Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bellfruit and the Fire Ecology.

Codonocarpus attenuatusThis is a surprising plant.
Its soft leaves make it look a rainforest species, but this may not be the case.
There are records of it being found in rainforests. However if they were seen when not fruiting, it’s a fair chance that the plants were actually bellfruit’s rare and endangered relative, Gyrostemon osmus, which was generally unknown until it was studied and named in 2005. It looks very like bellfruit, but has seed capsules that open along a dorsal split, unlike bellfruit capsules which drop their seeds out of the bottom.
The remainder of bellfruits's relatives, both Codonocarpus and Gyrostemon species, are plants of the desert or dry country out west.
Bellfruit itself is “Mr In-between”. Found in coastal and sub-coastal sites, it hangs about on the edges of dry rainforests and in disturbed areas hoping for fire to help its seeds germinate.
Australian ecosystems can be broadly divided into two groups – those (like rainforests and vine thickets) which are damaged and reduced by fire, and the “fire ecologies”, which depend on fire for good health. The latter are populated by plants which thrive with regular fires, and may even depend on them for the species’ long term survival. If the rainforest specimens are all actually Gyrostemon osmus, then we can place the true bellfruit, Codonacarpus attenuatus on the "fire" side of the fence.

The plants above, which I photographed a few days ago, were in a typical site. It is a large council-owned reserve in the Merritt’s Creek Road area which was covered with fairly open vegetation until it was given a clean-up burn in 2010. The result, in a mere four years, is this extremely thick growth of wattles Acacia neriifolia (another fire-loving plant) and bellfruit (centre plant with light grey trunk). Loving the fire, they came up like hairs on a cats' back from seed lying dormant in the soil.
The scrub is now about 6m tall. Crowding has resulted in tall thin plants with bare trunks and dense leafy growth at the top only.
Not all the bellfruit trees in the scrub have seeds on them, because the species has separate male and female plants.

                                                                                                                       Photo by Dougal Johnston
There are, however, plenty of male plants to ensure fertilisation of the female plants. They were heavily laden with their little green "bells". As the species is wind-pollinated, there is always a chance that having too few plants in the area might result in uneven pollination, with pollen failing to reach all the female flowers. This is clearly not the case there!
Bellfruit trees are not often grown in gardens, largely because they are not often available for purchase. Seeds are difficult to germinate, but are known to do better if soaked in smoke water.

Gardeners would need to put in several plants, to be sure of having specimens of both sexes, if they want to get the ornamental "bells".

Specimen plants grown in the open are likely to be as little as one third the height of the plant shown at left, and to have canopy almost to the ground.

In gardens, a useful planting style can be to put a small group of bellfruit close together. This can result in plants (of both sexes) forming a united canopy, looking rather like a multi-stemmed large shrub.

Like many other fast-growing pioneer trees, bellfruits probably have a relatively short lifespan.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Little Piracy

I find that a site called RSSING.COM has been taking my blogs and presenting them on their site as soon as they are written. They refer to it as "tracking" this "channel", rather than calling it pirating, but presumably they have something to gain by using other people's work in this way.

Having discovered their site by chance, I am told that I can claim my "channel" by publishing a blog with the code: dnlcLtAHYgPraaqueGdm .  I will then (I hope) be able to stop them from "tracking" it.
Hence this odd little post.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Foambark Tree

Jagera pseudorhus
These beautiful trees are showing off their seeds in the local rainforest at present.
Photo by Glenda Walter
I was sent this photo by a friend, who took it in Brisbane, but the plants can also be found locally at Goomburra, Ravensbourne, and the Bunya Mountains.
Foambark is a fast growing tree, usually reaching no more that 10m in cultivation. It has an attractive \shady canopy, inconspicuous white flowers in spring, and these lovely fruits in autumn. They gleam redly as the sun catches them.
Unfortunately, the stiff little hairs on the seed capsules break off when handled, and can cause considerable skin irritation. This is something to be considered, before planting it as a garden tree. It is not suitable for a site where children might be picking up fallen capsules.
The plant’s common name comes from an Aboriginal use for it. The bark contains so much saponin that it can froth from any little injuries, in heavy rain. This means that, if thrown in water, branches and leaves de-oxygenate the water, temporarily stunning fish for easy catching.
I used to think the tree was named for the Jagera tribe of Aborigines, and thought that it was a remarkable example of white settlers honouring the original owners of the land.
Not so, however. It was named after the Dutchman who discovered the original Jagera species in Indonesia, and it is just coincidence that there is another species in the Jagera tribe's territory. Apparently Jager means Hunter, and is a relatively common Dutch surname.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Strap Water Fern

Blechnum patersonii    
This fern often attracts attention in damp rainforests as the it tends to grow on the earthen faces of path cuttings, on the uphill side of paths in our wetter local national parks along the Great Dividing Range. It also grows beside or in streams, and would do well in red soil gardens, in positions where it can have mulch, and shade for at least half the day.

I imagine it might be a particularly suitable plant for one of those fashionable "green walls" - provided it faced south or east and was shaded from the midday summer sun. It also grows well indoors and in areas with very low light levels.
Strap water fern grows better if watered in dry periods, but, like all our hardy local ferns, it tends to be prone to pests and diseases if the dampness is overdone. In nature, it tolerates the long dry periods of our climate, and even some light frosts. It doesn’t have to be a pampered pot plant or fern-house specimen.
The fronds of this rather delightful plant seem to be suffering an identity crisis. The simple strap  is the most common shape, but a single mature plant might have some straps, and some fronds with varying numbers of lobes.
The foliage (once the new pink fronds have dulled to green), is a rich, dark green.

The fertile fronds are very narrow indeed. It is common among ferns for the fertile fronds to be longer and skinnier than infertile ones, but strap water ferns carry the contrast to an exaggerated degree.


Here are two infertile fronds beside two fertile ones.

The first time I saw this plant's narrow fertile leaves, with their heavily spore-encrusted edges, I mistook them for diseased fronds! Then I examined their backs, and realised they were heavily rimmed with spores.

Grown by itself, a single plant forms a rosette.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Thorny Yellowwood

Zanthoxylum brachyacanthum
What is this plant’s future?

Here’s the trunk of a young thorny yellowwood, showing what a prickly little fellow it can be. those thorns are sharp!
Like human teenagers, it will grow out of this prickly stage.
In older trees, the thorns thicken up and lose their sharp points. You can put your hand on the trunk of a mature tree, quite comfortably.
Notice the young vine in the photo. Perhaps this yellowwood sapling will grow into a strong tree, up to 15 metres tall in its rainforest environment...



...or perhaps its future will be like that of the plant at right

This one’s broad thorns tell us that it is actually quite an old plant, but life in the stranglehold of its encircling vine has not been easy. It hasn’t reached the size we might expect for a plant of its age.

Here's the trunk of a large specimen.

Thorny yellowwoods are pretty plants. Grown in optimum conditions, they become attractively shaped trees with dark, dense canopies, like this one at Peacehaven Botanic Park which I photographed three years ago.
Thorny yellowwoods grown in gardens, where they don’t have to compete with tall trees for light, will never reach the height of their rainforest relatives. 6-8m is a more likely maximum for a garden specimen. The plants are dioecious, so the best way to grow them might be in a grove of 3-5 trees, planted close that their canopies unite into one. This would give a high likelihood of having plants of both sexes.
They contribute to the environment by hosting swallowtail butterflies, and (in the case of fertilised female trees) producing shiny black seeds in bright red follicles to attract birds.

The Peacehaven plant is female, as these flowers show.

Australia has six Zanthoxylum species, all but this one being plants of the tropics. They all have aromatic bark, leaves and seed follicles.
Spices have been produced from most of the 250 or so overseas species of Zanthoxylum. For example, Sichuan pepper, one of the ingredients of Asian five-spice powder, is produced from the red follicles of any of several Zanthoxylum species. Young leaves and shoots of other species are used as garnishes or as an ingredient in a strongly flavoured pesto-like paste. Even the bark is used in small quantities for flavouring.
I am not aware that our local species has been used for any of these purposes, but the potential may be there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Leichhardt’s Ironbark

Bridelia leichhardtii
It’s interesting to see this tree at work.

Plants need something or someone to distribute their seeds about for them. Without this assistance, they would have thousands of babies with nowhere to grow but under their parents.
This tree, with its red fruits, is advertising for birds to do the job.
What it wants is for them to eat its fruit, clean its seeds, and deposit them, with a little dollop of fertiliser. It produces large numbers of fruits, so there is always a good chance that some of them will be dropped in a suitable site for growing.
Birds are attracted to the colour red. These particular  fruits are slightly translucent, and glow brightly in the sunshine, no doubt looking particularly appealing to any fruit-eating bird that flies past.
When it stops at the tree, however, it soon discovers that the red fruits are not yet ripe, but that the several black fruits scattered amongst them are soft, succulent, and no doubt delicious. Having learned this, birds are likely to return to the tree again and again during its fruiting season, spreading the fruits much more widely than they might have in just a few gorging sessions.
It is usually seen as a shady small tree, but can grow to have a prominently fissured trunk of as much as a 30cm diameter. It can also be a large, multi-trunked shrub.
It likes a well-drained soil, and can usually be found growing on hillsides, in red or black soil country.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Einadia hastata (Rhagodia hastata)

Now is a good time to go and look at the saloop, in Irongate Conservation Park.
This knee-high plant is fruiting profusely, with both red and yellow-fruited plants – notice their brilliantly coloured matching calyces – growing side by side.

These are such wildlife-friendly plants that it is a pity we don’t see them more often in gardens. Birds, particularly silvereyes and little honeyeaters, love the berries, and many animals including lizards eat the leaves.
If grown in full sun, the plants grow in neatly rounded shapes, and as is demonstrated in the wild at irongate, in large numbers they make an effective, frost and drought hardy groundcover.
Ruby saltbush Enchylaena tomentosa, and fragrant saltbush Rhagodia parabolica are also fruiting in the reserve at present. 
The abundance of saltbushes at irongate is appreciated by the little saltbush butterfly (Theclinestes serpentata), a creature that can only breed on saltbushes. It is shown here in its favourite head-down pose.
There are plenty of them in the reserve, and if you watch them very closely you may notice their tendency to rub their back wings together in a circular motion. It is thought that this attracts the attention of predatory birds away from their heads, towards the rear margins of their wings, where with a little imagination you can think of the little tails as antennae, and the darker spot as an eye. It seems to work, as you often notice this butterfly and its relatives with damage on their rear wings, the part of their bodies they can best afford to lose.
As they fly, you may get a glimpse of the little patches of iridescent blue on the upper surfaces on their wings.
Their caterpillars are carefully guarded by various species of ants, including the meat ants (Iridomyrmex sp.) which are so conspicuous on Irongate’s paths. In exchange for their care, the ants “milk” the caterpillars for a sweet exudate.
Saltbushes are somewhat resistant to burning, so are desirable plants to replace woodchip mulch, where there is a concern that the mulch might lead a fire into a garden.
Obtaining saltbushes for garden use can be difficult, as they are rarely offered for sale. Growing them from seed or cuttings may be the best option.
Saloop also goes by the common name of “berry saltbush”, but this is not a very useful name, as it is applied to a number of other saltbushes as well.
Irongate Conservation Park is between Mt Tyson and Pittsworth. 
To get there from Mt Tyson, head west out the main street. Near the property called Adora Downs the road makes a right-angled turn to the left (south). Follow this until it hits a T-intersection. Turn left, and in about 200 metres you see the Irongate Hall on the left. Turn right (south) almost immediately (into Wallingford Road)after that, and follow the road (which makes a bend to the left) for something like 3.5k until you come across the reserve on your right. Keep your eye out for the iron gate that marks the place.