29 May, 2020
Killer rubber vine creeps closer
Bulldozers, loaders, graders, ATVs, even drones are being used in the battle against a real and present danger — the invasive and destructive plant curse, rubber vine.
Three watercourses in
the Lake Eyre Basin are now under threat, all in the Desert Uplands. While
these creeks are the front line in the war, rubber vine has
also been found in scattered pockets as far down as Longreach with recent
treatments of outliers on the Longreach weir itself.
Disturbing results have been recorded in surveys taken along the Desert Uplands creeks by local Landcare groups, dedicated and committed landholders, and Longreach-based community natural resource management group Desert Channels Queensland (DCQ).
They have found not only massive infestations but drones filming up the watercourses have taken hundreds of pictures to find small and isolated plants hiding in the fringes.
Without the aid of computers, trained to detect the colour of this invader, this gargantuan effort would be impossible.
While politicians and governments have talked about this weed for years, landholders, Local Government, and NRM staff, backed by government scientists, have been fighting this weed. Some gains have been made but it’s mostly on the edges with the rubber vine wall proving too hard, too challenging, and too big to take on.
But, according to DCQ CEO Leanne Kohler, things are slowly changing. “Funding has come from the State and Commonwealth Governments,” Ms Kohler said, “so it’s time to get everyone working together and with every bit of machinery, every device, and every bit of nouse and common sense we can muster.
“More reminiscent of the tropical jungle than the arid west, lines have had to be cut deep into the rubber vine wall. Pathfinders scramble over the wall marking the way for landholders on dozers to break through.
“Loaders are used to widen the breach and landholders use graders to smooth the way for support vehicles and yet more ATV’s. The team is large, but the team in needed. This creeper does not yield easily. It interweaves with its neighbours forming a creeping wall that even stops a D7.”
Ms Kohler is confident that, over the next two years, the recipe for control will be better developed. Built on the current foundations but better able to deal with the core, the recipe will include fire.
“Fire must return to these areas,” Ms Kohler said. “Fire is the great weakness of the vine. With sufficient fuel load and a slow creeping fire, the white viscus sap boils — death for the cost of a match.
“This means that, with chemical and mechanical control, wet season spelling is essential to lay the foundations for the fire. The new access tracks act as fire breaks but the fuel for the fire must be nurtured and saved as the gift it truly is.
“While the temptation will be to graze the gift, its loss could mean the total and irrevocable loss of the watercourse.”
A rubber vine wall can be several kilometres long. The vine chokes all before it and leaves nothing but a wasteland. The forest falls, the animals depart, and the sound of silence is deafening.
Rubber vine is a killer but is also a stylish garden plant, a favourite of many house gardens both on properties and in towns. The beautiful trumpet-shaped flower, the dark glossy leaves, its ability to survive the local climate, and its aggressive climbing habit made this plant a favourite.
Flowering any time of the year after rain and with its fine wispy seeds dispersed by the breeze from high in the canopy or floating down the waterways has meant that this plant can spread with alarming speed.
With its spread comes the inevitable death of local trees, shrubs and grasses. While this loss in itself is difficult to watch, there is yet more destruction unleashed.
Along watercourses the thickets become so dense they change the boundaries of the watercourses. Flows are disrupted, the banks are destabilised, and erosion is the inevitable consequence.
Sediment pours into watercourses and great slugs of sand move downstream filling waterholes which were once the dry season refuge of the plants, crustaceans and fish which were the very foundation of our healthy watercourses.
With the coming of this invader, the forest lining the watercourse goes silent, and then so does the watercourse itself — a sad tribute to unintended consequences.
Ms Kohler has a message for all locals. “Next time you go to your favourite fishing spot or camp in that secret locale, take the time to explore the area, to look on the banks, and into the trees,” she said.
“Gaze up into the crown of the tree. Be aware, be vigilant and tell either DCQ or your local council if you see rubber vine. It’s coming to a watercourse near you but controlling a few small plants is so much easier than breaching the wall.
“If you care about the future your kids will have, learn to recognise this menace and report it when you see it. You will join a team of landholders and community members trying to leave the land and rivers in better condition than we found them.”