Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ironbark Orchid

Dendrobium aemulum (Tropilis aemula)
I found this little orchid on my patio this week, and was delighted with the discovery.
It had fallen down behind something else, and was quietly flowering its little heart out down there.
This is always the first orchid to flower, so when I see it come out, I know that the spring orchid sequence has begun again. I appreciate the encouragement at times when the miserable weather is making me feel that winter will never end.
Dendrobium aemulum is a plant that is picky about its trees. There are five different forms, each with its favourite tree. Our local is the ironbark form and prefers its Eucalyptus hosts to be at the edges of vine forest. It is the only orchid beside Cymbidiums that prefers to grow on a Eucalypt.
The little white flowers are lightly fragrant, and slowly turn deep pink before withering.
Ironbark orchids are very easy plants to grow, but like all Dendrobium-style orchids, they will adapt to our gardens better if we buy the youngest plants we can get.
They like part shade, and are rather picky about having their roots open to the fresh air, so should be grown on mounts or perched on top of a very open mix in their pots. They are drought hardy plants and can tolerate temperatures to 40°, but are intolerant of humid conditions which is why our coastal cousins consider them difficult to grow. Here, it’s easy.
Growing local native orchids, even more than growing any other of our local plants, must involve PURCHASE - not collecting from the wild. In the case of the ironbark orchid, this is partly because this is a very sensitive plant which usually dies if moved, unless it is very young indeed. But mostly it’s because it is just not nice to plunder the bush of its treasures. Well, it’s more than not nice, it’s selfish, arrogant, materialistic, ...
Any red-blooded Australian who genuinely likes native plants also likes native environments, and takes a very dim view of those selfish few who think that nothing is of value unless they own it themselves. Those who trash the bush to sell their ill-gotten gains are, of course, so far beneath contempt as to be hardly worth mentioning.
One of the reasons I always look forward to Toowoomba’s Carnival of Flowers (from 21 September, this year) is that the orchid societies have little plants, including native species, for sale - and often remarkably cheap.

Fun in Franke’s Scrub

Our weeding day in Franke’s Scrub was blessed with perfect winter weather - the sky was cloudless, and the wind had forgotten how to blow.
The little birds were very much more in evidence than usual, perhaps because there has been enough rain to fill the little waterhole at the bottom of the gully.
We spent out time getting rid of asparagus weed - light work for the most part, on small seedlings, but lots of it.
There were signs of spring, in the flowers on an unidentified species of Parsonsia, and the half-grown fruits of the sandalwood, Santalum lanceolatum.
I got accused of not working hard enough, as I was trying to take photos for the Frankes scrub blogsite ( but couldn’t resist keeping this one for my own. She was doing good work, in there!

Northern Sandalwood

 Santalum lanceolatum

This photo of developing fruits was taken this week at Franke’s scrub, in Cawdor. The small tree containing them is easy to find, as it is right beside the road. They will turn red as they grow, then ripen to succulent black in autumn.
At its foot, you will find grasses, Austrostipa species, which are important to it. Santalum species are partial root parasites, attaching themselves to the roots of other plants as a way of getting water and minerals. This grass genus is a favourite, and doesn’t seem to mind at all.
There are several Australian species of sandalwood. This one is our most common local species (and lacks the perfumed wood which makes the indonesian species Santalum album, and the West Australian Santalum spicatum valuable for the manufacture of incense and toiletries.)
While its fruits are not as highly regarded as those of the desert quandong, Santalum acuminatum, they do have a very acceptable fruits for eating straight off the tree provided they are very ripe.
Northern sandalwoods are very drought-hardy plants, and have good potential as garden ornamentals, with their weeping, blue-green foliage. They grow in frosty places, but may appreciate a little shelter from it when young.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More on Lake Broadwater Plants

Reader Mick commented on my surprise that red olive-plums, Elaeodendron australe, could be found at lake Broadwater. You are not the only person to set me straight here, Mick.
Apparently they are quite common on the roadside leading from the highway in to the reserve. I can see I should spend a bit more time out there.
See Mick's comment on the Lake Broadwater article below for some of the other treasures that can be found there.

Peacehaven Park at Highfields

The Toowoomba Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) outing last Sunday was to the new Peacehaven Botanic Park in Kuhl’s road at Highfields, and what a delight it was!
I had never explored the far reaches of this park. At first glance, it’s not one that reaches out to native plant buffs. The planting near the front is ordinary to the point of being offputting, and I had weakly allowed myself to be offput.
I was rewarded for this (undeservedly, you probably feel, if you already know Peacehaven’s virtues) by the joy of fresh discovery.
We had the usual kind of SGAP leisurely stroll - in good company with lots of conversation about plants - around the circuit path. We admired old Crows Ash tree (Flindersia australis) that you see here from a distant viewpoint across the dam.

We had time to stand around each individual plant, local native and otherwise, that attracted our attention. I learned heaps, as I usually do on SGAP outings. There is a wealth of knowledge in the members’ heads which becomes part of the talk as we stroll about looking at plants. Did you know that Wollemi pines form a little protective blob of resin on the end of each branchlet? That they are branching pines, producing major low branches early in life? Or that their large female flowers, high on the tree, bloom before the males lower down, so that the trees don’t self-fertilise?
For me, however, the most exciting thing about Peacehaven was that here, at last, we have a garden which features local native plants in a big way. So little is known about their garden potential that experimental plantings, from which we can learn, have been badly needed for a long time. The high-quality labelling lets us know just what we are looking at. (This one is a Rose Apple, Owenia venosa)

The plants are well cared-for, providing a good example of how they would perform in gardens as opposed to doing it tough in the bush. Some are already above head-height, so already we can learn which species are faster-growing.
What a wonderful resource this park is for those who want to use local natives in their own gardens, or just for those who want to find out what those plants are that we see in our local bushland.

Another Good Camphor Laurel Replacement Tree.

Crows Ash   
Flindersia australis 

Further to the articles, below, on Deep Yellowwoods and Ribbonwoods, here is another of our large and beautiful local native trees which could be used to give our city the look and feel that we love - of stately parks and shady, tree-lined streets - in the way that camphor laurels do now. As you can see from the photo above, of a new house built among established crows ashes (in Hi-winds Road, Blue Mountain Heights), this tree is one which would add a great deal of distinction to any style of architecture. I believe these trees to be over 100 years old - perhaps a similar age to Toowoomba’s largest camphor laurels, which were donated to the city by the Queensland Naturalisation society in 1880.

Given just a bit of attention when very young, crows ashes can be fast-growing. They appreciate a little watering in their first few months, and protection from frost in their first one or two winters. They grow to become very resistant both the frost and drought.

The specimen at right is about 20 years old.

They can be partially deciduous for a brief period in spring, losing the leaves on just one or two branches. Leaf loss is followed by little white flowers, which in turn are followed by those magnificent woody starfish-like seedpods which are used to such effect in dried flower arrangements.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Trip to Lake Broadwater

At an hour and a half from Toowoomba, Lake Broadwater is a favourite place for my husband and me. It’s an easy day out for when we want one on the spur of the moment, as we did last weekend.
It was windy, but the Wilga Campground is a pleasantly sheltered spot, as is the walk between is and the lake, where many of the plants have been labelled for our enjoyment.

The wilgas (Geijera parviflora) are seeding prolifically, and some of them are just beginning to put out their new spring flowers.

I inspected the belahs (Casuarina cristata)for flowers, Mick, but failed to find any. We walked across the lake, then back around through the bulloak (Allocasuarina leuhmanii) woods, but there were no flowers on them, except for those of the needle-leaf mistletoe Amyema cambagei, which is common there and flowering madly.

I was surprised to find a red olive-plum (Elaeodendron australe see Archive article, March), growing on one of the bits where the sandstone substrate comes to the surface. I think of it as a basalt soil plant, but there it was, full of fruit. (Strictly speaking, Lake Broadwater doesn’t belong on this subject-specific blogsite. The soil on the other side of the Condamine has a basalt component, but is better described as “mixed alluvial” as it has a sandy component from its underlying sandstone.)

The bird hide has been repaired by the Dalby Lions, so can be used again, we were delighted to discover. They have also cut back the closer trees which has improved the view. Unfortunately there wasn’t much birdlife to be seen from it though, and I don’t suppose there will be until water fills the lagoon again.
The lake is completely dry at the moment, and covered with a sparse carpet of vegetation. There’s not much of it, but it must be delicious, as a great many kangaroos thought it was worth grazing out there, late in the day. (Double click to see them.)

Deep Yellowwood

Rhodosphaera rhodanthema
This plant is another mango relative.
In his comment on my “Toowoomba Trees” article, Mick included it as a suggested Camphor laurel replacement.
I couldn’t believe how fast mine grew when I first planted it. It’s now eight years old, but reached almost the size shown in the picture in only four of them, when it decided to put on the brakes. Its reputation as a slow grower, eventually reaching camphor laurel size, is clearly not based on its early years.

This fast growth does make it satisfying to grow, as a pretty, shady tree is obtained in a very short time.
Last September my tree responded to the drought with this lovely crop of flowers, and was a buzzing mass of native bees.
Despite this it produced no fruit at all. This photo is of a friend’s tree. The berries look as though someone’s been polishing them with Nugget, don’t they?

Deep yellowwoods are drought and frost hardy trees, and are rather hard to set alight. We sometimes find ourselves being told not to plant natives in bushfire-risk areas because “they are so flammable”. This is very good advice where Eucalypts are concerned - and applies rather more strongly to some very non-native trees, like pines and cypresses - but drought-hardy rainforest trees like this one are a good choice where bushfires might be a problem.

Thank you for your comments.

I enjoyed hearing from some readers of the site, after my article on "Toowoomba Trees".
Jeff’s comments about how big trees add something very valuable to the character of Toowoomba are very much to the point. A “sense of history and belonging, and a sort of security”. Yes indeed.
I also agree with Sally’s point that the move to growing plants local to an area is a modern and progressive one. Indigenous planting is a fashion trend in modern gardening, which I hope will continue for a long time. Young people are getting a much better education on environmental matters, nowadays, so it probably will.
Mick’s comment, that everyone is affected when Toowoomba Council chooses to ignore environmental issues, reflects the frequent comments that I hear from visitors to Toowoomba, particularly those who come to the Society for Growing Australian plants’ stall that I usually work on at that time.
We might lose too much if we simply cut down all the existing camphor laurels, but we have nothing whatever to lose by refusing to plant any more, and by a policy of replacing old trees, as they die or are removed to make way for roadworks, with ribbonwoods, red cedars, or deep yellow-woods.

Ribbonwood Propagation

Euroschinus falcatus
Mick’s comment on the “Toowoomba trees” article included the remark about how difficult he found them to propagate.
I notice that Steve Plant always has them for sale at the Crows’ Nest Community Workshop, so I asked him about it.
He tells me, Mick, that VERY fresh seed is the secret. The trick is to pick them from the parent tree when they’re very ripe (black and squashy), to wash off the flesh, and to plant them the same day.You can expect results in less than a week
He removes the flesh by putting the seeds in a plastic bag and giving them a good squashing, then putting them in a kitchen strainer for washing and picking over to remove anything that isn’t a seed.
HOWEVER, there is an added problem that some trees  have whole crops of fruits whose seeds have no embryo, which may be your problem. These fruits never do ripen to the squashy stage. I don't know why. It may be that they are not near enough to another tree of the same species, flowering at the same time, for cross-pollination to occur. Or it may be that we have careless lost the pollinating insect species from some areas. If this is the trouble, the only solution is to search for trees with better seed.

Incidently, the seeds are flat like the seeds of mangoes to which they are related.
Here’s another photo of a lovely ribbonwood, this one on private property in Hiwinds Road, Mt Kynoch. As you can see, it was once a bigger tree, but had an encounter with lightning some years ago. I doesn’t so much destroy its beauty as give it character, does it?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The “Toowoomba Tree”

Euroschinus falcatus
Common names of plants are revealing, and old common names even more so. In our book-learned, TV-educated, and internet-aware society we are often more familiar with the great outdoors as seen through the eyes (and the cameras) of others from elsewhere than from our own experiences in our own environment.
So we of Toowoomba have, for the most part, forgotten that this magnificent tree was once so characteristic of our town that it was known as the “Toowoomba Tree”.
Holding hands around the trunk of this lovely specimen is an activity that would require four adults!
The tree pictured below is considerably smaller - perhaps half the size. It may be familiar to many of you, who drive past it on the highway from Highfields to Toowoomba.
Nowadays, of course, the characteristic big tree of the city is the camphor laurel.
One of our ex-councillors told me, when we were discussing environmental matters, we couldn’t possibly get rid of them as they “give Toowoomba its character”. That, in this new age of environmental awareness, the character in question is considered by many to be a bad one, is a bit of an embarrassment, but there are still plenty of Toowoomba residents who are prepared to defend the camphor laurels and support a municipal policy of continuing to plant them in “heritage” areas of the city.
What a pity that our city fathers, back in the nineteenth century, did not recognise that Toowoomba already had a far older heritage of magnificent trees.
It’s a curious thing, this “heritage” concept. Nobody’s heritage is entirely benign. Ours contains, for instance, a sorry record of aboriginal massacres. The fact that this is a “heritage” activity does not justify its continuation! The same could be said of our gardening heritage. Where it does no harm, its perpetuation is a fine thing. Where it is in conflict with our environmental heritage, the same does not apply.
“Toowoomba trees” are more commonly known nowadays - by those who know them at all - as “ribbonwoods”. Few old ones remain here, and new ones are rarely planted.
Yet they are an obviously good choice for parks, school grounds, acreage residential blocks, and anywhere where large, shady trees with no bad habits are wanted.
They are very fast growing on our red soil. They need absolutely no watering after their first month or two even through the kind of drought we have had over the last four years. They are happy in full sun or shade, and cope well with exposure to wind.
They are, however, vulnerable to heavy frost when young. For certain success they need protection through their first two or three winters.
I would love to see a programme of gradual replacement of Toowoomba’s camphor laurels with ribbonwoods. They would complement our heritage buildings and older parts of town in very much the same fashion as camphor laurels. Newer parts would quickly acquire the dense green canopy that does indeed give old Toowoomba its special character. We would no longer have to hang our heads in shame when our friends, relations, and busloads of tourists come to visit and make scathing remarks about our rustic, head-in-the-sand attitude to environmental weeds.
And we could be proud of recognising that the making of “heritage” is an ongoing thing. What more appropriate way of building future heritage, than by restoring our past one, our heritage of “Toowoomba trees”?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Devil’s Marbles

Eremophila debilis (Myoporum debile)
This little groundcover will be coming to the end of its season soon, but meanwhile was looking spectacular at Goombungee this week, as you can see. Its fruits are edible, very sweet and tasty, provided you wait till they’re quite ripe.
As you can see, this plant makes a very good groundcover for garden use. It is showiest if grown in full sun, but does well in dappled shade. For a dense cover, it is best to put in a number of plants at about 40cm intervals.
Like all members of the Myoporaceae family, this is a difficult plant to set alight, and so is sometimes suggested for fire-retardant planting. It is hardly of a size to retard anything very much, but at least won’t contribute much to a fire. It might be preferable to a groundcover of flammable mulch in some circumstances. Meanwhile, if it burns (as all “fire-retardant” species will if the fire is hot enough) it is quite good at surviving underground, to resprout once the fire has passed. This same resprouting ability can be used to create denser groundcover by pruning.
It is a very drought resistant plant.