Old scholar volunteer saving rare plants from extinction

A Blackfriars old scholar is unearthing the seedy side of volunteering.

And while that might sound a bit unsavoury, Alex Chu’s volunteer work is helping to save South Australia’s threatened plant life from extinction.

Mr Chu (BPS’20) is a volunteer with the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre, part of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium.

As part of his volunteer work, he propagates critically endangered plants and processes seeds, which are stored in the Botanic Garden and the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK, to safeguard them from extinction. 

After graduating from Blackfriars, Mr Chu started a Diploma in Conservation and Ecosystem Management through TAFE SA. Now, alongside his weekly volunteer commitments, he also works at consultancy group EBS (Environment & Biodiversity Services) and the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia.

A self-proclaimed “plant nerd”, Mr Chu said he wanted to play his part in creating a future where “plants are appreciated and respected”.

Old scholar Alex Chu (BPS’20) stands by his picture that remains in the Music Department today.

“Through my work at the Seed Conservation Centre, I have helped save the rarest native plant species from going completely extinct,” said Mr Chu, who has also been part of the Biology Society of South Australia’s podcast.

“One of them is down to just eight plants in the wild.”

His love of plants stems back to his childhood.

“I guess since the age of 3, I’ve just always been in the natural world and around plants. I just find it very fascinating,” said Mr Chu, who came to Blackfriars as a Year 8 student in 2016.

“My family has always been an outdoorsy kind of family; we like hiking, my dad was an apple farmer.

“During high school, I lost my dad. So, I felt that being around nature, it’s a way of keeping his memory alive.

“My philosophy is when you can’t stop death with your hands, you can use them to make life instead. And that is exactly what I am doing; bringing back entire plant species from extinction.”

Old scholar Alex Chu is working to save rare plant species from extinction.

During his three years with the Seed Conservation Centre, he has been involved in some “world first” conservation projects.

“Just last year, we had an orchid from Kangaroo Island that bloomed for the very first time in a nursery,” he said.

“In the wild, there are less than 100 individuals left. I am amazed at how much they (the Seed Conservation Centre) trust me with their experiments there. It’s so cool.”

The critically endangered caladenia ovata (ovate spider orchid), which is endemic to Kangaroo Island.

While at Blackfriars, Mr Chu was a mentor for younger students who needed extra emotional support. He was awarded the school’s 2020 Daniel Cox Memorial Award for his resilience, determination and positivity.

In January 2021, he received the City of Prospect’s 2021 Active Citizenship Award.

“I met so many amazing friends, the teachers were so nice,” Mr Chu said of his time as a student at Blackfriars.

“Having been through that sort of thing (losing my dad) as a 17-year-old, that wasn’t easy and the school was so supportive.”

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