Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Franke’s Scrub

The Place to be, next Wednesday Morning
(30th April, 9.00 to 11.30am)
Join in with a small group of interested people who will be weeding this precious little piece of dry rainforest north of Toowoomba.
Franke’s Scrub is in Franke’s Road, at the back of Highfields, in a gully which is part of a road reserve. A small area of only a few acres, it contains an unusually rich mixture of dry rainforest / vine scrub plant species (53 different trees and shrubs), including some uncommon ones (Alectryon tomentosus, Maytenus disperma). There is also a rumour that the rare and threatened plant, Tarenna (Tarenna cameronii, Diplospora cameronii) is to be found there, which we will be investigating further on our next working bee.
The photo at left shows the beautiful Leopard Ash Tree (Flindersia Collina), at the entry to the scrub.
Weed infestation is relatively minimal. The greatest problem is climbing asparagus, and the friends feel it is well on the way to being controlled, as a result of their efforts in co-ordination with those of Steve Plant, (Natural Resource Management Field Supervisor for the Crows Nest/Toowoomba Regional Council).
We meet on the Fifth Wednesday of every month, and work from 9.00 to 11.00 am, followed by morning tea.
Would you like to join us?
If so, bring smoko, gloves, secateurs, chipping hoe, and a bag for rubbish AND/OR bring your camera, notebook, plant ID keys if you prefer to explore the plants.
To find it from Highfields: Turn west at the southernmost set of traffic lights on the New England Highway, into Cawdor Road. After approx. 1.6k, turn left into Cawdor Drive. After approx. 2.2k, Turn right into Franke’s Road. Franke’s Road is approx 1k long, the second half being dirt road. The meeting-point is at the far end, where it is possible to park nose in to a wire fence. The scrub is on the left.
For more information, go to:
or email me (address at right)
2 hours
Four Times a Year

A small commitment, but a worthwhile one.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Another Native Cucumber

Red-striped Cucumber
Diplocyclos palmatus (Bryonopsis laciniosa)
This is a drought hardy, short-lived perennial plant of rainforest edges. It’s a light tendril-climber, but tends, in its native environment, to sprawl over low shrubby vegetation, and is particularly at home among the weeds of damaged rainforest edge environments. The stems grow to about 6m long, and the lightly hairy, deeply lobed leaves are very ornamental in a well watered specimens. I took this photo yesterday in an area of scrub at Gowrie Junction, where the leaves were showing signs of last week’s lack of water, but the plants were thriving.
If eaten they have a laxative effect, and are used medicinally in Africa and Asia (where they are also native). Plants with bright inedible fruits are often avoided as garden plants because of a concern that children might eat them and become ill. It seems unlikely, that a child would eat enough of this one to do any damage, as the fruits are very bitter-tasting. However there is an old record (White 1924, reported in Everist 1974), of the fruits being suspected of causing death in children. This should be enough to make us cautious about growing it anywhere that it could do harm.

Devil’s Whiskers

Solanum mitchellianum
This is one of my favourite plants.
(I used to think that Solanum semiarmatum was one of my favourite plants, but I find that our local plant, which was once included in this name, has for some time been known to be different from the true “semiarmatum”, a plant which is now considered to be restricted to the Killarney, Queen Mary Falls area, Wilsons Peak, Lamington, and south to about Kyogle.
So the plant I know and love is actually Ssolanum mitchellianum.
(We sometimes do get irritated with the constant name changes imposed on us by botanists, but they are all part of the process of studying and recording Australian plants, a field that still has a lot of work to do before our huge native flora is really well-known.)
My thanks go to Ian Menkins of Oakey, a plant enthusiast with a wealth of knowledge about our local native plants, whose response to my initial blog enabled me to correct this entry.)

Devil’s whiskers - whatever its botanical name - is such an enthusiast! When it decided to be a prickly plant, it put its whole heart into the job.

It’s a plant of rainforest margins, and would do well as a garden subject.
I took all these photos yesterday, so you see that the flowers and fruits are on the plant at the same time.

Unfortunately there is some doubt about the wisdom of growing any of our native solanums in any garden where children might pick and eat the fruit. Like all solanums (including tomatoes) the green fruits are poisonous. The red fruits may be safe to eat, but until the plant is properly researched and its chemical components analysed, we just don’t know.They do look delicious, don’t they?

Feeding the Chooks

To add to my earlier article about the whalebone tree, Streblus brunonianus, I have been told by friends that they find the little yellow fruits to be sweet and delicious.
They have a young, waist-high tree which fruits prolifically, but they don’t get to eat many of the fruits, as they are also favourites with their free-range chooks, which jump as high as they can to pick them off the tree.

White Beetroot Tree

Elattostachys xylocarpa
One of our very best local native plants for the garden, this little tree is a fast-growing, if mulched and given water in its first year.

Its showy red new leaves are the reason for the "beetroot" in its common name.

It has all the typical virtues of our local dry rainforest / vine scrub trees, which are:
∙ They are typically small trees which won’t outgrow a suburban garden.
∙ They are very amenable to pruning. Done early you can produce a multiple-trunked shrub needing no further attention. Done regularly, and you have an attractive hedge of any height from waist high to above your head.
∙ Their roots go deep, which means they are good at sharing with other close plants, and won’t heave up your concrete paths.
∙ They like to start life in the shade, which means that they can be squeezed in between shorter-lived shrubs - then they go on to be good shade trees you can sit under.
∙ They are very drought hardy. Look after them for six weeks and they’ll never need watering again (but they will respond to watering by growing faster).
∙ The white flowers are inconspicuous, but have a lovely perfume, and attract a lot of insects in spring when the birds need them to feed their babies. (Even honeyeaters need a lot of insects for this.)
∙ The main annual attraction happens now, with the seedpods. (Why DO people think we should plant deciduous trees to teach our children about autumn ? Wouldn't it be better for little Australians to learn about our own autumn, rather than the British or European autumn of our ancestors?)

White beetroot’s woody autumn seedpods, (photographed yesterday) are truly beautiful. The colour does fade with time, but they still look good in a dried arrangement for years to come

Hard birds-eye

Alectryon subdentatus
This is another good garden tree, about which almost all the same things can be said as in the above article. You will notice the similarity between these seeds, which I photographed beside Prince Henry Drive last week, and those of the scrub boonaree Alectryon diversifolius mentioned in an earlier article, but the seeds of this plant are not so roosterish. Both Alectryons have a double seed capsule, but in the Boonaree it is normal for only one of the seeds to develop. In this plant both do, so the capsules pop open on both sides when the arils swell.
While still very drought hardy, this plant is more likely to grow close to the range escarpment. The tough old scrub boonaree’s range extends both east and west.

Golden Hollywood

Auranticarpa rhombifolia
This a third dry rainforest / vine scrub plant which can be described with the same bullet points as I put in the “White beetroot” article above.
The orange seed capsules are very attractive to birds, and hang on the plant, slowly losing their seeds to the birds, until the flowers start appearing in spring.
They are such hardy plants that they are used as street trees in Toowoomba and Highfields.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Workshop

There’ll be lots of FREE stuff at the workshop Hugh Krenske is running in Toowoomba next weekend:
∙ Two FREE plants - a Birdwing Butterfly vine (come along to find out what this is) and a companion ornamental vine to plant with it. (Extra vines will be available for $6.00.)
FREE information about the butterfly and current projects to save it.
FREE morning tea and light lunch
∙ Plenty of FREE good company, of other people who enjoy both native plants and butterflies.
When: Saturday 19th April 2008, 8.45 for 9:00am start-2.00pm
Where: Rose Cottage in Newtown Park, Cnr Holberton Street and Pottinger Street.
RSVP: to Hugh by close of business 16th April.
Ph: 07 4635 1758
Mob: 0418 748 282
It sounds like such a good event, and at time of writing there are still FREE places, so get in quickly if you want to be in it!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Toowoomba’s Unusual Red Cedars

Toona ciliata

I wish I’d known, before I planted three trees on my place, that Toowoomba’s local red cedars were a bit different. I would have gone to some effort to get hold of the special local variety rather than just putting in any old T. ciliata, as I did.
There are a lot of planted cedars about the town - and a lot of good reasons for planting them:
∙ There is the romance of planting the famous timber tree that is such an integral part of the history of Eastern Australia.
∙ There is the practicality, of a tree which needs no watering in a Toowoomba drought, and withstands frost after its first year.
∙ There is the usefulness, near buildings, of a winter-deciduous tree - shady in summer and letting the sunlight through in winter. Red cedar is one of the very few such Australian natives.
∙ There is the interest of the annual cycle, beginning with bright red new leaves in spring. (Cedargetters used to find their prey by getting up on a high point where they could overlook rainforest, and scanning for the distinctive spring leaves.) Racemes of fragrant white flowers come next, and are followed in summer by the summer seed capsules which ripen to shed their winged seeds in March. The photo of the empty seed capsules, below, was taken this week. They remind me of black-backed daffodils. The no-fuss, no colour leaf-drop will come when the weather turns cold, just as we begin to feel the need for whatever warmth the sun will give.
∙ There is the satisfaction to be had from a fast-growing tree which is eventually, potentially, enormous. The photo at the head of this article is of the tree which I think is Toowoomba’s most beautiful, the cedar on the corner of Lindsay and Bruce Streets.
Here's another picture of it.

The one at right is about 20 years old. As you see, red cedars grow far too big for ordinary suburban blocks, especially as they are thirsty plants which shouldn’t be planted within 5 metres of a drainage line for fear of the damage they might do. Parks, school grounds, highways, bushland reserves, and acreage residential blocks are the places where we should be seeing these wonderful trees.
The unusual thing about our local trees? Most cedars are smooth and green on both sides. Ours covered with brown fuzz underneath. The specimen at left even has some of the fuzz on the upper side. I don’t know whether this applies to all local specimens. Perhaps one of my readers will enlighten me?
The Lindsay street tree has no sign of fuzz, but I don’t know whether it is a planted specimen or a remnant of the original rainforest. (If so it would have been young when clearing occurred. It’s low branches show that it has done most of its growing in an open situation.) The photo of fuzzy leaves comes from a naturally occurring tree perhaps 20 or 30 years old, which makes me wonder also whether the fuzziness is more pronounced in young trees.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tape Vine

Stephania japonica
This little climber is locally very common, and one of the most characteristic plants of our local dry rainforest and vine scrubs. You often see it popping up on cleared land at Highfields, which lets us know that the original environment was not grassland or eucalypt woodland as it is now.
In a garden, the pretty shield-shaped leaves are reason enough to grow this little climber. They are “peltate”, meaning that the point at which the stalk joins the leaf is some distance in from its edge.
The greenish flowers are inconspicuous, but the little shiny little fruits on the female plants are very ornamental. Of course you would need to grow at least one plant of each sex to get this additional ornamentation. Old plants form a large woody tuber at the base, just below ground level. This is a water-storage organ, which helps the plant through dry times. (Don’t try to eat it – it may be poisonous.)
Where conditions are tough, the plants may die back in winter, regrowing when the weather warms up. This keeps them safe from frost damage. If plants become unattractive in autumn, all they need is to be cut back.
Tape vines sprawl across the ground where support is not available, preferring the dappled shade under trees, or a well-lit indoor situation .

At Carnarvon Gorge they grow under the casuarina trees by the creek. In places they are the only vegetation, and make a lovely picture on a background of rounded black stones and brown she-oak needles.