In what is being described as ‘a cultural first for Australia’ and ‘a great biosecurity success story’, a sapling from a sacred tree revered by the world’s Buddhist community has been imported into the country from Sri Lanka.
The sapling is from the famous Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa), under whose shade Buddha achieved enlightenment. It is also the oldest tree known to have been planted by a human – rather than by natural seeding – some 2,300 years ago.
Once cleared by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Melbourne-based post-entry quarantine (PEQ) experts as being pest- and disease-free, the sapling is destined for Bendigo in Victoria.
There it will be planted in a Buddhist temple known as Bodhi Dhamma Vihara, on a block of land owned by the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, which is associated with the Dalai Lama.
Sapling must comply with import restrictions
“As imported plants can carry a range of biosecurity risks, this sapling had to comply with our strict import conditions and will spend 12 months at our PEQ facility,” said Head of Biosecurity at the department, Andrew Tongue.
“It’s being checked weekly by our plant pathologists and must undergo testing during its 12-month quarantine period before being released in 2022.”
Despite receiving a blessing during a spectacular farewell in Sri Lanka, it has not been all smooth sailing for the little tree. Department staff picked up the sapling from the airport’s clearing agent when the consignment arrived, only to find it was a bare-rooted plant in a fairly stressed condition.
Wrapped in paper and in a polystyrene box, it had a rough journey to Australia, sustaining a snapped stem and some insect damage. Plant pathologists examined it and checked for obvious illness and nematodes.
Despite precautions, staff found insects on plant
“The importer did all the right things, including washing the plant before packing it, but PEQ staff found insects on it. They had to remove most of its foliage to lessen the pest risk,” Tongue explained.
“It looked a bit like a stick after treatment. Bodhi trees are used to hot and humid conditions, and to help it grow it was put it in a special hot house where temperatures can range from 25 to 35 degrees.”
He added that, because Melbourne’s days during winter are so cold and short, the staff also provided the plant with extra light.
Clearly the small sapling must have felt at home with warmth and extra light because new leaves grew within the first week of quarantine. It is now very healthy and stands almost one-metre tall.