was a “common roadside weed” when he collected it at Mitchell in 1941. However, I haven’t been able to find it there despite searches in what seemed to be good conditions. There are no recent records from the Emerald area. Because the species appears to have declined markedly, it is listed as Endangered by the Queensland Government.

Factors contributing to the decline

The reasons for its decline are unclear. All the known locations are in areas favoured for either grazing or broad-acre farming. It is likely that cultivation destroys the plant. Though once plants might recover in fallow fields, zero-till farming using herbicides to prevent weed growth would eliminate any Darling Daisies. They may also have been sensitive to grazing, particularly ‘set stocking’ where no rest period is available for recovery, so that plants are eaten out. Despite these impacts, the plant has some interesting strategies allowing it to persist in some favoured areas.

The Darling Daisy cymbonotus maidenii plant

The Darling Daisy in the Hodgson area

The Hodgson area, about 15 to 20 kilometres west of Roma, is a hotspot for the Darling Daisy. Here it typically is found growing on roadsides and in table drains. Though it is very localised, it can be common in places with several hundred plants within a few hundred metres of the roadside.

Intriguingly enough, in these places, it is absent from adjacent intact native grassland. It seems that seeds are transported by rain run-off and by grader activity during road reconditioning.

Surviving disturbance

Why do plants only grow on the disturbed roadsides? It may be that what appear to be ideal, undisturbed grasslands are now lacking some disturbance factor that once promoted growth of the Daisy. In areas where this factor hasn’t operated for a long time, no viable seed may remain to germinate. But what is that factor? Perhaps periodic heavy grazing or prolonged drought produced bare areas that allowed the seed to germinate and seedlings to flourish, free from competition with more vigorous grasses and herbs. Fires caused by lightning strikes or Aboriginal burning might also have had this effect. There is much to learn about the biology of this beautiful grassland plant.

For more information about local and endangered flora please contact us.

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