Flora

One of these things is not like the other one #1

A decade ago we moved up from the city to live in the bush. Looking back we were naïve and idealistic with a vision of removing all the weeds and exotic plants from the property. Every year we would target one or two species with mixed success. All the Cotoneasters are gone as is the Broom, English Ivy and French Lavender. The thistles and blackberry are on their last legs. The journey however has been fraught with blunders.

Yam Daisy

Yam Daisy

Dandelion

Dandelion

Very early on we targeted a plant thinking it to be a weed and spent hours pulling it out. Unfortunately it was native – various species of Senecio or Fireweed. Fortunately our clumsy attempts to eradicate the plants failed dismally and they made a brilliant recovery. There are however many such identification traps for the unwary. With similar flowers, one confusion is between the Yam Daisy or Native Dandelion (Microseris lanceolata) and the Dandelion (Taraxacum sp.), a weed native to Europe and Asia.

Yam Daisy - note leaves and drooping buds

Yam Daisy – note leaves and drooping buds

Since the fires in 2009, Yam Daisies have been appearing throughout the bush. This species has roots that Indigenous people baked and ate. Unusually, the buds droop on the end of long stalks, which become erect when in flower to attract the pollinating insects. After pollination the stalks again droop only to become erect again when seed heads ripen, presumably to catch the best breeze for seed dispersal.

If you can’t wait the plant’s entire life-cycle to check if your flower is a Yam Daisy and not a Dandelion, look at the leaves. The Yam Daisy has narrower toothed leaves that stand

Dandelion

Dandelion

up off the ground whereas the dandelion has broader leaves that form a rosette on the ground. In the end both plants produce showy yellow flowers but for the purists among us that isn’t enough.

Beware of imitations

It is a global economy. When you purchase something it is difficult to tell if it is the real Aussie deal or an imported imitation.

Let’s talk Plantains (not the banana-type of plantains). Plants in the Plantago genus are commonly called plantains. They are inconspicuous and are found all over the world. Locally one of the most common native plantains is the Variable Plantain (Plantago varia).

Plantation of Plantago varia

Plantation of Plantago varia

Each spring this plant is first seen as rabbit-ear-type leaves come out of the ground. The flowers are brown cylindrical spikes and even though they do not have the amazing colours of the orchids, lilies and peas we have blogged about recently, in close-up they are a wonder of detail (see picture below). DSCN3871The prominent anthers can be seen on the end of thread-like filaments. Variable plantain colonises undisturbed areas—so they are most common on ungrazed land and along some of the natural roadside reserves. They do not attract birds or frogs but are a food plant for caterpillars.

One of the more common imported species from the same family is Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata). You will probably recognise it by the flower-head pictured below. As kids we used to make missiles of the flower head by rapidly pulling the stalk through a bent stem. This garden weed is a native of Europe and Central Asia and is commonly found in more disturbed sites such as cuttings and road edges. Ribwort also is a favoured food source of butterfly and moth larvae.

Plantago lanceolata

Plantago lanceolata

But if you are after a genuine Australian plant you can’t go past Plantago varia. As Australian as Vegemite.

Another rare find on the hill…

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Listed as rare in Victoria, this Common Beard Heath (Leucopogon virgatus) was spotted in full flower on a roadside embankment at the foot of Junction Hill in Flowerdale this week. Not far from my favourite orchid patch, this find again highlights the value of our roadside reserves as areas of relatively undisturbed remnant vegetation.

On checking my orchid patch for the latest orchid to flower, David and Laurie (KPCEG members) identified a small colony of Nodding Greenhood Orchids (Pterostylis nutans)  numbering around 15 individuals. On a short walk across a dry exposed slope later in the day, I found a Purple Beard Orchid (Calochilus robertsonii). These local orchids have evolved unique tricks to aid pollination. The Nodding Greenhood produces a pheromone that imitates a female fungus gnat. The attracted male gnat is fooled into approaching the flower and is swept up by the lower petal into the flower momentarily. In the endeavour to escape, pollen attaches to the gnat. The male gnat who is slow to learn, is attracted to the next deceptive Nodding Greenhood, transferring the pollen. In the case of the Purple Beard Orchid, the flower form appears to the scollid wasp male as a female wasp. In the attempt to mate with the deception, pollen is attached and then transferred to the next flower. I think this is pretty tricky, possibly immoral, but as someone close to me says ‘males are so gullible’

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The Yam Daisy, Milkmaids and Creeping Bossiaea are also beginning to flower in my favourite orchid patch. Yam daisy, Milkmaids and the Nodding Greenhood Orchid are also Bush tucker, having edible tubers, the Yam Daisy in particular being a valuable bush food to indigenous people.

Rare find on the hill

One of the things I love about living close to Mother Nature is that things constantly change. If I go for a walk I’m never sure what I’ll find (click HERE to view related blog). It’s just a matter of keeping our eyes open. Sometimes there will be a new bird or animal. Other times a patch of ground over which I have walked a thousand times will yield a new plant.

DSCN3556And so it was last week. On my regular stroll around the place I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before — a ground creeper with purple pea-shaped flowers atop 6-cm stalks (pictured above). The leaves looked like that of a glycine. Local enthusiasts suggested the plant to be Clover Glycine (Glycine latrobeana), ANOTHER member of the extensive Pea family discussed in a previous blog (click HERE to view). We had already identified two other species of glycine on the property including Twining Glycine (Glycine clandestina), which is also flowering at the moment. The difference is G. latrobeana is listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and Threatened under Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. According to the Victoria Biodiversity Atlas, ours is the first recorded sighting of this plant in the Murrindindi Shire and one of only ten sightings in the Goulburn–Broken Catchment. The plant even has a National Recovery Plan (click HERE to view) which includes conservation methods, recovery actions and biodiversity benefits. As a precaution we have placed a cage around it to prevent it from becoming something’s lunch. (From the rabbits, not the local vegans.)

We are now awaiting positive identification from the experts, but have already had requests for some of the seed. In anticipation of a positive ID I have already ordered the razor wire and surveillance cameras and have started digging the machine-gun emplacements. The responsibility is weighing heavily.

Tiger, Tiger

Burning bright,tiger orchid
in the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
could frame thy fearful symmetry?  – William Blake

We’re talking orchids again, but this time Tiger Orchids (Diuris sulphurea). O.K. they haven’t flowered yet, but the stems are in the process of reaching up, ready for their day in the sun in late October.

This little gem last season flowered in great abundance, hidden out of sight on a bank 2 metres above the pot hole ridden track that is Spring Valley Road, Flowerdale. Whereas the majority of our roadside reserve has been modified by machinery, horses, mowers, weed infestation and grazing in earlier times, this little spot of around 50 square metres has escaped disturbance.

In the 15 years I have observed this spot I have only ever seen about a dozen tiger orchids flowering at once. Last season however, there were around 120 flowering plants within the 50 square metres.

This orchid has a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal  fungi and is perhaps another example of post fire renewal, as this area was lightly burnt in the fires of 2009. tiger orchid1

Micorrhizal associations can be unique, only one species of fungi associating with a particular orchid species. This association assists the plants roots to take up water and nutrients and can form   quite extensive underground networks (hyphae) whose fruiting bodies are observed as mushrooms and other fungi. These associations are especially important in the germination of orchid seedlings.

Apart from the orchids that Ron has reported in his last post, in the past week I spotted what I think is a Lady Finger Orchid (Caladenia ssp), flowering on a moist bank in dappled shade. Stay tuned for further orchid appearances in the next 6 weeks!

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Move over lilies—here come the orchids

There is a certain mystique about orchids. For me it is the fantastical, almost alien shapes and stunning colours. As a kid my father used to grow tropical orchids in a gas-heated glass house in the backyard. When they flowered he used to give them away to the neighbours. He was the toast of the town.

Orchids are one of the two largest families of flowering plants in the world. There are more than 800 species of Australian orchids, most of them only found in this country—and there are more discovered each year. During the drought and pre-bushfire years the number of native ground orchids we found on our property you could count on the fingers of one hand. However since the rains and fire that number has dramatically increased. This year looks like it will be a bumper year, if the number of orchids leaves popping out of the ground is any indication.

DSCN3568 - CopyThe first to raise its head this season is the Green-comb Spider Orchid (Arachnochis dilatata), pictured above. It was previously known as Caladenia dilatata. The photo shows the origin of the name—green comb-like structures on either side of the flower. The Indigenous name is koolin, and its tubers are considered a food source.

In the upcoming weeks the orchids will start flowering (if the rabbits don’t get them first). As showy as the lilies are at the moment, for me the orchid reigns supreme.

P.S. On my walk around the property before the Grand Final opening bounce, I spied a touch of purple (maybe an omen for Freo). For the first time ever, a Wax-lip Orchid (Glossodia major), see below. DSCN3582 - Copy

Grand Final special – the Purple Haze descends

Some of you may not be aware that last weekend, the Fremantle Dockers AFL team qualified for their first Grand Final, to be played on Saturday. The main colour of the jersey is purple and to their fans the team is affectionately known as the ‘Purple Haze’. Looking up at the spur above our house at the moment you could be forgiven for thinking I have forsaken the West Coast Eagles and jumped onto the Freo band-wagon. (Those of you who have visited Western Australia will realise that this is slightly more ridiculous than a Carlton fan supporting Collingwood). It appears a purple haze has descended on the hill above our house.

A. baileyana purpurea new foliage

A. baileyana purpurea new foliage

The colour is due to a stand of trees which are a particular cultivar of the Cootamundra Wattle known as Acacia baileyana purpurea. In Spring A. baileyana produces new growth that is light green in colour (see photo below) whereas this cultivar produces new foliage that is purple in colour, REALLY purple (see photo left). With all the branches tipped with purple foliage it looks like there is a  purple mist on the hill.

A. baileyana new foliage

A. baileyana new foliage

Like the normal Cootamundra Wattle, A. baileyana purpurea is classed as an environmental weed in the Murrindindi Shire and should be removed.

Maybe I’ll wait until after the Grand Final. I’ll be busy this weekend watching the footy. Go Freo.

May Peas be with you

The Fabaceae family of plants is named after the Latin word faba meaning bean. It refers to the shape of the fruits of these plants. Fabaceae are the third largest family of land based plants after those containing orchids and daisies. You know Spring is almost here when the species with pea-flowers start to blossom. Over the past month several species have appeared.

DSCN3411False Sarsparilla or Purple Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea), pictured left,  is hard to miss. The deep-purple flowering vine is very conspicuous on steep slopes and climbing up trees and shrubs.

DSCN4822Common Hovea (Hovea linearis), pictured right, has been flowering for a couple of month now. It is a ground creeper with blue-purple flowers.

austral indigoAustral Indigo (Indigofera australis) has pink-purple flowers. Traditionally the leaves were crushed and added to water to kill eels and fish. Its leaves produce a yellow dye.

_MG_5330Narrow-leaf Bitter Pea (Daviesia leptophylla) is pictured right. At least it’s not purple.

Watch for these in your travels and let peas be with you.

Week 35 – Now showing in a locale near you

With spring approaching all sorts of things are starting to pop up. In week 35 of this calendar year some things that have been observed for the first time this season up on Junction Hill are:

Early Nancys (Wurmbea dioica) (see previous post) – first lily bloom

hypoxis glabella IMG_5711Tiny Stars or Star Grass (Hypoxis glabella) – another member of the lily family

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Australian Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi) – first butterfly of the spring

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DSCN3152Frog spawn – coming to a pond near you. Obviously all that croaking was not in vain.

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buttercup DSCN3431Australian buttercup or Yarrakalgamba (Ranunculus lappaceus) – I saw the leaves in the bush and thought for one horrible moment the parsley had gone feral. Then I saw the flowers.

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The first magpie swoop of this nesting season

Keep your eyes peeled. With the start of warmer weather everything is beginning  to reveal itself.

Nancy runs true to form

wurmbea.diosia IMG_5708One 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).

DSCN4224The 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.