Friday, October 3, 2014

Garnet Lehmann Park

A comment has just been sent to my blog about the fight to prevent the Toowoomba Regional Council from removing trees in this local park. I feel it needs a proper reply, but sadly it might not be quite the response that the anonymous writer was hoping for.
(See it if you wish, by using the search box to find the article on the Toowoomba Tree, and opening the comments.)

I agree with the writer that Toowoomba's progressive tree loss is a serious concern. I believe that many Toowoomba residents share this concern, and that it is worth everyone’s while to represent to our council that we value Toowoomba’s status as a town which appreciates its trees.
However, flood damage downstream from the Garnet Lehmann Park is also a concern. There will never be universal agreement on how best to deal with the problem, but I do give the TRC council and its staff the credit for considering the options and I concede their right to make a decision. It’s far easier to criticise decisions than it is to make them, especially in cases like this where there was no easy right decision.

I suspect that the defenders of the Garnet Lehmann Park trees are now losing much of the public sympathy that they once had,  by the refusal of some of their more vocal members to accept that “the fight” is lost and that further protests are not going to be productive. They also seem to be slow to perceive that the only fight they have lost is the one to have all the trees retained.
It would be so good to see them move on, (and perhaps some of them have. I hope so.) What a pity, if a great group like this loses all its momentum while there are very real and worthwhile things still to be done. They have lost one battle, but they could still achieve much, if only they keep the fire in their bellies.

Some projects could include:

1. Ensuring that TRC does indeed carry out its promise that Garnett Lehmann Park will become an ornament to our city. This could take some time, and would require a group that would be prepared to continue its activities for years to come. It’s never easy to be a stayer, but I feel sure that there are people in the group who have what it takes to persist!

2. Contributing to the new planting plan for the park.
Is there a planting plan already in the pipeline? Does the group know what tree species are being proposed? Are these species just ornamental ones, or do they have environmental value? If they are Australian plants, are they a random selection of doubtful ecological worth from all over the country, or are they local natives which will improve the opportunities for survival of Toowoomba’s wildlife. (Our local butterflies, in particular, are in real trouble within the city - if they can be found at all - because of the lack of host plants). Has the group a role to play in suggesting suitable plants to TRC, and perhaps in supporting TRC’s environmental nursery (the Crows Nest Community Nursery) where volunteers struggle to cope with the task of propagating enough plants of local native species for all the environmental groups who would like to be planting them (ironically including TRC itself).

3. Should the group be pushing for something more appropriate than Eucalyptus trees to be planted in the park? TRC has a valid concern that Eucalyptus trees can create public risk problems because of their tendency to drop limbs as they get older. To restrict planting of Eucalypts to a minimum, in safe locations, would be a reasonable council policy considering the expected high rate of park usage as our population increases. Eucalypts planted in the city could have a short lifespan. Future councils may decide to remove them for safety reasons, which would put the poor old park back to square one yet again.
Others dislike the Garnett Lehmann gumtrees for environmental reasons. East creek would have originally had rainforest vegetation, so the gumtrees are interlopers, environmentally speaking. Even many of Toowoomba's "naturally occurring" gumtrees would be invaders that have moved into a niche created as our forebears cleared original rainforest. Gumtrees do this.
When Alan Cunningham climbed Mount Hay and became the first white person to record Toowoomba’s native vegetation, he commented on the Araucarias (hoop pines)) that dominated the skyline of the Great Dividing Range where Toowoomba now stands. What an opportunity the city now has, to create magnificent plantings of these lovely trees as it revegetates our detention basins.
Equally our local fig species are not seen in the city enough. These are large rainforest trees, only suitable for planting in parks now that ever-smaller residential subdivisions are the city's most likely future. Our grandchildren will be grateful if the figs are planted now, to create wonderful spaces like New Farm Park in Brisbane.

Native Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) in Meredith Crescent. One of the very few remnant trees from Toowoomba's original rainforest.

All our other local rainforest trees are in much more trouble than Eucalypts, so pushing for a park with a shady green canopy, showcasing as many local rainforest species as possible, would be a very worthwhile environmental project indeed. It would also help Toowoomba develop its own character, something that has become a little frayed at the edges of late as development has pushed towards a look that could be anywhere in the country.

4. Could the group be widening its scope to include pushing for TRC to budget  for the city’s other detention basins to be beautified and made more environmentally friendly?

5. Could it also be adding its weight to other local projects concerned with defending the city’s trees?

Yes, is sad to lose the trees in the Garnett Lehmann Park. It is sad to lose any tree! But for those who are still protesting, can I appeal you to turn your energies towards the battles that can be won, rather than continuing to waste energy on a lost cause.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Brookvale Nursery

 The Carnival of Flowers is on, in Toowoomba this week.
There are lots of interesting things to do in town, of course, but this afternoon my husband and I decided to head out to Oakey, to see the display that Robyn Weick has put on at her new nursery.

The nursery only opened in January this year, but Robyn tells me they are already getting plenty of customers, including people who remember buying Australian plants from her father Lance Cockburn, when he ran the Brookvale Park Botanic Garden.

Robyn  and her brother Trevor have put together all sorts of interesting material for the display.
 Australian natives are strongly featured, as those who know Robyn and Trevor would expect. They have a great variety of cut flowers dispalyed in vases and in pots. There is also a good collection of Landcare and other environmental material. I did like the rather beautiful life-size models of that pesky Tilapia fish that's making a nuisance of itself in our local waterways.

Brookvale is a general nursery, but Robyn’s greatest interest is in Australian plants. She has a wealth of expertise on drought hardy species, and on suitable plants for growing in black soil. This nursery is a good place to buy emu bushes (Eremophilas), which are among the showiest, and most drought hardy of our Australian shrubs.

To find it:
  • Take the 30min drive from Toowoomba, west through Darling downs scenery, to Oakey.
  • Turn right into the town. (Don’t follow the highway round the bypass)
  • Follow the main route through Oakey until you are parallel to the railway line.
  • Brookvale Nursery is on the right, between the road and the railway, opposite Black’s Toyota.

Well worth a visit, at any time, but especially in this Carnival week.

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.