AN ENIGMATIC LOMATIA                                   by Mary King
Lomatia tinctoria, Lomatia tasmanica & Lomatia polymorpha
            L. tinctoria, L. tasmanica and L. polymorpha

There are 14 species of Lomatia; 
11 in Australia and 3 in Chile (South America). 
Loma  = “fringe or border” and refers to the paper wing around the seed.

This plant is something of an enigma as it only occurs (as far as anyone knows) in rainforest at an altitude from sea-level to 900 feet (275 metres) in one small locality at the southern end of the Bathurst Range near Cox Bight which is on the southernmost coast of South West Tasmania.

Lomatia tasmanica is a small tree up to 5 metres high, branched at the top, or sometimes the trunk is inclined with a few erect branches. The leaves are very striking, being  pinnate with 7-11 pairs of leaflets, deeply and irregularly toothed, shiny and dark green in colour. Young leaves are shiny and bright green. The very young stems and buds are covered in soft reddish brown hairs. The inflorescences are terminal racemes.(i.e. the flowers grow in clusters at the tips of the stems)  In its natural state the flowers are shorter or scarcely longer than the uppermost leaves. However, if one is clever enough to grow it “in captivity” the racemes are considerably longer and therefore very showy. Seeds have never been found. The closest living relative is Lomatia ferruginea which occurs in far-away Chile.

The discovery of Lomatia tasmanica is a source of pride for the author's family. In 1934 Deny King (a well-known amateur naturalist) was tin mining at Cox Bight. One day, when rambling through the bush, he found a strange and interesting plant he’d never seen before. On his next visit to Hobart he took specimens to the Tasmanian Herbarium. It was new to their botanists as well and specimens were sent off to Kew Gardens in England. The accompanying letter stated  “A man called King brought this plant in the other day - I cannot place it at all.” In fact the plant was not named until the 1960’s as it was necessary to have flowers in order to classify it.  In January 1965 the King family travelled on an important mission to Cox Bight to collect flowers of this strange new plant for the eminent Tasmanian botanist, Dr Winifred Curtis. Lo and behold, the plant was in flower!  The blooms were rusty red in colour and looked rather like grevilleas.
Lomatia tasmanica to grow Lomatia tasmanica - WITH EXTREME DIFFICULTY! In the wild it propagates by layering, roots forming at the nodes, but it can be grown from cuttings. The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens take tip cuttings, and using “Ezy Root” and “Clonex” are then placed in a very porous free-draining mix. The cuttings strike easily with bottom heat.  The trouble starts when growing them on when,  for no apparent reason, they turn black and die. They resent any disturbance, therefore potting on into larger containers is an extreme “health hazard” for the plants. The Botanical Gardens have two six-year old plants in pots which hardly ever flower as they are constantly raided for propagation material, most of which strike but one by one they die off. Ken Gillanders at Woodbank Nursery grafts scions of Lomatia tasmanica onto L. tinctoria. One would think this would be utterly foolproof but they have still proved very difficult to grow. Wrigley and Fagg (Banksias, Waratahs and Grevilleas) point out that further work may be necessary to determine cultural techniques, but heavy shade, rich loam and ample moisture are recommended.