from the world’s rainforests
The Botanical Ark Retreat sits within the grounds of The Botanical Ark. It is here that we (Alan and Susan) have collected and planted over 3000 species of tropical ethnobotanical plants. We started collecting from our region and continued collecting around the world, a tally of over to over 40 countries. All plants undergo strict quarantine. Some fruits we introduced to Australia.
Collecting from our region
What started as a desire to feed our family turned into a passion to help save the planet’s rainforests.
By the time we moved onto our land in 1982, we were already collecting plants that could feed our family. One of the first rules of growing your own food is to grow food suitable for your climate. We explored what fruit and nuts were available. When we first went to our local nurseries, they tried to sell us fruit like apples, pears, peaches and grapes! Nice enough fruits for temperate climates but unsuitable for the wet tropics.
We did our research and found that many of the fruits suited to this environment just weren’t here. A few had been a few imported in the late 1890s but nearly all had died. That was prior to the era when sugar became the leading industry.
Collecting around the world
Following leads from individuals and organisations like Florida’s Rare Fruit Council, we embarked on a quest that has lasted a lifetime. In the first two years, we sourced 25 new species from South East Asia, and they grew well. We were thrilled.
We asked ourselves that if we could get 25 species from a small part of South East Asia, imagine what might be found in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. So we embarked on an adventure that would last 11 months.
Throughout that journey of discovery we tasted, enjoyed, researched and collected over 80 new species of fruits and nuts we had never seen before. Plants from the Pacific, Central and South America. While we were away, we diverted to Florida where our first daughter, Heather, was born.
Tropical rainforests contain so much biodiversity and some trees fruit at different times of the year. We also discovered that some trees produce fruit once only every few years. As we were in these locations for only a few days, collecting what was available at that time, we wondered what fruit people ate during the remainder of the year. So began many adventures to distant lands.
Countries we collected from
Over the years, we have made over 100 journeys, collecting plants from more than 40 different countries. We have travelled from the jungles of West Africa to the Congo, to Madagascar and Zanzibar.
We have wound our way down the countries of Central America, across the Caribbean, and into the tropical forests of South America. We’ve explored many forests of our near neighbours in South East Asia.
Even closer is Papua New Guinea. Its capital, Port Moresby, is closer to us than Queensland’s capital, Brisbane. So we’ve searched the forests of Papua New Guinea, too.
Our work researching and promoting rainforests fruits and nuts has resulted in us receiving a coveted Slow Food award for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Food.
Importing seeds and plants into Australia is not easy and the government is determined to keep unwanted pests, diseases and weeds out of the country.
We have worked within their system for more than 30 years and have established a good relationship with the Quarantine department.
The formidable rules, regulations and costs often mean that some plants or seeds will never be brought into Australia, and we are comfortable with that. It is in our interests to make sure what we do is a benefit to Australia, not a detriment. There are safe ways to bring in many useful or threatened species and we follow these rules.
We decided that no one would love our imports as much as we did, so we built our own quarantine station at The Botanical Ark that is monitored by the Quarantine Department.
Fruits we introduced into Australia
The Botanical Ark has introduced many of the fruits that are in cultivation in northern Australia today. Some are now grown commercially by various farmers, others are just for collectors.
Of the fruits that are gown at The Botanical Ark, not all are readily accepted or favoured by consumers. Wild relatives of some of the more common fruits may be necessary for future food security.
Many of these fruits come directly from jungle areas. Local peoples, concerned with what is happening to their forests, are often eager to show and share their fruits, to ensure they survive after the forests have gone.
The Botanical Ark is not a failsafe measure. If we, as humans, truly value the natural world, we must attempt to preserve the natural ecosystems. The Botanical Ark continues to work with universities, botanic gardens, indigenous peoples and others, to identify wild fruits and their potentially useful relatives.
You may also be interested in reading a brief biography of us, or how we found the land for The Botanical Ark, or how we are trying to help save the world’s rainforests, or our aspirations for The Botanical Ark, or some of our travel tales.
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Dr Peter Raven
“Their highly successful effort to create a unique botanical garden, or botanical ark... will help to save, understand, and appreciate the wonderful beauty of the rain forests. They have demonstrated an unavoidable truth - that each of us has a choice, and that each can make a difference."
Who is Dr Peter Raven?
Garden Tour reviews
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“Great and wonderful and we hope that Alan and Susan’s forest work inspire people from...all of Africa to do the same and protect the nature and forests. Many thanks and congratulations.”
Mohamed and Khadija Ben Jemai (Tunisia)
“You are AMAZING! OUTSTANDING! TALENTED VISIONARIES! Who will ever understand all the dedication and hard work you have done? BRAVO!”
“The Botanical Ark is home to one of the most fascinating and unusual collections of plants I have seen... offering a stimulating mix of instruction and delight.”
Who is Michael Pollan?
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“You just know that one day this story will be a Hollywood epic and top actors will vie with one another to play this extraordinary couple who have risked life and limb to pursue a most inspirational cause.”
Media Monitors Incisive Insight
“While most of us salve our environmental conscience by recycling the rubbish and sending a cheque to Greenpeace every now and then, the Carles attack the problem with inspiring practicality.”
Sunday Life Magazine
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