Frank Mercer Biological Sciences Garden
The Frank Mercer Biological Sciences Garden, in the courtyard of the Department of Biological Sciences, is a key component of the Evolutionary History Walk as it features a number of garden beds specialising in different groups of plants and their characteristics. In the centre of the courtyard is a North American Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, a shapely tree with spectacular green and apricot coloured flowers in spring. It was planted in 1994 by Alison Downing. A pond feature provides an additional teaching resource and aesthetic qualities to the courtyard.
The garden was created in 1978. Adjacent to the main courtyard is a more extensive area of trees and shrubs. The garden was named in honour of Frank Mercer, founding Head of Department for Biological Sciences. Staff, students and friends of the garden played key roles in designing and planting the gardens and donating funds and trees. The first tree was planted by Edwin Webb, then Vice-chancellor of the university.
The garden features trees and shrubs from major plant families from around the world, with a strong focus on flowering plants and gymnosperms. There are also gardens beds devoted to cycads and ferns.
The garden annexe (east of the courtyard) received a big rejuvenation during 2015-2016. Trees that were showing signs of disease and age (senescence) were removed, and weedy shrubs were removed. The garden has had new landscaping added, with accessible pathways and additional seating. New plants are adding interest and value to the garden and undergraduate teaching. The southern end of the annexe has been expanded and now focuses on plants found in sandstone environments. There is a greater diversity of species from the major Australian plant families of Myrtaceae, Proteaceae and Fabaceae with a good representation from other important families such as Rutaceae, Thymeliaceae and Asteraceae.
IN THE GARDEN
Monocots are flowering plants whose seed has a single embryonic leaf. Monocots include plants such as lilies, palms, grasses and orchids. Spectacular specimens include the Gymea Lily (Doryanthes excelsa) and the Lord Howe Island Palm (Howea forsteriana).
The Ericales bed showcases plants from the order Ericales, predominantly in the family Ericaceae, which includes the Rhododendron group of plants from Asia and North America, and the heaths (Epacrids) from Europe and Australia. The garden bed is protected in summer by shade from three Trident Maples (Acer buergeranum).
17 different species of ferns occupy the fern bed. Ferns are primitive vascular plants that reproduce by spores and require damp environments for part of their life cycle. This bed is also home to three gymnosperms: Podocarpus elatus (Plum Pine), Callitris rhombifolia (Port Jackson Cypress Pine), and Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood).
Dicots are flowering plants with typically two embryonic leaves. The Dicot bed features a number of different flowering plants including: Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana), Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), White Oak (Grevillea baileyana), Coffee (Coffea arabica) and Purple Glory (Tibouchina grandiflora).
The swamp was originally designed for plants that prefer poorly drained soils. The Tristania laurina (Water Gum) is a common tree of riparian areas, but also grows well as a street tree. This garden bed features a number of species that have recently been used for post graduate research, including Native Cotton (Gossypium sturtianum).
The Frank Mercer Garden extends beyond the Biology Courtyard towards Research Park Drive and Science Road. The section immediately adjacent to the courtyard features a number of gymnosperms from different parts of the world.
The annexe adjacent tot he courtyard has been recently planted with an extended understorey of natives. At the southern end are shrubs typical of Sydney sandstone soils, such as heaths. Elsewhere in the garden are plants of more sheltered habitats such as gullies and rainforest understorey.
Closer to the Science Road edge of the garden are a number of species from the rainforests and tablelands of northern NSW and Queensland. Many of these trees are representatives of the migration of plants from Asia, such as Hibiscus and Flindersia.