One of the events I look forward to at the end of every winter is the appearance of the lilies (and the orchids, but that’s another story). This year, 24 August marks the appearance of the first lily bloom at our place, an Early Nancy (Wurmbea dioica). Early Nancy is a perennial herb that grows from a tuber. The flowers are white with an inner magenta ring. The male and female parts exist on different plants. Later in the season the female plant will appear, producing its three purple seed-bearing fruit (pictured below).
The common name refers to Early Nancy’s being one of the first blooms in spring. The scientific name, Wurmbea diocia, is derived from a German botanist with the grand name of Christoph Carl Friedrich von Wurmb. The Greek word dioica, meaning ‘two houses’, indicates the male and female reproductive organs are on separate plants.
Day of the Triffids by John Wyndam was one of the first books I ever borrowed from a library, and it probably had a lot to do with my following science as a career. The story describes a world where humankind, blinded after watching a spectacular meteorite shower, is at the mercy of carnivorous plants (called Triffids) which roam the country-side killing all and sundry. Even to this day, whenever I observe a shooting star I do it with one eye closed … just in case.
A previous blog (click HERE to view) described the appearance of the carnivorous plant Scented Sundew (Drosera whittakeri), pictured above. This sundew is now in showy bloom. Recently I have noticed another carnivorous plant, the more triffid-looking Tall Sundew (Drosera peltata) starting to appear.
The method by which it captures its prey is the same as for the Scented Sundew. Insects are attracted to the leaves by sticky tentacles, which entrap the prey. The tentacles then move the insect to the leaf surface where enzymes are released and the insect is dissolved. In Scented Sundews the leaves lie along the ground. In Tall Sundews these leaves are on stems, making them look much more sinister. It has pale pink flowers in early summer.
Watch out in 500 million years time!
Standing only 50 cm high, the Tall Sundew is not triffid-sized yet. But knowing evolution, it’s just a matter of time.
Hotel California is THE anthem of my teenaged youth (now I’m showing my age). As with most songs of that era I could sing it word-for-word without necessarily knowing what I was singing about or what the words meant. I always thought one of the lines in Hotel California went ‘warm smell of clematis, rising up through the air’. Looking back, these words seemed reasonable because I was living in Perth, where summer nights are filled with the heady perfume of one of the Clematis species. Anyway, Wikipedia informs me the word in the song is not ‘clematis’ but ‘colitas’ which means ‘little tails’ in Spanish … or in Mexican slang it refers to buds of the cannabis plant. Oh to be young and innocent again.
I was reminded of this song last weekend when driving up Murchisons Gap in Strath Creek I saw Small-leaved Clematis or Kenam (Clematis microphylla) flowering profusely on the steep cuttings. This is one of eight Clematis species in Australia. The scientific name is derived from the Latin words klemis meaning a vine branch, and the Greek words micro meaning small and phylla meaning leaf. It is a woody climber that produces pale yellow flowers from June to September. The flowers can almost go unnoticed until they get to be of sufficient mass to stand out from the background. At the moment they provide a dramatic contrast to the deep purple Purple Coral-pea (Hardenbergia violacea).
The leaves of this clematis are reported to relieve skin irritations although will cause blistering if used in excess. Traditional owners of the land cooked and kneaded the taproot to make dough.
There are no reports in the literature about smoking clematis leaves or buds. Obviously not colitas.
It sounds like a section in a Bunnings hardware store. But it is also a group of fungi that are at the moment adorning wood, both live and dead, in the district. The fungi are characterised by semi-circular shapes called conks, which are the fruiting bodies containing the spores. These fungi can be parasitic where the fungus feeds off the host plant, or saprotrophic where fungus gain nutrients by digesting dead or decaying wood.
White Punk (Laetiporus portentosus)
They vary in size from the White Punk (Laetiporus portentosus), about 250 mm across, hanging on a Red Stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) to the Rosette Fungus (Podoscypha petalodes), only a couple of centimetres in width.
Rosette Fungus (Podoscypha petalodes)
The names are advisory only. To get an accurate identification of fungi you could (a) take a spore print – and I am reluctant to deliberately break off a mushroom despite the multitude of them, (b) note the colour of the spores or (c) examine the size and shape of the spores – most of these are on the micrometre scale (one thousandth of a millimetre) and so I would need a microscope. So my identifications are based on what they look like and where I see them growing. Caveat emptor.
Rainbow Fungus (Trametes versicolour)
Hairy Curtain Crust (Stereum hirsutum)
Irrespective of size, colour or form I think they all look ‘top shelf’.
We of a certain age will remember that catchy refrain from the 1980s band Lipps Inc. Or at least it sounded something like that.
This has been a strange year for fungi. Maybe I missed them, but for the first time that I can recall we have not seen the Fairy Toadstools or Fly Agarics (Amanita muscaria), pictured left, decorating the floor of our pine grove. However with the recent rains, mushrooms and toadstools are popping up all over the place. Here are a few of the more funky fungi I have recently noticed around the place.
“Pixie’s Wading Pool’
Pictured right are specimens from the Cup fungi family with the scientific name Aleurina ferruginea. I cannot find a common name for them, but given they are only 3–4 mm across, I am proposing the name Pixie’s Wading Pools. Even though they are quite common, due to their size you will need to keep a sharp eye out to see them. They exist in dispersed groups and tight clusters of individuals on (very small) bare patches of ground.
The Jelly Fungus (Tremella mesenterica) pictured left is one of the earliest fungi to appear in the season. It has a gelatinous texture and is found throughout eucalypt forests on fallen tree trunks and branches.
Another common fungus on dead logs is Golden Jelly-bells (Heterotextus peziziformis). It starts its life orange in colour that fades with age, but eventually dries deep orange in colour.
Very funky indeed!
June is the month that marks the start of the countdown to yellow. For all those cycling enthusiasts, I’m not talking about the Tour De France and the yellow jersey. (Go Cadel!). I’m talking acacias.
On our property there are over a dozen different species – most of them foreign, some unidentified. They are a legacy from the previous owner, a keen gardener. Each year they start flowering in a specific order until in September–October the hill is ablaze with yellow.
This week the Gawler Range or Willow-leafed Wattle (Acacia iteaphylla) (pictured below) has kicked off the annual cycle. It hails from South Australia but thrives on the dry, rocky soils of Junction Hill. The flowers start off in a delicate cone-shaped bud before emerging.
If history repeats then next to flower will be the Queensland Silver Wattle (A. podalyrifolia), a foreigner from the north that starts flowering in late June. The Cootamundra Wattle (A. baileyana), another foreigner and environmental weed, begins to flower in July. The cycle finishes with the Lightwood (A. implexa) flowering in the new year.
The fact that so many of the acacias shouldn’t be there creates quite a conundrum. Simply taking them out will remove about 10% of the trees on the property. The obvious solution is to plant endemic acacias, let them grow and then remove the invaders. That could take years. OR, I could simply relax and enjoy the unfolding display.
And the fungi are getting in on the yellow act also. Standing no higher than 3 mm these yellow Fairy Lampshades (Omphalina umbellifera) have started appearing on the bare edges of the wallaby trails throughout the property.
There’s gold in them-there hills!
With the drop in temperature and increased rainfall comes the appearance on the forest floor of a carnivorous plant known as the Scented Sundew (Drosera whittakerii), from the Greek word drosos meaning dewdrops, pictured below. Though not as sexy as the well-known Flytraps, which catch their prey by snapping shut their leaves, the way in which sundews capture their food is equally interesting.
Each leaf of the sundew sprouts a number of tentacles that exude sweet liquid, which attracts insects. When the insects touch this sticky liquid they become trapped and eventually die either of exhaustion in trying to escape, or asphyxiation as the sticky goo covers them. Enzymes are then released to dissolve the insects and the plant absorbs the nutrients. The picture (below) shows a mosquito trapped in the sticky tentacles and in all the photos the black debris seen on the leaves are the remains of digested insects.
The Scented Sundew flowers in July to September (pictured below). These sundews won’t dissolve your leg, should you stand on one, unless you’re a mosquito.
The tenacity of Australian trees to survive in our harsh climate never ceases to amaze me. Our property is steep, the ground rocky with little soil cover and the land is dry. And yet trees grow. What is more astounding is how they will cling to life when most introduced trees would die.
An example is a Red Stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorrhyncha) on our neighbour’s property (pictured above). Knocked over in a storm last year, there are enough roots left in the ground to suck up moisture and nutrients so that the branches have become the new trees and continue to grow towards the sun.
Even more amazing is this Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) in the valley below our house (pictured above). Split in the same storm as the Red Stringybark, the top of the tree is still happily growing despite the fact that it is at ground level, competing for light with all the grasses, and only attached to the trunk by a thin sliver of bark. In trees, nutrients are delivered from the roots to the branches by a thin layer below the bark called the phloem. Similarly a layer called the sapwood delivers water. As long as these pathways are intact this Silver Wattle will continue to live.
For many years I have kept a log of the plants I see in the district and when they flower. If I run my finger down the March/April column, however, flowering plants are few and far between. That said, two of my favourites flowering at this time both have tubular bell shaped flowers: the Native Cranberry and the Native Fuchsia.
Cranberry Heath flowers
Native Cranberry (Astroloma humifusum), from the Greek ‘astro’ meaning star and ‘loma’ meaning fringe, (see fringed flower pictured above) also known as Cranberry Heath, is a member of the Epacridaceae or heath family. It is a hardy ground cover found on the rocky slopes of our property. The leaves are pine-like and in autumn the flat bush is covered with tubular red flowers. Cranberry Heath is difficult to observe because it is often obscured by native grasses. After flowering, the plant develops green berries which gradually turn red; hence the reference to ‘cranberry’. The berries are sweet and can be used to make jams.
Mature Cranberry Heath
Native Fuchsia (Correa reflexa) or Common Correa is a small shrub that also has reddish-pink bell shaped flowers in autumn. On it there is nothing to eat for us humans, but the pollen is sought after by various birds, especially honeyeaters.
Though the flowers of both shrubs do not stand out in the bush setting as much as some of more vivid bottlebrushes and grevilleas, they are both well worth a look if you have the time and don’t mind getting your knees dirty.
Fauna turned up in droves (flocks, schools, murders, parliaments, armies) last Friday night to watch about two dozen members of the King Parrot Creek Environmental Group wander through the bush on the monthly spotlight walk in Coonans Reserve, on the banks of the King Parrot Creek.
Keen observer – Sacred Kingfisher
Before sunset, four Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) had counted eight humans watching from the creek banks in Coonans Reserve, the biggest number ever seen. This survey is held for the Platypus Conservancy every three months. One platypus and a Rakali or Native Water Rat (Hydromys chrysogaster) reported four more humans further downstream in the Burslems Bridge vicinity. Other fauna watching the count included Sacred Kingfishers (Todiramphus sanctus) (pictured above), Grey Fantails and Eastern Yellow Robins.
After the sun had set, Trent, using his thermal-imaging camera, led the way through the paths in the reserve. Watching proceedings were Brush-tail Possums, Sugar Gliders and even a Pobblebonk or Eastern Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dumerili). Some birds
Watchers or the watched?
found the evening dragging on and were found asleep in the dense foliage of the Tree Violets (Melicytus dentatus) .
The Boobook Owls who turned up to watch last time had obviously decided to go elsewhere this time. The evening concluded with drinks and nibblies (for the humans).
Far be it for me to start rumours but the photo (below left) of a platypus taken last Friday looks remarkably similar to the historic image of Loch Ness monster (below right). Was there a platypus paddling around in Loch Ness all those years ago or is there something more sinister lurking in our creek? Maybe at the spotlight walk next month we’ll find out.
The wildlife can’t wait to see what turns up.