Close this search box.

The matted flax-lily: Saving Victoria’s best-kept floral secret

Against all odds, and with a little help, the Dianella amoena's population is slowly growing.

To the untrained eye, the matted flax-lily just looks like another patch of grass. The bright green clump can be easy to overlook when not flowering, especially when blended into its naturally dry woodland habitat.

This unassuming species, whose Latin name is Dianella amoena, is currently critically endangered in Victoria, with all known locations of the flower documented in the Biodiversity Atlas of Living Australia.

Supplied by La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary.

One of these clumps used to be thought of as just a single plant, but when a La Trobe University Masters student surveyed the campus’ population of the species. The study looked at genetic materials and samples to find out how many unique genotypes they had of the lily, taking multiple samples from each clump. She found that they were multiple organisms.

Habitat and Biodiversity Coordinator at the La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary Michael Cincotta tells upstart that, because of its mat-like formation on the ground, these clumps of Dianella amoena used to be identified differently.

“The way consultants used to do it was if there was a clump separated by a metre and a half gap and then another clump, they were considered two individuals,” he says.

“The initial thoughts of about 1200 individuals existing in the wild.”

Yet through the university’s discovery, there could be more than recorded in the database.

For a species to be listed as critically endangered, there must be a record of 250 or less mature individuals. The matted flax-lily has an estimated 1,400 plants in 120 locations. One of the greatest contributors to its endangerment is that, as it grows mainly in grassy areas, the lily can sometimes be mistaken for a weed and removed. This, along with roadworks and construction around their natural habitat, has negative impacts on the species’ chances of survival as they tend to grow on nature strips and roadsides.

Bushland Management Coordinator for the Banyule Council Chris Callahan says reducing the impact of weeds through controlled burn offs is the first part of his management role in parks and natural environments for Banyule, where The Bush Crew work towards to keeping the lily safe.

“We work within those reserves that have current little populations of matted flax-lily in certain locations that we preserve and protect and try and encourage their recruitment on certain reserves,” he tells upstart.

The wildlife sanctuary. Supplied by La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary.

“[The Bush Crew have] remnant bush reserves that have small populations, not too bad, but smaller sort of populations of matted flax-lily that they are aware of and they try and manage it,” he says. “They’ll also use fire to burn and regenerate on the outskirts of some of those as well to encourage regrowth”.

Callahan says that installing fences to keep rabbits out, hand weeding and spot burning are the best control methods to ensure that the Matted Flax-Lily and any other species are not harmed or accidentally removed.

“It protects not only matted flax-lily, but a lot of other local Indigenous ground flora within some of those bush reserves as well,” he says.

Strategies like Banyule Council’s are helping to separate the lily from other bushland flora, so they can extract and relocate the lily. This allows for easier management of the lily so they can be propagated and have the seeds planted in sunny areas where they will not be threatened.

When in bloom from October to April, Dianella amoena grows up to 90cm in height and produces a small sweet fruit that has been used for centuries by Indigenous Australians as a blue dye. The round purple berry is mostly filled with seeds, flowering more frequently than it fruits.

The lilies abundance of flowers have been described to have a sweet fragrance, attracting many buzz pollenating bees to their large purple star-shaped flower. They remove the pollen to feed their young only and do not produce any honey.

Dianella amoena is one of the only ones that also has a fragrant flower too,” Cincotta says. “So it’s quite nice. Most of the other Dianellas don’t have any fragrance in their flower.”

The matted flax-lily berry. Supplied by La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary.

The bees frequenting the La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary’s Matted Flax-Lily population are Amygdala Blue Banded Bees and the Native Sweat Bee (lasioglossum bee) that are “present on the site here,” Cincotta says.

“They have a little burrow somewhere…sometimes they have little aggregations where they’ll all hang out together for a couple of days, sit on a stem and then sort of depart”.

While the bees are helping the flower to pollenate, other wildlife are threatening the species.

“Slugs and snails are eating the outside of the fruit before the seed is ripe and the non-variable seeds are falling to the ground,” Cincotta says.

Other animals, such as birds, consume the seed, crunching it to pieces and reducing the chance for it to be passed through them and naturally dispersed.

The Banyule Council also attempts to stop rabbits from destroying the plant. Callahan says this is done to help protect the critically endangered species and many others.

“In certain locations we’ll fence from grazing animals…so it protects not only the Matted Flax-Lily but a lot of other local indigenous flora within some of those bush reserves.”


Story: Isabella O’Brien is a second-year Bachelor of Media and Communications (Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @BellaMaeOBrien

Photos: Supplied by La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary

Related Articles

Editor's Picks