Alumni collaboration reveals the secrets of seed propagation

Published 1 April 2020
Australian Rainforest Seeds authors Australian Rainforest Seeds authors – Hugh Nicholson, Southern Cross alumni Michelle Chapman and Mark Dunphy, with Steve McAlpin.

Some you soak, some you macerate, some you ferment to wake them from their slumber. Any self-respecting seed collector will happily confess it’s an obsession; they are often late for appointments and parties because they stop to collect them from plants on the side of the road, paper bags always at the ready.

Small-leaved Tamarind seeds manually extracted from the edible fruit
Small-leaved Tamarind (Diploglottis campbellii) seeds require manual extraction from capsules, before removing the juicy ails by macerating.

Propagating rainforest seeds is not only an obsession, it’s a craft learned over decades, and now, thanks to two Southern Cross alumni and a group of northern NSW rainforest experts, it’s yours to share.

Alumni Mark Dunphy and Michelle Chapman, together with co-authors Steve McAlpin, Paul Nelson and photographer Hugh Nicholson, have published a book that will prove pivotal to rainforest restoration for generations to come.

Australian Rainforest Seeds is a long-awaited guide to collecting, processing and propagating more than 300 subtropical rainforest species and it has been germinating – at least in Mark’s head and heart  for decades. His desire to share this knowledge has finally come to fruition.

Since graduating in 1983 with his Associate Diploma in Applied Science from Southern Cross University, Mark has accumulated over 35 years’ experience working in rainforest restoration with Firewheel Rainforest Nursery, which he established in 1988.   

His passion was cultivated and stoked by his grandfather Myles Dunphy and uncle Milo Dunphy, both well-known conservationists who were instrumental in the preservation of NSW wilderness areas.

“The book is about giving away all our collective secrets gained during the last 20 to 30 years, so that people from the backyard to commercial growers can learn to germinate seeds to bring back parts of the Big Scrub rainforest,” says Mark.

“It explains what a flower, a fruit, and a seed is. It reveals when, where, what and how to collect seeds, and what to do with them after you’ve collected them. The way you process the different types of seeds before propagation varies greatly. Sometimes you have to soak, macerate, dry or ferment them to germinate. It’s really fascinating.”

A self-professed novice when it comes to writing, Mark says Michelle Chapman was pivotal to the book being published. Environmental Science graduate and ActivatED consultant, Michelle has worked in education for 15 years, developing programs and facilitating workshops on sustainability around the world.

“I went to one of Mark’s workshops as a first-year student in my Bachelor of Environmental Science degree, and thought, people need to know this information, so I approached Mark and that’s how it started,” Michelle says.

“During the second year of my degree, I was able to enrol in Independent Study units so the research I conducted for Chapters 2 – 4 about biology and ecology, and international techniques used for processing seed that informed two Literature Reviews, was part of my degree studies.”

She did not just contribute words however, also project managing to keep the publication on track, editing the book to ensure the terminology was accurate and writing the glossary and index.

Steve McAlpin and Paul Nelson provided most of the data through years of collecting, processing, experimenting and documenting.

Long-time rainforest seed collector, well-known local conservationist and activist Hugh Nicholson revealed he had the photos that appear in the book well before it was conceived, true to the reputation of seed collectors he has over 12,000 photos of rainforest plants.

Australian Rainforest Seeds  A Guide to Collecting, Processing and Propagation was published in February 2020 by the CSIRO and can be found at the Southern Cross University library in paperback or online.

Media contact: SCU Media,