Thursday, November 27, 2008

Austral Cornflower

Rhaponticum australe (Stemmacantha australe)
I was astonished to hear that this rare and threatened plant had been found growing on a neglected block in Toowoomba a few years ago. It must have been the last city refuge for this plant, though it would once have been common here. It used to be found on our local red ridges and blacksoils, wherever those very common local trees, mountain coolibah (Eucalyptus orgadophylla) and narrow-leafed ironbarks (E. crebra), are found. In town, gardeners usually mistake it for some kind of milk thistle, and weed it out. In the country, the livestock have done the job instead. So plants growing wild are now very rare indeed.

It is one of those native plants which you’d have to classify as “almost ornamental”. Planted in quantity their spring flowers do make a rather attractive garden statement, with their globe-artichoke-like heads.

Their light brown seedheads have an almost animal appeal. I find myself wanting to pat them on the head like little lambs.
In fine weather, the seedheads are long-lasting. However,  they don’t stand up well to rain and wind, and soon look messy in poor weather. A firm hand with the secateurs is needed to keep the garden looking pretty.

A few heads should always be saved for seed, of course, and they’re easy to reproduce this way.

For those who have enough land to be able to afford some “rough”, this is a good plant to naturalise there, as it provides food for little birds and herbivores.


Sally said...

these are quite weedy in my garden

Patricia Gardner said...

I'm not sure whether to commiserate or congratulate, Sally. They are rare and endangered, having been almost exterminated by grazing animals, so it's good to hear they're re-establishing well on your blacksoil site. (They self-seed, but are not weedy, on my red.)
And they do look their best in groups.
But it's no fun to find you've planted a weed, of course.
You tell me they're very susceptible to glyphosate, so I trust they'll not be an actual nuisance to you.

darrklogik said...

Hi there,

Thanks for sharing this wonderful news. I also live in Toowoomba, and have been desparately trying to get a live sample of this rare species. I would be willing to compensate you for the trouble Sally. Unfortunately they are classed as weeds by the Australian Government, but I believe their actual origin is Russian.


Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Omar
I’m surprised at your remark that our government classes them as weeds. They are listed as vulnerable by the Commonwealth Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC), and by the Queensland Government under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. They are listed as presumed extinct under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (NSW). All this government attention doesn’t suggest that they think it is a weed!

grey_gum said...

Hi Trish,
I think Omar may be confusing our native species with the Russian and European species Rhaponticum carthamoides.
I personally think the status of Rhaponticum australe should be upgraded to endangered. It has become extinct in Victoria and New South Wales and many people have noticed a serious decline in both the size and number of sites on the Darling Downs. I know of at least 10 sites that have gone the way of the dodo in the last 10 years. In fact some of those sites were lost in the past 3 years. Also I do not know of any national parks or reserves where this species can still be found with certainty, except perhaps for McEwan State Forest, which is tiny really.


grey_gum said...

I also meant to add in my previous post that many rare species can go berserk in garden culture, simply because they are given a free run, which they seldom if ever get in the wild. It would be a shame if we should allow our perceptions of plant behaviour in the garden to limit our understanding of this species and its rarity. The way plants behave in the garden is not always a reflection of their ecology in the wild state.

Patricia Gardner said...

Thanks Ian.
I was unaware of Rhaponticum carthamoides, having never looked beyond our own natice species. There also appears to be another weedy Rhaponticum in this district, Rhaponticum repens which I think comes from Russia as well.
It's good to have Omar's query explained.

MC said...

Hi All,
Thankyou for interesting post. I have been following this on and off for the past 6 months always finding new things on here.

I think we have suitable habitat for this species in the area so I am hoping no herbicide use and a good eye for detail we may see it. We definitely have plenty of Onopordum sp. Although with the density of exotic grasses here I am not sure we will find much. Although did have Smabucus gaudichaudiana pop up recently.

A bit of background: I am a supervisor working on riparian restoration of the Burnett river near Gayndah. We are currently working on an organic orchard which has mix of both riparian and not so riparian habitats that are being restored.

Patricia Gardner said...

Hello MC. Thank you for your post.
It would be wonderful if you can find Rhaponticum on your site. If not, you might consider trying to re-establish it as part of the restoration project. (Plants sell at Crows Nest Community Nursery - but would need to be picked up, as they do not deliver.)
How satisfying, to find Sambucus gaudichaudiana popping up on your project. It's a satisfying feeling, when one finds one has created a suitable situation for the native plants to begin to return in the natural way.
All the best with the project.