Bob’s a rare breed in world of plants

BOB Reid’s interest in plants started when he was a child but even though he is now officially retired his passion for rare and endangered plants continues.

During his career Mr Reid travelled the world collecting plants from some of the harshest environments on the planet.

Much of his work has centred around breeding resilient pasture species for Australian grazing systems, using grasses and legumes collected from across the globe.

Mr Reid also spent some time working for the United Nations collecting pasture spe- cies in the wild.

He was present at the first meeting held to establish the Global Seed Vault which is now located in the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard and has over a million different seed varieties stored from across the globe.

Mr Reid still has a large collection of plants and seeds at his home in Devon Hills.

“I’ m officially retired, but over the years I have accumulated large collection in my pastoral activities and I decided I’ m not going to drop all that,” he said.

“Particularly when I have germplasm that will be of value to Tasmania but also to southern Australia because with climate change happening, we’re going to have to move faster and faster to find adapted plants.”

Nowadays, he is slowly handing over a large part of the collection, which includes the pasture species to his son Jesse Reid and daughter-in- law Helen.

They will continue his work including the development of new pasture varieties in collaboration with Upper Murray Seeds.

Mr Reid still oversees a pasture project in Brazil where over the past decade they have been developing more suitable and resilient pasture species, some of which are now being released publicly.

With some extra time on his hands now, Mr Reid will also have the ability to focus on one of his long-term passions, rare bulbs.

During his travels collecting plants from around the world, Mr Reid said he often saw bulb species in the wild as they flowered around the same time as many of the pasture grasses he was working with.

“I collected a few seeds and in those days you could bring them into Australia, but not now, of course,” he said.

Mr Reid said the strict quarantine requirements meant the collection of wild plants was no longer viable for amateurs, which makes material that is already in the country much more valuable.

Mr Reid said at the time his interest in bulbs was also influenced by a collector in the United Kingdom called Jim Archibald, who helped to build his collection even further.

While he has not officially counted them, Mr Reid estimates he now has a collection of about 300 different species and varieties as well as a number of hybrids he has bred himself.

With land use changes across the globe and native habitat disappearing, Mr Reid said some of the species in his collection probably would not be found in the wild anymore.

“Some of these plants have a lot of value as a genetic resource, because it’s unlikely we’ll be able to get these again just because we can’t bring them in, but also the environments they came from are disappearing,” he said.

“Some of them you wouldn’t find in the wild anymore. I guess I like bulbs because I saw a lot of them growing in the wild.”

While there are other collectors around the country, Mr Reid is one of the few who focuses on cool climate varieties.

He said tightening of quarantine restrictions around the globe meant even large plant societies cannot ship seeds anymore which makes local collections valuable.

“It’s not just for an ornamental facility,” he said.

“The bulb industry globally is worth millions and that’s closing up too and you need a broad range of genetic material to breed from, so that’s really one of the reasons I’ m holding some here.”

Being able to collect seeds directly from the wild also meant Mr Reid saw firsthand the conditions many of the bulbs preferred, which can be an advantage when growing them here.

As well as breeding and growing plants Mr Reid has also started selling some of his bulbs though the Bob’s Bulbs Facebook page, which he said had proved surprisingly popular.

Mr Reid said many people did not realise the long history Tasmania has with plant breeding and one of the world’s leading daffodil breeders was based in Tasmania.

Even though he is handing over some of his collection to the next generation, Mr Reid said he has no plans to get out of the plant game, anytime soon.

“It keeps me interested and active and I meet some fantastic and very interesting people,” he said.