Unlocking the Secrets of Seeds

February 10th, 2020

Have you ever wanted to grow your own rainforest trees? This long-awaited guide to rainforest propagation unlocks the secrets to growing 300 rainforest species.
A close-up photo of a variety of subtropical rainforest seeds

A colourful mix of subtropical rainforest seeds (photo: Hugh Nicholson)

Front cover of Australian Rainforest Seeds book

Australian Rainforest Seeds unlocks the secrets to growing 300 rainforest species.


The combined knowledge and experience of Mark Dunphy, Steve McAlpin, Paul Nelson and Michelle Chapman on rainforest restoration, seed collection and propagation could fill a book – and lucky for us it does!

Australian Rainforest Seeds: A Guide to Collecting, Processing and Propagation unlocks the secrets to growing 300 rainforest species. Based on 30 years of research, the book provides information on how to sustainably collect, process and germinate seeds, with the ultimate aim of supporting the growing movement of rainforest restoration.

In this edited extract from the book, the authors explain why rainforest restoration is so important, and why the secrets of seeds are so fascinating!



There is something primal about gathering fruit from wild trees. It is an act carried out over millions of years by thousands of species, including humans and our close primate relatives. Even today, humans walking around in the rainforest sense this history and find it irresistible to pick up a fruit and ponder its potential. For some the fruit represents food, but for others it is about the almost magical possibility of the small seed within growing into a huge tree.



Aboriginal people have collected fruits from rainforest plants in Australia for tens of thousands of years. Over this time, they developed an intricate and detailed knowledge of what to collect, when to collect and how to prepare rainforest fruits. Following colonisation, rainforest clearing and dispossession, this information either remains in the hands of a few or has been lost. Despite this, some information has survived.

For example, we know that Foambark (Jagera pseudorhus) was used to ‘stun’ fish, the Black Bean (Castanospermum australe), properly processed to remove its poisonous toxins, could feed hundreds at ceremonial gatherings, and the sweet cinnamon flavoured Midyim (Austromyrtus dulcis) berries were picked and eaten. Although Aboriginal collection of rainforest fruits has been mostly about food and medicines, and not so much about propagation, there is considerable overlap in relation to knowledge of the timing of fruit and seed production.


Most of the subtropical rainforests of New South Wales and Queensland were cleared in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s. However, logging of rainforest continued well into the 1980s. Since that time there has been a growing interest in regenerating rainforest, and that interest has developed into a highly skilled and experienced industry that is restoring and replanting hundreds of hectares.

Australian Rainforest Seeds aims to fill a gap in the body of knowledge on rainforest restoration by passing on skills and information to allow more people to collect and propagate rainforest plants in a sustainable way. At current levels alone, the restoration of rainforest from cleared and degraded land needs tens of thousands of rainforest plants to be propagated, grown, planted and maintained every year. To expand this planting rate, we need hundreds of thousands of rainforest plants every year. To supply these plants, many nurseries – commercial, community and backyard – are needed to play the vital role of propagating seeds and producing plants.



There are no texts specifically dedicated to the collection, processing and propagation of subtropical rainforest plants. This book is the first, and is the culmination of 30 years of research, experience and practice at the Firewheel Rainforest Nursery (external link), situated within the former Big Scrub rainforest in northern New South Wales.

Even with 30 years of work, this book does not have all the answers. There are still many unsolved mysteries and secrets to germinating rainforest seeds. It is hoped that this book is the start of a continuous process of sharing research, knowledge and discoveries that will help increase plant numbers and protect and enhance the biodiversity of the rainforests into the future.


This is an edited extract from Australian Rainforest Seeds: A Guide to Collecting, Processing and Propagation, which can be purchased from our website or through your local bookstore.

Woman on computer and 3 men sorting seeds

The authorship team of Australian Rainforest Seeds (L to R: Michelle Chapman, Paul Nelson, Mark Dunphy & Steve McAlpin)