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Meet the man saving wild macadamias, one tree at a time

Australian macadamia pioneer Ian McConachie has been an integral part of the macadamia industry for 60 years. He has been a driving force in the conservation of wild macadamias. 

Rare and special trees, up to 90% of wild macadamias have been lost since European settlement and the Australian government has now classified all the wild macadamia species as either vulnerable or endangered.

Learn more about macadamia change maker Ian McConachie (press play)

Ian McConachie grew up in Brisbane in the 1940s when it was common for families to have a macadamia tree and a mango tree in their backyard. “We used to crack them in a vice and put them in a frying pan with butter to roast them, and then the whole family would love them. That’s where I developed my taste and passion for the macadamia nut.”

“We used to crack them in a vice and put them in a frying pan with butter to roast them, and then the whole family would love them. That’s where I developed my taste and passion for the macadamia nut.”

Every macadamia tree in the world originated from Australia’s rainforests. Over millions of years macadamias retreated to little favourable niches in the rainforests on the eastern seaboard. However with expanding residential development, plus fires, farming and climbing weeds, a massive loss of macadamias in the wild has occurred.

Ian McConachie with Andy Burnside from Macadamia Conservation Trust

It’s important to conserve wild macadamias as they are part of Australia’s native flora and fauna which is being steadily lost over time. Also, the commercial macadamia industry is based on a tiny genetic fraction of the available trees. “We simply do not know how important the genetics of the wild trees are and how diverse they are. It is quite possible that there will be massive future improvements in productivity and adaptability that come from wild genetic resources” says Ian.

Macadamia Jansenii as rare as the Wollemi Pine

In the 1980s there was huge excitement when a whole new species of macadamia was found. “For 130 years, we had only known about three species of macadamia. Jan (Ian’s wife) and I heard that macadamias had been found 300 kilometres further north of their natural habitat, and they turned out to be a completely new species. It’s called Macadamia Jansenii after Ray Jansen, who was one of the people who originally found it. Originally, 23 trees were found. Now about 100 trees have been found, but it is still as rare as the Wollemi Pine, and as threatened as the Wollemi Pine.”

Now about 100 trees have been found, but it is still as rare as the Wollemi Pine, and as threatened as the Wollemi Pine.”

The Macadamia Conservation Trust was formed by a group of passionate enthusiasts who were all dedicated to protecting wild macadamias. In 2007 it became a registered environmental organisation with the Australian government. “The first step, when the Macadamia Conservation Trust formed, was to prepare what we call a recovery plan. That was a detailed list of the wild macadamias, where they were located, the risks they were facing, but more particularly, the actions that were needed to conserve them. That recovery plan was adopted by the Australian government and that became our blueprint.”

“One of the catch phrases we use is that ‘Extinction is Forever’. So every wild macadamia tree that’s lost is lost forever, unless we’re able to conserve its DNA or genetics.”

Meet the man saving wild macadamias. Ian McConachie

Ian is currently completing his book on the history of the macadamia. “The history of the macadamia nut has never been recorded and so one of my interests has been to write the history of the macadamia nut. It’s called ‘The Macadamia Story’. It describes how macadamias evolved 30 million years ago, how Aboriginal people treasured the macadamia, about the early botanists, about the pioneers who were passionate about macadamias and how the modern industry has grown from 30 tonnes in the 1960s to 50,000 tonnes per year now.”

‘Extinction is Forever’. So every wild macadamia tree that’s lost is lost forever, unless we’re able to conserve its DNA or genetics.”

We thank Ian and his wife Jan for their ongoing commitment and effort in conserving macadamias in the wild. Stay tuned, to learn about the soon to be launched “Walk with Wild Macadamias”, a trail where people can walk through a beautiful rainforest and see wild macadamia growing in their natural environment.

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