Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pirate Blogsite

Someone has stolen about 380 of my blogs and published them on his or her own site. I don’t appreciate it much!
If you’d like to support me by writing an adverse comment on the site, you can go to it at http://plant1001.blogspot.com.au
Nothing on the site is actually the original work of the thief, who has also been very busy stealing blogs from at least two other excellent plant blogs, written by committed plant enthusiasts like myself. You can see the originals at http://usinggeorgianativeplants.blogspot.com.au and ngcarnivorousplants.blogspot.com
I have put a lot of work into making this blog. All material on it is owned by me

Small-leafed Water Vine

Clematicissus opaca
(Cissus opaca)

I have failed (again) to catch this plant in flower, so am showing you the spent flowers, without their petals and all ready to grow into the little black fruits which will ripen in autumn.
 I suspect that the petal phase of the flowers must be rather short, as this plant had plenty of bud and plenty of spent flowers, but no petals to be seen.

Another clue to the plant's family are the seeds. There are only 2-4 per fruit, and they are so large they almost fill the fruit, but you can see they are unmistakably grape seeds.
You can eat the fruits, but as with most local native grape species they are only tolerable when very ripe, and even then not very interesting.

As so often happens with closely related plants, one member of the group is adapted to drier conditions. This member of the grape family is in the Cissus group, and the secret of its drought hardiness is its large tuber. In very dry or frosty conditions it dies back, regrowing from the tuber when warm weather and rains come.

The tubers get very large – as much as 30cm long and 15cm in diameter. A friend who is a clever gardener suggested I plant one in a pot, with the top of the tuber exposed. The result is a rather nice pot plant, which needs a bit of light trellis to support it.

Young tubers are said to be edible, and can apparently be eaten raw or roasted. They have a pungent taste which has given the plant the alternative common name of “pepper vine”.

The plant grows into a light vine. Grown in the ground, it needs only a small trellis or can simply allowed to ramble though a shrub or sprawl over rocks. Even the smallest garden would have room for  few of these plants.

Their leaves take so many forms that they can be difficult to identify in the wild. The leaves have 3–7 stalkless leaflets, arranged like fingers on a hand. The distinguishing characteristic is the middle “finger” which is much longer than the rest. The leaflets can be narrow to medium width, toothed or not, softly hairy or smooth and shiny, and have whitish or reddish backs.

Note the sprig at top right of the photo, showing a tendril coming from the stem opposite a leaf. (Click on the photo for a closer look.) This is another clue that the plant is in the grape family Vitaceae. Unlike some grape species, however, this one has few tendrils and on some plants there may be none to be seen.

In times of desperate drought, when water restrictions make garden watering impossible, it is reassuring to know that plants like this will survive even if their beauty is temporarily lost.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Crows Ash in Flower

Flindersia australis
November is Flindersia flowering time.

Sometimes the flowers are discreetly tucked among the leaves.

Sometimes the November flowering is accompanied by a partial leaf-drop.

But never before have I seen such a complete, spectacular leaf-drop as the trees have had this year in Redwood Park.

Meanwhile, the capsules which have been hanging on the trees for almost a year, are ripening fast.


Now is the time to collect the seed, if you’d like to make more of these lovely trees. The seed is very easy to grow if you plant it very fresh.

Long Jack

Flindersia xanthoxyla
In the Toowoomba area we have three local Flindersia species, all growing in similar dry rainforest habitats close to the great Dividing Range. The smallest and most drought hardy is the leopard ash F. collina.  Next in size is the crows ash, F. australis. The tallest of the three is long jack, F. xanthoxyla.
Old specimens soar to heights of up to 45 metres, in rainforests.
They are difficult to photograph in that situation, so here is a smaller one growing in a paddock near Toowoomba, where we can see its upright growth habit and and dense green canopy.

The above plant is growing naturally on its site. It must have begun its life in a patch of dry rainforest, before its growth was slowed by the conversion of its home into this open paddock.

Long jacks grow naturally from Lismore and Maryborough, between the Great Dividing Range and the coast, so they are at the dry edge of their natural range here in the Toowoomba area. As you would expect of a sub-coastal plant, they like to be well watered when young, and are happier if well mulched. Given these conditions they reward us with fast growth.

They make magnificent specimens in parks and large gardens, and are used in timber-growing projects. Xanthoxyla means “yellow wood”, and this tree's pale yellow timber is particularly amenable to steam-bending, so it was used in coach-building and would be very good for bentwood furniture and the like.

Flindersia capsules are ripening around the district at present. I found this Long Jack capsule (at right) last week, under magnificent tree in the nice little patch of dry rainforest in Charmaine Court, Highfields.


Unlike the sturdy capsules from crows ash tree trees F. australis,  (on the left, in the above photos ), Long Jack’s capsules tend to break up as they fall, so I saved this survivor to put on my mantelpiece. I am handling it gently in the hope that it will look pretty for at least a few weeks.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Irongate Seat of Knowledge

There are plenty of reasons to visit Irongate Conservation Park at present. It is looking very green and leafy after the good rain, and is full of birds, butterflies, and ripening fruits and seeds.
Whoever takes care of the park has done a great job of making a nice new path, carefully raised so you don't get your shoes muddy with Irongate's sticky black soil, if it rains.
But best of all is this lovely new seat, which has appeared half way round the circuit , just where you might want to sit down and contemplate your surrounds.
I never met Noel Mahoney. I understand he was a local farmer, respected and liked in the Irongate district, and obviously loved by his family who have installed this memorial to him.
What a wonderful way of celebrating the life of someone who must have felt a strong affection for the Irongate district's little gem of an environmental reserve.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Raspy Root Orchid

Rhinerrhiza divitiflora
I was surprised to find this orchid in flower, early this week when we were still complaining that there had been no rain for ages. Its reputation is for flowering after rain, but it was undeterred by the very dry weather.
It is also said to prefer a damp, shady site, but this plant looks very healthy in its dry site on the eastern slope of the Range near Toowoomba. It was growing in dry rainforest with a rather light canopy. Its need for shade was apparently satisfied by its situation on the southern side of its host tree.
It is difficult to catch this species in flower, in the wild. All of a single plant’s flowers open within a short time, often on the same day, and last only a day or two, so its flowering season is very short indeed.  Note the buds on this plant, which I photographed late in the morning. I wonder whether they would have been open, if I had gone back a few hours later.

There is also a tendency for all the raspy root orchids in an area to flower simultaneously, so if you are lucky enough to find one, it’s worth looking around for others.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Slender Onion Orchid

Microtis parviflora 

This humble little fellow must be our least ornamental local orchid. The flowers have tiny “faces” and seem to be almost all ovary.

You have to be paying attention, to notice that they are orchids at all!

However, the minuscule flowers are really delightful, so if you find any, look at them closely.


Not that they are easy to find. (Yes, there are some in the photo below. If you click on it, it will enlarge. Can you find them?)

Some internet sources claim that onion orchids are plants of “bogs and damp places”, but this colony of plants looked perfectly happy today, on an exposed, dry slope on Mt Kynoch red soil. They are said to do better after fires. This particular grassy, cattle-grazed site hasn’t had a fire for years and the plants were thriving. It would be interesting to see how it might be improved with fire.


The plants grow from underground tubers. At first glance they seem be quite leafless, but you can see that each flower stem does have a leaf wrapped firmly around its stem.

Like most orchid tubers, they are probably edible, and their tendency to grow better after fires was one of the reasons Aborigines burned their land. Early white settlers couldn't see why the fires were lit, and believed so strongly that Aborigines weren't farmers that they were not inclined to find out whether these apparently (to them) pointless fires actually had a practical purpose.

These orchids are highly unusual because they are pollinated by  ants.
Ants are normally the enemies of plants, when it comes to pollination. They secrete an antibiotic substance which kills it. (The antibiotic is produced by their metapleural glands, for those who are interested in that kind of thing).
Just to add to the difficulty, some ants’ rough little skins are simply too hard on pollen and likely to kill it.
Plants that need animal help for pollination have evolved flower designs to attract their pollinators, so it is quite interesting to examine just what appeals to ants.
Onion orchids are unique among orchids, as their pollinaters are wingless worker ants - usually little tyrant ants, Iridomyrmex gracilis. There is no question of attracting flying male ants by looking and smelling like a female, as happens with the other ant-pollinated orchids. Colour is clearly not relevant, and it is very obvious that this plant’s pollinators are not being attracted by showy petals!

(Hope you like the photo. It looks like a studio shot, doesn't it? However I assure you that no onion orchid was harmed in the making of this blog. It was held steady with a clothes peg on a stake, and the background is an out of focus trouser leg.)
These little orchids produce a sweet fragrance to attract the ants, and they deal honestly with them, providing the sip of nectar that the perfume promises. Honesty is not something we expect from orchids. Most of them are cheats. They dress up to imitate nectar-producing flowers, even having "nectar guides" - those lines that lead to the centre of the flower - but they don't supply the goods. The trick works for most insects, as demonstrated by the fact that the orchid family is one of the largest plant families in the world. Perhaps ants are not so forgiving as other kinds of insects (or not so stupid as to keep going from one unrewarding flower to another).
Having attracted their ants, the next problem is to deal with their pollen-destroying capacities. These knacky little onion orchids have evolved flowers which organise the nectar seeking ants so they can only get their reward if they are correctly aligned to pick a dab of pollen on the fronts of their faces,  well away from their metapleural glands. The flowers may look small, but they’re bossy!
They also have pollen with short stalks to hold the pollen grains safely away from the ants’ destructive skin.
Onion orchids fit a pattern shown by other types of ant pollinated plants. They tend to have small flowers, each supplying only a little nectar. This means that larger insects are not interested, and that even little ants have to visit a number of flowers to collect enough for their purposes.
They also tend to have flowering stems with flowers that open serially. This means that ants can’t find enough nectar by foraging all the way up a single flower stem, so they have visit more than one plant, carrying pollen as they go.

These little flowers, which at first seem quite boring, have a lot to interest us!