Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Western Boonaree

Alectryon oleifolius
 
This is a plant that could easily go unnoticed, because it can be mistaken for a wattle.




Its yellow-green flowers are small and inconspicuous, and even the bright and pretty fruit could be overlooked unless the plant has branches close to the ground.
Livestock find the leaves very tasty, so wherever it grows in grazing country the leaves are trimmed off as far as the animals can reach. Seedlings have difficulty surviving under these conditions. Western boonarees were once very common, as is shown by their impressive list of common names (western rosewood, inland rosewood, bullock bush, cattle bush, jiggo, boneree, bush minga, applebush, and red heart). They are known to live for more than 100 years, but may be in decline in the wild nowadays, due to non-native animals which destroy the seedlings.  They are a favourite food for cattle, sheep, and wild goats. Even rabbits love them.
One of those alternative names, rosewood, tells us that heartwood is a pretty shade of red. It is soft and easy to work, but non-durable if used outdoors.
It is not a common plant here on the eastern Darling Downs, but I found some plants in seed a few days ago in the piece of Yarran woodland by the roadside east of Jondaryan. (This ecologically valuable woodland remnant contains several plants that are more usually found further west, including yarran, Acacia melvillei)



As with most Alectryons, the flowers are produced in pairs but often only one of them is fertilised so the result is one developed seed twinned with an undeveloped embryo.

 

When the seed is ripe, its red aril swells and bursts the capsule open. The seed is half covered by the nutritious, bird-attracting red aril, and is brown rather than the typical Alectryon black.

The internet informs me that Northern Territory Aborigines eat the arils. I find them so disgustingly astringent that I wouldn’t recommend putting them in your mouth.

Like all members of its genus, it is a host to some species of little ant-blue butterflies - provided it is grown where those particular butterflies occur naturally, and where they have the right kind of ants to help rear the caterpillars.

Western Boonaree is a pretty plant, with its silky new leaves, and drooping foliage which covers the plant to ground level for many years when it is young.




It is very tough, hardy to both frost and drought, and suitable for windbreaks.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Orange Thorn

Pittosporum multiflorum (Citriobatus pauciflorum)


Here’s a modestly pretty little bush which can start to show fruit at this time of year when there is little else in the way of bright and pretty fruits to be seen.
There’s something odd about its name, though. “Multiflorum” implies that it has lots of flowers, while the old name “pauciflorum” means that it doesn’t have many at all. Wherever I see it, I would have to say that it neither flowers nor fruits particularly vigorously. What they lose in quantity, though, they make up for by being bright and pretty, gleaming out amongst the dark leaves in its usual shady habitat.



It is the rainforest cousin of our more familiar birds’ nest bush, Pittosporum viscidum. Not quite so drought or frost hardy, it grows in our local wetter rainforests at Ravensbourne, Goomburra, and the Bunya Mountains.
Like its cousin, it no doubt offers much appreciated shelter to the small birds, which are doing it tough these days when cats are everywhere. Those of us who like to attract birds to our gardens try to make space for some prickly small shrubs in the low-traffic corners of our gardens.





Orange thorn tends to be a scruffy little bush in the wild, but as a garden plant it could probably be tided up with pruning  to produce an even more dense, bird-sheltering bush. It does best in sites where it gets some shade.
The fruits were apparently eaten by aborigines, but I have not heard of any modern people eating them and suspect that we might not rate them as particularly tasty. I would rather leave them for the native pigeons, myself, but if your experience is otherwise, can you please let me know?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Donkey’s Ears Wattle.

Acacia complanata


In our district, the big wattle-flowering season begins in June, peaks in August, and is all over in September.
A few rebel species don’t flow along with the crowd, however, and this is one of them. Its flowering time can vary, according to rainfall, but it is common for it to choose to flower in February and March.
It has been spectacular this year.
Botanists use a rather boring “common name” (flat-stemmed wattle) for this plant, but I prefer the more descriptive name that ordinary people use -  "Donkey’s Ears". It is such an easy plant to pick from a distance because its “leaves” (actually they’re phyllodes) are held at such an unusual angle. Sometimes they stick out sideways, sometimes they stand up like donkey’s ears. They never droop downwards.



The species is quick growing, and long lived. A well-grown plant can get to 3m high, but it’s more usual to see it at about 1.5 metres and it is very comfortable if kept to that height with occasional pruning.
If it gets a bit old-looking and scraggly it is easily refreshed by pruning it very hard.
It’s a drought hardy plant for full or half sun, and is hardy to frost and drought in our district.
Keep an eye out for local seed in August.


You will find it easy to know that you have identified the plant correctly because of those distinctive phyllodes. Pick it when it’s ripe (which the ones in the photo are not, quite), and give the seeds the boiling water treatment before planting. The seeds grow quickly, and you can have a fine display of flowers when the plant is about a year and a half old.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

10 Butterfly Plants for the Toowoomba District

 The secret of attracting butterflies to your garden. 



Well, there's more than one "secret";
SECRET 1: Provide baby food. Butterflies’ favourite gardens are the ones that will let them raise a family. Put in plants that their caterpillars can survive on, and they will come - BUT be aware that most butterflies can breed on only a few plant species. Some can breed on only one. These are called “host plants”.  Female butterflies are attracted by “their” plants’ special smell, (and male butterflies are attracted by females) .
SECRET 2. Know your local butterflies. Putting in plants for species which never come to our district will get you nowhere. Right now, it’s the peak of the butterfly season - a good time to get out and look for butterflies. If you don’t already know your locals, it’s a great time  to start learning. If you garden seems to have a poor selection, take a trip to somewhere with a better selection of surviving bushland, to learn what could be attracted to your garden with the right host plants.
SECRET 3. Choose local native plant species.
SECRET 4. Plenty of flowers for nectar. Flowers with a "honey" smell do the job best. This is a "secret" with erratic results, though. Plenty of people plant flowers with nectar, but many native butterflies are disappearing from Australia's suburbs for lack of host plants. Don't count on using "Secret 4" by itself!


Butterfly Host plants for our Own District.
A Shortlist
1. NATIVE CASSIA,  Senna acclinis and other Senna species (small shrubs) - Yellow and lemon migrants, small grass-yellow, large grass-yellow
2. MONKEY ROPE VINE Parsonsia straminea (Large climber) - Common crow, Native wanderer
3. SNOW WOOD Pararchidendron pruinosum (Small tree) - Tailed Emperor
4. ORANGE SPADE FLOWER - Hybanthus enneaspermus (Small perennial) - Glasswing
5. DARLING PEA - Swainsona queenslandica (Small, spreading perennial) - Grass Yellow
6. CRESSIDA BUTTERFLY VINE -Aristolochia meridionalis (Very small light climber)  - Clearwing
7. CURRACABAH Acacia concurrens (Medium wattle tree) - Imperial hairstreak, Tailed Emperor
8. FAN FLOWER Scaevola albida (Groundcover perennial)  - Meadow Argus
9. ZIG ZAG VINE Melodorum leichhardtii (Large climber) - Four-barred swordtail, pale triangle, eastern dusk-flat
10. LEOPARD ASH Flindersia collina (Small to Medium tree) - Orchard swallowtail
11. JACKWOOD Cryptocarya glaucescens (AND OTHER Cryptocarya species. Medium shade tree. - Blue triangle

Getting Hold of the Plants.
All the above are currently available from the Crows Nest Community Nursery.
Normally only open on Thursday mornings, it is also having an Open day on Saturday 3 March. 8.30am - 2.00pm.
To find the nursery, see
www.toowoombaplants2008.blogspot.com.au/search?q=nursery

For a longer list of suitable local  Butterfly host plants see
http://toowoombaplants2008.blogspot.com.au/search?q=host
There is also a recent ABC article on the excellent work being done by Helen Schwenke on butterfly host plants in SE Qld coastal districts. Excellent reading.
www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-13/how-to-attract-butterflies-to-your-garden/9422772

Some Local butterflies
 
 
Common Crow



Tailed Emperor


Blue Triangle


 Migrant




Meadow Argus




Grass Yellow




Orchard Butterfly




Grass Blue




Native Wanderer

 

Glasswing







Saturday, February 3, 2018

Something special, in Rainy Weather.


Tar Vine Boerhavia dominii
FAMILY: NYCTAGINACEAE

Some of you will be familiar with this delightful little plant.



I photographed the one below near Wyreema,



and the one below this was at McEwan State Forest near Pittsworth. As you can see, the leaves vary a bit from place to place.



The plant itself is not showy enough to ever become popular as a garden ornamental, but is pretty, all the same. The tiny flowers are exquisite. As a romantically-inclined farm child from the Darling Downs, I was sure they would be fairy favourites.

A friend from Pittsworth sent me these photos yesterday, showing the amazing transformation of the seeds after rain. She says the little blobs which have developed to encase the seeds are “slimy”.






Aren’t they beautiful? If you click on the photos, you can get a good look at the details.

On the second rainy day, the seeds are falling off, and collecting under the plant, looking "like frogspawn".


The reason for it all is that the seeds contain mucilage, which swells when wet, encasing the seed in a little damp ball to improve its chances of staying wet long enough for the newly germinated seeds to have a good chance of growing. Now would be a very good time to move some of those seeds into a bare dry patch that needs a bit of ground cover, and tuck them under a light cover of damp soil, being careful to preserve their mucilage coating. They can cope with a very tough, sunny site that gets very dry.

The mucilage has another function as well. It is designed to stick to the fur of passing mammals.This technique has helped the plant to spread itself about over much of Australia.

ADDENDUM: Since I published this blog, a correspondent has told me several other things about this plant.
The secret of its survival in hard, dry conditions is its persistent  taproot. This root is edible, and is still collected for this purpose by people living a traditional lifestyle in Central Australia. (If you want to try it, please be cautious. It may need to be cooked first). The leaves of the closely related B. diffusa are often used as a green vegetable in many parts of India.
Apparently it is unpopular with farmers, and can actually reduce the value of a farm because it is a difficult "weed" to kill by any means including poison, and tends to tangle in a plough. Pastoralists, however, regard it as a good, palatable pasture plant. Horses are said to get fat (and lazy) on it.
 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Karragaroo

Xanthorrhoea macronema



This plant doesn’t really belong on a blog about Toowoomba plants at all, as it is not native here.

I decided to include it, however, out of affection for my old school at Southport, one of whose houses is called “Karragaroo”. The lovely old Aboriginal name for this equally lovely plant seems destined to be lost in the mists of time, so I decided to put it on the internet in the hope of reviving it.

The plant itself grows in coastal areas, from Fraser Island to Sydney, and would have been common in Southport at the time the school was founded in 1912.

The only other public record of the word “Karragaroo”  that I can find is in the name of a historic home in Ipswich, built in 1883, and of the street in which it is situated. It is now a National Trust home and documentation there does say that the word means “grasstree”, but fails to record that it referred to this particular trunkless species, Xanthorrhoea macronema. Nowadays it is more often called "bottlebrush grasstree”, which is descriptive, but does lack the romance of the old name.

Most of our grasstrees are known for their tall spikes of tiny white flowers.  Karragaroos' showy spikes, however, end in short, chunky, creamy-yellow flowerheads with long, soft stamens.





They are rich in nectar, and attracting honeyeaters, butterflies, and native bees.


When not flowering, the plants simply look like rather anonymous clumps of shiny green grass. In the wild you can fail to notice them at all, which is no doubt why so many of them have disappeared under developers' bulldozers. In early summer, however, they put up their head-high spikes, and make a great show.

Because the plants themselves are rather small, it would be easy to fit a good number of them into a garden, where they would make a spectacular display in the season.They could make very appealing garden edges, or be tucked into the back of perennial borders, to go unnoticed until flowering time.

They like well-drained soil, and full sun or part shade. The light, dappled shade under eucalypts is perfect for them.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Frost Feedback Please

Several posts ago, I published lists of plants which are claimed to resist frosts of various degrees of hardness. The lists are based on my own experience, in a light frost area near the Range, as well as on other people's gardens in various areas.
Now that the frost season is almost over, can you tell me how your plants went? 
Your experiences could be valuable to other local people, who would like to know which  plants are worth trying on frosty sites.
 As  you'll notice from the comments at the end of the blog, a Meringandan resident found that several little plants, of species that are claimed to resist hard frost, didn't survive in her garden. They might be worth retaining for a whileall the same, to see whether they are still alive and will regrow. Some of those plants are surprisingly tough, and will bounce back if watered and cared for in spring once the danger of frost is over.
Meanwhile, I have added a comment to my list below that they apparently need protection from the frost while very small.