Author: ronlit

Can’t help myself

I know that this website is about the natural wonders of the Flowerdale region in the King Parrot Creek valley but a recent trip over to the nearby Yea River valley in the Toolangi State Forest yielded fungi of incredible form and colour. The fungus featured below, found on the side of the Kalatha Giant Tree Walking Track is a case in point. Blue is such an unusual colour in nature.

Pixie’s Parasols, Mycena interrupta

Pixie’s Parasols, Mycena interrupta

So as not to confuse readers with what is in the King Parrot Creek valley and what is not I have started another blog to include the wonderful fungi and flora outside our amazing valley (click HERE to view).

Brains, butter and boletes

DSCN8050It is not just the disparity in size and form that makes fungi so fascinating. It is their names. Some names are simply descriptive, such as the coral fungus or the Golden Jelly Bells, but others borrow from the anatomical, the mystical, even the historical. Winter has come, the temperatures have dropped and the fungi are appearing in large numbers. I think that it will be a great fungi year.

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DSCN8086One group of fungi is the jelly fungi, so called because of their gelatinous appearance. The White Brain (Tremella fuciformis) jelly fungus pictured above is one of the earliest to appear. Another goes by the wonderful name of Brown Witch’s Butter (Tremella fimbriata), pictured right.

Another group of fungus is the boletes, characterised by a spongy surface of pores on the underside of the cap, rather than gills. The name is derived from boletus, the Latin word for mushroom. After the recent rains, our ridge DSCN8303top has seen the appearance of a group of Giant Boletes (Phlebopus marginatus) (pictured left). As the name suggests this species is large. In fact the Giant Bolete is Australia’s largest terrestrial fungus with some weighing in at over 20 kg. The specimen photographed is nowhere near that big but big enough when it is compared to the five cent piece. In a week or so this large mushroom will be a large pile of ooze (click HERE to see why).

DSCN8181On the other end of the size spectrum are these mushrooms from the Mycena genus (pictured right). The word Mycena comes from the Ancient Greek for mushroom shaped. An alternative derivation to the naming is that the mushroom resembles the helmets the soldiers wore in the Ancient Greek kingdom of Mycenae.

Either way, in my next life I am going to get a job naming fungi.

Symbiosis. We’re likin’ it

Leafy and flat lichen together

Leafy and flat lichen together

A feature of our landscape we tend to take for granted, yet is found everywhere (in the world), is lichen. Lichen is an organism resulting from a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship between a fungus and either an algae or a particular bacteria. Like all good partnerships each contributes something to the union. The fungus part extracts minerals from the rocks or vegetation to which the lichen is attached, and it retains water. The algal part is photosynthetic and provides sugars by converting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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DSCN7654Simplistically, lichens can be grouped by their form. These include leafy (foliose), hair-like (filamentous), flat (crustose) and powdery (leprose). Just as other fungi are now starting to produce spore-bearing fruits (mushrooms) in the cooler weather, the fungi part of the lichen is doing the same. In the photos (right and below) a close look will reveal saucer-shaped bodies projecting from the lichen body. The inner surface of these saucers is lined with spore-bearing cells. When the spores are ripe they are ejected from the saucer and combine with an algal partner to form another lichen.

DSCN7801Like most things, when you are aware of them you find them all over the place. So when you are outdoors next, check out the lichen. They truly are everywhere.

When I grow up I want to be a …

Bipinnate foliage, Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata)

Bipinnate foliage, Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata)

One of the key ways to identifying a wattle (acacia) is the form of the leaf. Some species have bipinnate (feathery) foliage (pictured left). These include Black Wattles (Acacia mearnsii), Silver Wattles (A. dealbata) and in our district, the environmental weed the Cootamundra Wattle (A. baileyana).

Phyllode foliage, Flinders Ranges Wattle (Acacia iteaphylla)

Phyllode foliage, Flinders Ranges Wattle (Acacia iteaphylla)

Other wattles such as Blackwoods (A. melanoxylon) and Lightwoods (A. implexa) have, instead of bipinnate foliage, leaf-like structures called phyllodes (pictured right). The development of phyllodes is a response to the harsh Australian conditions. Phyllodes can be oriented with their edges to the sun to reduce the amount of light hitting the leaf surface and hence reduce sun damage and loss of moisture.

Young Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon)

Young Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon)

I recently came across this young wattle (pictured left). It was obviously an acacia but it had both bipinnate foliage and phyllodes. It looked as if it couldn’t quite decide want it wanted to be when it grew up. Bipinnate foliage is the true form of wattle leaves. All wattles start life with bipinnate leaves. In some wattles these quickly transition into phyllodes. For species such as the Blackwood, bipinnate leaves can last until the plant is considerably developed. Such plants can exhibit both types of leaves simultaneously.
The acacia in the photo turns out to be a Blackwood, not a confused young plant, but a late transitioner. I can relate to that.

Q: What do you say when you meet a She-oak?

A: Allocasuarina
She-oaks (Allocasuarina sp.) are unique to Australia and the South Pacific. The common name, She-oak, was derived in colonial times when it was recognised that the wood produced an inferior oak-like grain. The scientific name Allocasuarina comes from the word allo meaning like, or similar to, and the Latin word casuarius for cassowary, because the branchlets resemble the quills of a cassowary.
B191 - 20140426_130652These trees are also called Australian Pines because they superficially look like Pine-trees (Pinus sp.). The photograph (left) shows the clear difference between a pine needle (right) and a she-oak branchlet (left). The she-oak branchlet is segmented and ribbed. Each segment ends with a B201 - 20140426_131722whorl of teeth-like structures that can be more clearly seen if the segments are twisted apart (pictured right). It is these structures that are the actual leaves of the she-oak. The number of leaf–teeth in the whorl and the length of each segment are diagnostic for determining the she-oak species. Common in our valley, the Drooping She-oak (Allocasuarina verticillata) has 9–12 leaf–teeth per whorl and the Black She-oak (Allocasuarina littoralis) has 6–8 leaf-teeth per whorl.

He-oak (left) & cone-bearing She-oak (right)

He-oak (left) & cone-bearing She-oak (right)

The trees are either male or female and at our place there are several examples of a female (cone-bearing tree) standing next to a male tree (sometimes called He-oaks), (pictured left).

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In today’s politically correct world it is only a matter of time before they are called Person-oaks.

Beware the giggling wildlife

 

DSCN7244For the past two weeks I have been watching bright orange/brown mushrooms growing out of a dead pine stump (pictured left). This species is known as the Spectacular Rustgill (Gymnopilus junonius) and occurs in groups feeding on dead conifers and other exotic trees. The scientific name comes from the Greek words Gymn meaning naked, pilus meaning cap and juno being the statuesque goddess of Roman mythology.

 

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DSCN7546Today I came upon the mushroom half eaten. The Spectacular Rustgill is toxin to humans. Subspecies of this fungus can contain hallucinogenic compounds hence its alternative common name of Laughing Jim.
In the next few days if I hear giggling from the local kangaroos, wallabies or wombats I’ll know who’s be tucking into the mushrooms.

US Masters comes to Flowerdale

One can be forgiven for thinking the US Masters Golf tournament had suddenly changed continents. It only takes a little bit of rain to ‘kick-start’ the annual fungi cycle. And after the rains last week one of the first fungi to pop out of the ground around Flowerdale is the Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) (see picture below). Perlatum is Latin for widespread, and widespread they are. It looks like someone has been enjoying golf practice out in the bush.

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The puffball, which is covered in tiny spikes and warts, is the fruit of a much larger fungus that lives below the soil. The ball is analogous to an apple on an apple tree. The fungus could cover an area of tens if not hundreds of square metres as a network of underground mycelia or filaments, from which the fruit—the puffballs—emerge at the surface.
When young, the puffball is white inside but turns brown as millions of spores (analogous to seeds) develop. As the fruit matures the external surface also turns brown and a hole develops in it. The puffball pictured on the right shows the hole beginning to form at the top. The mature puffball on the left shows the developed hole. It is through this hole the spores are released. The slightest pressure on the surface of the puffball is enough to eject the spores. A single rain drop or water droplet from a tree hitting the puffball can cause millions of spores to be ejected in a single burst.
Just imagine how many spores you could release if you hit the puffball with a golf driver!

A hitch-hikers guide…

‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ you may be asking yourself. Six weeks ago the landscape was covered in blooms—especially grass inflorescences—but now only a few plants are bearing flowers. All that time for pollination and fertilisation has past. The catch cry out there at the moment is ‘Go forth and multiply’. Dispersing the seed is what it is all about.

DSCN6209Plants have a developed several methods for doing this. One way is to ensure that the seed attaches itself to the feathers, fur and socks of birds, animals and humans that pass by. To do this the seeds have developed an bidgee widgeeamazing array of hooks, barbs and spikes. Bidgee-widgee (Acaena novae-zelandiae), pictured above, is a native herbaceous creeper found in our district. To give the seed the best chance of catching a lift, the seed heads are elevated on stalks. When they are touched by a passing traveller the seed balls disintegrate into separate barbed seeds (pictured above).

cleaversThe weed Cleavers (Galium aparine) has recently featured in a post (click HERE to view). Its spherical seeds are covered in an array of tiny hooks (pictured left).

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wallaby grassSimilarly the native Wallaby Grass (Austrodanthonia spp.) seeds, right, and Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) seeds, below, also have their ways of attaching themselves to passers-by. Next time you are out walking in the grass check your socks for these hitch-hikers.kangaroo grass

When I was younger I used to hitch-hike as well. Copying Mother Nature, instead of using my thumb maybe what I needed was a Velcro suit!

A prickly problem addressed

DSCN4518Last Tuesday Chris Cobern, Landcare Coordinator for the Upper Goulburn Landcare Network, led a group of TAFE students completing a Certificate in Conservation and Land Management to undertake weed control at the Flowerdale Recreation Reserve. On the agenda—removal of woody weeds, in particular Sweet Briar or Briar Rose (Rosaceae rubiginosa), a particularly prickly weed (pictured left) DSCN4558and Blackberry (Rubus fructicosus), probably our worst prickly weed (pictured right). Participants were shown the cut-and-paint method of removing these weeds.

The task was made more difficult by the Native Raspberry (Rubus parvifolius). This is a native prickly plant and it was intertwined among the blackberry. Similar to a problem outlined in a previous post (click HERE to view), the difference between the two plants is easy to see if the plants are separated, but intertwined together the task of removing only the blackberry becomes fiendishly difficult.

DSCN4564Native Raspberry (pictured left) is a rambling shrub with light green, toothed leaves and pink flowers. The leaf colour, flower colour and pale under-leaf distinguish it from the Blackberry. The Blackberry has a darker green leaf and white flowers.

The students made a great start clearing the prickly invaders from the area. In addition, they removed some Prunus species from the creek bank and Chris demonstrated the ‘drill-and-fill’ method for killing weeds on a Willow tree. After a successful morning of work, there was a markedly less-weedy stretch of land along Spring Creek, a pile of weeds (see below) and huge appetites. Thanks to all who participated. You are welcome back anytime.

The gang!

The gang!

Meet Cleavers

DSCN4529Cleavers (Galium aparine), or Sticky Grass as we used to call it as kids, is a weed native to Europe and central Asia that is distributed all across Australia. The ‘stickiness’ is due to small hooked hairs that grow out of the stem and leaves. This year has been a bumper year for Cleavers. The stems, which can extend over a metre in length, have covered parts of our property in a web of green, climbing up trees and choking the undergrowth (pictured left). Each year we try to remove it because it smothers other vegetation. But this year especially we do not want the fire fuel load from Cleavers as it dries out.

November 20 was a cool, slightly overcast day. The Cleavers was starting to flower. It could only mean one thing – Cleavers Rollup Day. For those of you with large acreage or who use chemicals as a way of removing stubborn weeds DO NOT read on. I would not want to be responsible for your hernia from excessive laughter.

My method for cleaning it up, never before reported (not by me anyway) is to start at the top of the hill and roll up the long stems. The sticky stems attach themselves to one another and as you roll it down the slope it ‘self-pulls-up’ its own roots. The added advantage is that this method (Patent Pending) picks up most of the loosely rooted weeds like Quaking Grass (Briza spp.) while leaving the native groundcovers like Bidgee-Widge (Acaena nova-zelandiae).

Cleavers Roll

Cleavers Roll

At the bottom of the slope I am left with a roll of Cleavers about one metre high and 15 metres long (see picture right). Wikipedia tells me the leaf and stems can be cooked as a leaf vegetable. Maybe I have just invented the world’s largest vegetarian version of the Chiko Roll. And as for my personal goal of pulling out 250 weeds a day, I am about four and a half years ahead of aim!