Friday, December 31, 2010

Wet Weather Lilies

Crinum flaccidum
I suspect Hughie has been rummaging in his shed this season, and found all those buckets of the stuff that he has forgotten to send down over the last ten years or so.
My sympathy goes out to all those who are suffering from too much rain. How ironic that we have been wanting it so badly these last years!
Living, as we do, on high ground, the floods have only been a comparatively trivial nuisance to us. We have been out and about, trying to show some overseas visitors the local scenery. They spent a month with us, and saw precious little of "sunny Queensland"!

At least we Toowoomba people can take some pleasure in knowing that our combined dam levels are now up to 61% of their capacity, the best we’ve seen since the dams last filled in February 2001, and a very refreshing contrast to the low of 8.7% a year ago.
But, Hughie, now let's just have a rest from it all!

One plant that is revelling in the summer rains is the Darling Lily. We photographed these (growing on the soggy flatlands in mixed alluvial soil) at Lake Broadwater last week.

We also saw them between Maclagan and Quinalow, on hillsides, in chocolate soil, and yesterday by the Gatton bypass on a low sandstone hill. Obviously these are plants which tolerate a wide range of conditions. (We haven’t been out to the Cooby Dam precinct, but have in the past seen them by the road there as well.)

For more about these lilies, see Dec 2008

Sticky Daisy Bush

Olearia elliptica

I photographed these attention-getting daisies out at Lake Broadwater, but the species can also be found in Redwood Park, just near Toowoomba.
Australian daisy bushes seem to be more valued overseas than here in their own country. We don't often see them in local gardens, yet they are very attractive plants.

Like many daisies, they are not long-lived (though the ones in my garden are still going strong at seven years old). Pruning makes dense shrubs of them, and probably prolongs their lives as well.

Mine are about as high as I am, and put on a good show of these little white daisies each year. The shiny upper surface of the leaves has a very slightly sticky feel to it.
Like all daisies, these drought and frost-hardy plants attract butterflies, which feed on the nectar - and I find they are very appealing to the little stingless native bees as well.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Cherry with the Seed on the Outside

Exocarpos cupressiformis

When the English first settled in Australia, they made much of it as an “upside-down, back-to-front” place. Swans were black instead of white. The trees lost their bark in summer, instead of their leaves in winter. And the cherries had their seeds on the outside!
I saw a good crop of these “cherries” (more usually called Ballarts) at Girraween National Park last weekend. The bower birds were going crazy over them.
The pretty, leafless shrubs are partly parasitic on the roots of plants around them, and are not choosy. They are said to be able to use grasses, Eucalypts, wattles, Casuarinas, Banksias, Grevilleas, and plants in the pea family.
They are very tolerant of soil type, growing on Girraween’s granite soil, but also quite at home on basaltic soil. However, they are being slowly eliminated from our area by urban sprawl.
They are regarded as difficult plants to propagate. Some growers have had success with seed germination (finding it can take up to 12 months) and cuttings. Failure after being planted out is a problem, and could perhaps be helped by growing the small plant in a pot with a host plant, which is then also planted out - though there are others who have had success with the plants on their own roots.
The moral of the story is certainly that if you have any of them growing naturally, you should treasure them (and don't hesitate to boast)! And do remember that they are probably depending to at least some extent on the naturally occurring plants around them, so preserving the ballarts may also require you to preserve some of their nearby vegetation.
In the wild, even in places where they are not being cleared, they may tend to decline. They depend on fires to rejuvenate the plants and germinate the seeds, and most of us would much rather not have fires on our properties!
Ballarts tend to sucker. Damaging the roots, or simply chopping off the old plant, encourages this to happen, and is a good way to renew a straggly old plant.
The "fruit" is good to eat, but only when very ripe. When ready it will fall off in your hand as you go to pick it. I couldn’t find any at this stage of ripeness at Girraween, as the bower birds were beating the people to them. At even a little less ripe, they taste disgusting! The inconspicuous cream flowers, and these showy fruits can occur sporadically at any time of year, but are often at their best at Christmastime.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Native Raspberry Fruit

Rubus parvifolius
Usually considered the most humble of our local raspberry species, in dry years this one puts out very few fruit indeed. It's a very drought hardy plant, typically living in dry grasslands rather than the rainforest habitat of most of its relatives, and is rarely given the chance to show its true ability.

This year, however, this plant at Peacehaven Botanic park has fruited magnificently, demonstrating just what it can do, given the kind of watering that this plant has had naturally from this year's rain.

It is possibly the most tasty of all Australia’s native raspberries - delicious.

For photos of the same plant in flower, see October.

Crinkle Bush

Lomatia silaifolia
The Crinkle Bushes are flowering unusually well this year, on the roadside between Hampton and Pechey.

These curious plants are related to Grevilleas, and as you can see, the flowers look rather like grevilleas, but with petals.
The flowers are said to be fly-repellant, and for that reason, some people plant them close to the house. Others claim that the sweet-smelling flowers give them a headache, so this is something to be considered when siting plants in the garden.
They are fast-growing plants, shown below at Peacehaven Botanic Park, already at their full height.


Pararchidendron pruinosum

I photographed these lovely flowers at Peacehaven Botanic Park (Kuhls Road Highfields) a few weeks ago.

This is the first flowering that this little four-year-old tree has produced. You can see that it’s flowers open white, and darken to deep orange before dying, making a very pretty show on the tree. They are said to be sweet-scented, but I forgot to take a sniff. Perhaps you could try it yourself. The tree is to be found in the dry rainforest section of the park.
This little tree is also called “Monkey’s earrings” because of its bright yellow seedpods, which curl into a circle, then open to show their bright red lining and shiny black seeds. Perhaps we’ll be lucky and see some at Peacehaven this autumn. The inference is that monkeys have a rather garish taste in jewellery!
See photos
The tree grows naturally on the escarpment below Harlaxton, at Ravensbourne, and in The Palms National Park north of Crows Nest, among other local sites.
Robert Campbell says he had some difficulty establishing it at Peacehaven, as it needed to be watered frequently in its early establishment phase. Now, however, it seems to be as drought hardy as the rest of Peacehaven’s plants.
We can expect it to grow into a neat little shade tree, with an ornamental red, flaky trunk. It would be suitable for a small suburban garden.
Its flowers are attractive to all kinds of butterflies. Tailed emperors can also breed on it. (see article below)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Planting for Butterflies

“Butterfly planting” is all the rage at the moment - and what beautiful results it will produce, as these gardens mature.
When planting for butterflies there are two main points to consider:
Things to do:
1. Plant flowers that adult butterflies will come to.
This is very easy. They don’t care whether their flowers are native or introduced. All they care about is that they have nectar (which is what adult butterflies live on), and most flowers have plenty of that. Excellent “butterfly-attracting” gardens are often produced by people who had never a thought of butterflies when they planted - they just planted pretty flowers.
2. Grow plants that caterpillars can grow up on. Each kind of butterfly has only a few “host plant” species that its caterpillars can eat. Without caterpillars, there are no butterflies - and those “butterfly-attracting” gardens which only considered flowers for the adults go begging.
Our suburban gardens are increasingly butterfly-deficient despite offering a smorgasbord of flowers. The reason? Bushland containing butterfly host plants is constantly being cleared as our suburbs spread. Each year, butterflies have further to fly, and often give those nectar-rich suburban gardens a complete miss.
To make a good job of creating a butterfly garden, you need first to know whether the “butterfly plant” you are contemplating is a host plant or merely a flowering plant. Then you need to have some idea of just which butterflies are likely to make use of the host plants. It’s no good planting a host for a butterfly which doesn’t actually occur in your part of Australia.
Most butterfly host plants are native, and local native host plants are the best choice, as they clearly work for the local butterflies!

A Blue Triangle.
These pretty butterflies need plants from the Laurel family (Lauraceae) to breed on. A good local native laurel is the small, shady, dry rainforest tree, the Bollygum, Neolitsea Dealbata.

The best source of information on plants to grow in our part of the world is a booklet called “Butterfly Host Plants of south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales”, written by John T, Moss. It lists 327 plant species for 201 species of butterflies, and is available from the Butterfly and Other Invertebrates Club, PO Box 2113 RUNCORN, Q 4113. You can email the club from this link:

Butterflies obviously love the nectar from these newly opened Callistemon flowers!

However, the success of this plant, which must have been feeding least thirty butterflies on the day I took this photo, depends heavily on its situation in a garden which is near bushland.
(The butterflies are: Caper White, Blue Tiger, Crow, Native Wanderer.)

Things Not to Do

1. Don’t Plant Environmental Weeds

Planting for butterflies is a great environmental initiative. It’s a pity to smirch it by planting environment-damaging species.
“Environmental weeds” are defined as plants which, though not locally native, spread (like natives) without any help from humans in the form of digging, planting, or watering. These plants are likely to jump your garden fence and establish themselves in the wild, or on the properties of your less-than-grateful neighbours.
Extra plants added to the wild are not mere harmless new arrivals, however much they may seem to be adding variety and colour to the bush. Each one takes up space which should be being filled by a native plant, and the long-term result is always less, not more, plant variety. Not only are native plant numbers reduced by their presence, the various animals (including butterflies) which needed the native plants for survival are reduced too.
Gardens don’t have to be restricted to native plants, however. There are plenty of lovely, easy-to-grow introduced plants, particularly ones with showy flowers which attract adult butterflies, which have shown no weedy tendencies. You can rely on them not to escape to make pests of themselves.
Unfortunately, environmental weeds are also readily available, and it is up to gardeners themselves to be discriminating. Potential weeds feature heavily among the ones typically given by helpful people to innocent young gardeners as garden starters. “This one will spread and fill the space in no time” they say - or “once this one gets going it just self-seeds and looks after itself”.
Reputable nurseries are usually - but not always - reliable in this regard, but weekend markets are great sources of environmental weeds. They are so easily reproduced that it’s no trouble to pot up these nice little money-earners by the hundreds.
And a few are even sold as “butterfly attracting” plants!

If you see non-native plants like the Coreopsis (above and below) growing on the roadsides, your "weed alert!" alarm bells should start ringing!

2. Don’t bother with host plants for feral butterflies.
We have a few of these, and they are doing very well indeed, thank you very much, not needing any help in the way of deliberate plantings in “butterfly gardens”.
One of these is the Wanderer or
Monarch, (Danaus plexippus) introduced into Australia (from America) in about 1880. Growing host plants for this one is like planting a “wildlife garden” then boasting about how many rabbits and pigs you are attracting!

An added disadvantage is that its milkweed hosts are very infectious feral weeds that your neighbours may get quite grumpy about.

Balloon Cottonbush Gomphocarpus physocarpus.
Avoid this feral weed, its very similar cousin
G. fruticosus, and their equally weedy friend the red-headed cotton bush , Asclepias curavassica

Cabbage White Butterfly, our other feral butterfly.
Distinguish it from some similar native butterflies by the black spots on the forewings - two for females, one for males.

This is now Australia's most common urban butterfly.
Is your garden attracting something better?

Butterfly Host Plants for the Toowoomba District

A Shortlist
There are several hundred local butterfly host plant species, attracting almost a hundred butterfly species. Here are some of the most desirable for gardens, all native to the area covered by this blogsite.
Blush Walnut Beilschmiedia obtusifolia BLUE TRIANGLE BUTTERFLY

Tailed Emperor on my window.

Mowbullan Whitewood Elaeocarpus kirtonii BRONZE FLAT, FIERY JEWEL
Crows Ash Flindersia australis ORCHARD SWALLOWTAIL
Brush Box Lophostemon confertus BRONZE FLAT, RED-EYE, JEWEL BUTTERFLIES


Yellow Migrant

Birdseyes and Boonarees Alectryon species BRONZE FLATS, JEWELS, BLUES, AND CORNELIANS
Piccabeen Palm Archontophoenix cunninghamii PALM DART SPECIES
Lacebark, Kurrajong, Bottle Tree: Brachychiton species TAILED EMPEROR, AEROPLANE, VARIOUS BLUE AND JEWEL BUTTERFLIES
Yellow Tulipwod Drypetes deplanchei YELLOW ALBATROSS
Silver-leafed Ironbark Eucalyptus melanophloia DAEMEL’S BLUE
Wattles Acacia species AS ABOVE
Native Capers, Capparis species FIVE SPECIES OF CAPER BUTTERFLIES

Caper White

Velvet Cassia Cassia tomentella LEMON MIGRANT, TAILED EMPEROR
Native Round Lime Citrus australis VARIOUS SWALLOWTAILS
Bollygums Neolitsea species BRONZE FLAT, BLUE TRIANGLE
Murrogun Cryptocarya microneura (Cryptocarya glaucescens var. reticulata) MACLEAY’S SWALLOWTAIL, BRONZE FLATS, BLUE TRIANGLE ORCHARD SWALLOWTAIL
Native Cassia Cassia tomentella YELLOWS, TAILED EMPEROR.


Lemon Migrant

Holly Dovewood Alchornea ilicifolia YELLOW ALBATROSS
Breynia Breynia oblongifolia YELLOWS
Blueberry Ash Elaeocarpus reticulatus BRONZE FLAT
Dogwood Jacksonia scoparia BLUES AND JEWELS
Native Cassias Senna coronilloides, S. artemisioides etc YELLOWS, TAILED EMPEROR.

Cressida Butterfly Vine Aristolochia meridionalis CLEARWING


Zig-zag Vine Melodorum leichhardtii FOUR-BAR SWORDTAIL, RED-EYE

Four-bar Swordtail

Native Passionfruit Passiflora aurantia GLASSWING
Doubah, Marsdenia viridiflora COMMON CROW, NATIVE WANDERER
Gargaloo, Parsonsia eucalyptoides COMMON CROW.
Corky Milk Vine Secamone elliptica BLUE TIGER, COMMON CROW, NATIVE WANDERER

Blue Tiger

Spade flower Hybanthus stellarioides GLASSWING
Native Plumbago Plumbago zeylanica PLUMBAGO BLUE
Love Flower Pseuderanthemum variabile LEAFWING, ARGUS, EGGFLY.
Fan Flowers Scaevola species MEADOW ARGUS
Native Nettles Urtica incisa AUSTRALIAN ADMIRAL

Australian Admiral

Paper daisies, Xerochrysum and other species PAINTED LADY

Matrushes Lomandra longifolia SKIPPERS
Tussock grasses Poa species BROWNS, SKIPPERS

Banks' Brown, at the Bunya Mountains

Kangaroo Grass Themeda triandra BROWNS, RINGLETS

MISTLETOES of the Loranthaceae Family.
(Plant seeds on existing trees)
Most Mistletoe species. JEZEBELS, AZURES

Scarlet Jezebel

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Canary Muskheart

Alangium villosum

When it comes to domatia, this tree is an enthusiast!

Many plant species have these little pits along their mid-veins, but I’ve never before come across leaves so generously endowed with them.
Domatia are an ingenious plant invention. As their name implies, they are little “homes” provided by plants for the accommodation of mites. Most of the mites which make themselves at home there are beneficial ones. They protect the leaf by eating tiny herbivorous insects, fungi and other disease pathogens.
Unfortunately for the landlord, some undesirable tenants are also likely to move in - but the overall balance is usually one where beneficial mites dominate, so the overall effect for the plant, of providing this free mite accommodation, is a protective one - and you can see how healthy this leaf is looking.
Canary muskheart gets its common name from its bright yellow sapwood, and the dense, dark, musk-scented heartwood inside it. It once occurred naturally in Toowoomba, but is now only found in the Boyce Garden, where it grows naturally in the last remnant of our original rainforest.
Old specimens of canary muskheart can reach 20m high and to a diameter of 90cm. Large trees are seldom seen, however. Early timbergetters probably cut it with enthusiasm, as its timber is outstandingly beautiful. Close-grained and firm, it is valued by conoisseurs of fine woods for carving and turnery. It was also popular for walking sticks, so even small trees were cut.
Its little yellow flowers are honeysuckle scented, and the succulent black fruits are the size and shape of olives, but have longitudinal ribbing. They are a favourite fruit of rainforest pigeons.
This is a plant which likes to grow on a variety of soils, including basalt redsoil, and prefers to be sheltered and partially shaded when young. It is slow-growing, and may never reach its full potential size in a suburban garden. However, slow-growing plants should be a part of every garden which is not to vanish without trace in the future.

Sweet Morinda

Gynochthodes jasminoides (Morinda jasminoides)
Like the plant above, this vine’s domatia are also “over the top”.

In this case, it’s not their numbers which impress, but their size. The mite-habitat pits are so large that they make conspicuous bumps on the upperside of the leaves, making the plant easy to identify when it's not flowering or fruiting.
“Morinda” is an Indian word, and is the common name for Morinda citrifolia, a plant which grows in south-east Asia, some Pacific islands, and in tropical northern Australia. It is also called Indian mulberry or noni fruit. Its potato-sized fruit tastes foul, and may be toxic if too much is consumed, but is nonetheless popular for its alleged health-giving properties. The bark and leaves of the Indian Mulberry yield a red dye, while yellow dye is made from its roots. As with its relative the mulberry, its leaves can be used to raise silkworms. Our local Morindas may be found to have some of the same useful qualities, but like many Australian plants, their potential has never been fully explored.
Our two local Morinda species typically grow on the edges of both moist and dry rain forests, and in vine thickets. Sweet morinda is the larger of the two.
In the open, it grows into a large tangled shrub - great for covering an ugly tree-stump or hiding a tumbledown shed. With a bit of discipline from the secateurs, it makes a handsome bird-sheltering shrub. If there is anything to climb on, however, this plant will do it with enthusiasm. Despite its somewhat disorderly behaviour, it’s one of our prettiest native plants. Even when not flowering or fruiting, its very shiny leaves make it appealing.

Sweet Morinda is named for the scent of its creamy, butterfly-attracting white flowers, which are produced for up to three months in spring and early summer. They are followed by lumpy, orange, bird-attracting orange fruits, up to 2cm in diameter. These are worth a close look, being actually compound fruits formed by the fusion of many tiny fruits, with no two quite alike.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Cutest Dragon

Darling Downs Earless Dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla)

This little fellow was on display yesterday in a Pittsworth Landcare display at Bunnings in Toowoomba.

It is classified as Endangered in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). These acts classify flora and fauna as”not of concern”, “threatened”, “vulnerable”, “endangered”, and “extinct” - in that order.
One of Australia’s smallest dragon-lizards, it is only 12cm long including its rather long tail. It’s not really earless. The ears are just hidden behind scales.
The lizards’ natural habitat is the treeless grassland which grows on the cracking black clay soils of the Darling Downs. (A separate population of a very similar lizard, which may or may not turn out to be the same species, is found in southern New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT.)
The lizards come out in the daytime to look for the little insects which they eat - but they can be hard to find, because of their tendency to disappear down the cracks in the blacksoil. This year they’ve been a bit easier to see, as the good rains have closed the cracks. They have also made the grass grow, however (see article on Plains Grass below) - so the lizards can find have plenty of places to hide, in the gaps between tall tussocks. And they do need to be able to hide, as cats and foxes are very effective enemies.
It is breeding season, so males in breeding colour (bright yellow throat and chin) and pregnant females are about.
One of the most endangered environments in our area is the grassland, which once made the Darling Downs so famous. It persisted for a century after white settlement, when grazing was a major industry on the Downs, but has disappeared rapidly since the 1950s, as the grazing industry has moved west, replaced here by croplands. There are a few small protected areas, but no dragons have been found in any of them. Grasslands with a potential to be dragon habitat do still occur on roadsides, but are very prone to mismanagement from an environmental point of view. So the dragons are, at present, quite dependant on private landowners for their existence. They have been shown to be able to survive in intensely cropped areas, but must also appreciate the shelter provided in preserved remnants of grassland such as the one described below.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thready-leafed Hopbush

Dodonaea sinuolata
Toowoomba Field Naturalists were privileged to be able to visit the new McEwan State Forest, out near Pittsworth, last weekend. Not yet open to the public, this newly acquired land is expected to become a national park - something we badly need in this area - and to be open to the public in the next year or so.

One of the plants we saw there was this very pretty hop-bush.

Like the other hop-bushes, it flowers inconspicuously, then produces its showy seed capsules in spring each year.
It may be our prettiest local hop-bush, with its frilly-winged pink capsules. Though grown as an ornamental in America, it can be difficult to purchase here in its own country, though I notice it’s available from the Greening Australia nursery in Brisbane. One would need to buy several seedlings to ensure getting hops, as they occur only on the female plants. They could be grown in groups, to make dense clumps. They can be expected to grow to about head-height - but may make a prettier (denser) plant if kept lower by pruning.
There are about 70 species of Dodonaea. Most of them are Australian, but some are found in other tropical or sub-tropical countries - Africa, Asia, and America. They are related to the introduced Koelreuteria (Golden Rain) trees which are used as street trees in toowoomba, and put on such a lovely show every autumn, with their coppery seed capsules. Unlike the Koelreuteria, hop bushes are not environmental weeds!
The name “hop-bush” was given to them by early settlers, who apparently used their seed capsules as substitutes for the completely unrelated true hops (Humulus lupulus) in brewing beer. I have no idea whether they were actually any good for the purpose!

Plains Grass

Austrostipa aristiglumis
We don't often see native grasslands these days. This one is composed largely of Plains Grass, which was once a dominant grassland type on the Darling Downs. It is on private property near Mt Tyson.
Although this is potentially very good grazing land, the ungrazed paddock has been retained by the farm's owners because of its value as habitat for wildlife - particularly the rare grassland earless dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla).
I imagine there are other reptiles which would also like living here - which made me feel quite cautious about tramping into this situation!

Preservation of the grassland will provide habitat for numerous other wildlife species, including mammals and birds, which appreciate the feast of plump seeds on these pretty heads.
Seed of plains grass (also called "plump speargrass") is available commercially, as it is also appreciated by landscape gardeners. A patch of them, besides being attractive, would add value to any wildlife-friendly garden - particularly one on black soil. A densely planted stand will exclude most weeds.

Plains grass self-seeds readily. Its interesting seeds are “self-planting” having awns (the little whiskers on their ends) which twist more or less according to the humidity, and, with a little help from the wind, make the seeds burrow into the ground. However it is unlikely ever to become a weedy nuisance, as it is shallow-rooted and easy to uproot by hand. It is also killed by lawnmowing, so can easily be confined to a designated garden plot.
This is a drought and frost hardy plant, which prefers to grow in full sun.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Red Passionflower

Passiflora aurantia

I found this little vine in flower at Picnic Point, this week (on the walking trail that runs alongside the road.)

It’s a dainty little tendril-climbing plant, with these showy flowers that are white when they first open, but mature, over four days, through pink to red.

Related to commercial passionfruit, they have the same characteristics in the flowers which led Spanish missionaries in America to give passionflowers their name - they saw them as symbols of the passion of Christ.

Look carefully and you can see the crown of thorns in the flower (the red bit on the white flower), the ten “petals” representing the ten faithful disciples, the three pistils symbolising the nails, and the five anthers Christ’s wounds - and so on.
The flowers drip with sweet nectar, so attract honeyeaters and insects.
The fruits, which will develop after these flowers die, are about 3cm long, and ripen from green to purple. Like all passionfruits, they are poisonous when unripe, but can be eaten once they’ve turned purple (though the flavour is not interesting).
As with so many rainforest climbers, they like to have their roots well-shaded and mulched, but want their heads in the sun for part of the day, for good flowering.
They could be grown on a small trellis, either in the ground or as a pot plant. Alternatively, their tendrils are said to be so effective that they can climb brick walls, so perhaps they could be used to add a decorative note to a boring wall (though I imagine they would object to the heat of the afternoon sun). They would certainly be inoffensive light climbers for the purpose, unlikely to damage brickwork or reach higher than 2 metres.
The plants are fast-growing but not long-lived. For a good display of flowers, it would be best to grow a number of the plants, with new ones inserted amongst the old every now and again.
The seed may germinate more readily if fermented first, but as the plant is easily reproduced from cuttings you may decide this is the way to go.
The plant is the local native host for glasswing butterflies - one of our less showy species, but interesting, with their transparent wings. This little butterfly is more common nowadays than it ever was, despite the decline in numbers of its native host plant. Glasswings can also breed on Passiflora foetida - otherwise known as Love-in-the-mist - or for the more prosaic of you, “stinky passionflower”.

This introduced weed is one of those plants which is probably here to stay in the Australian environment. It’s a vigorous plant which can out-compete our gentle local red passionflowers, so you need not feel guilty about picking caterpillars off the local plant species. They need protection more than the caterpillars do.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Rare Fawcett’s Clematis

Clematis fawcettii

Franke Scrub at Highfields is full of treasures, and this week we found another one.

This delicate-looking little clematis may have been lurking underground in seed form all through the long drought.
I was delighted with the find, as I have been searching for this plant around the district for some time. It is classified (nationally and in Queensland) as “vulnerable”, and is one of those plants which could so easily go missing forever.
The species is restricted to basalt-derived loam soils above 500 m, in south Queensland and northern New south Wales, and occurs in dry rainforests, usually on stream banks.
It is threatened by development (which has destroyed much of its habitat), and by grazing and bushfires.
The plants do have the potential to reach the canopy of rainforests, but are often seen as small understorey plants. A group could easily be grown on a small trellis.
The slender-petalled white flowers turn purplish-pink as they age. See photo at
Neither flowers nor seeds are conspicuous, but the foliage with its small, deeply lobed leaflets, is charming. Like all clematis, they climb using the unusual technique of wrapping their leaf-stems around any supports they can find. They give the impression of fragility, belying the actual hardiness of the plant.
This is a desirable, drought-hardy, garden species, and where possible, gardeners should grow it to help prevent its extinction. The plants may be difficult to acquire, though. I’ve never seen them offered for sale. They can be difficult to bring up from seed, which must be fresh for success, yet may take a long time to germinate.
If the chance arises to buy or raise some, do be sure to put in a number of plants to increase your chance of having both male and female ones. The fluffy seedheads will only grow on the female plants (but the males are needed for pollination).
yet this is a hardy plant of our local dry vine scrubs.

For more on Franke Scrub, see

Clearwing Butterfly

Cressida cressida

I took these photos last week at Perseverance Dam.
What a lovely butterfly! (It was once chosen to feature on an Australian postage stamp.)

Although common up north, this butterfly is not often seen in this district because of the rarity of suitable host plants for the caterpillars.

This one, a male, is most likely to have spent its childhood as a caterpillar munching the leaves of a cressida butterfly vine Aristolochia meridionalis.

For more on that plant, see January 15, 2010

Butterfly Plants for Poverty

Interested in growing plants to attract butterflies?
There’s a new nursery at Buaraba - set in a very beautiful garden - which sells suitable plants and raises money for charity from the proceeds.
They are having an open day on 21 November - a day worth marking on your calendar.
For directions to get there, see

Cunjevoi flower at Peacehaven

Alocasia brisbanensis
As its plants mature, Peacehaven Botanic Park at Highfields is getting to be a great place to see the annual cycles of our local native plants.

Here’s a pristine flowerhead, which appeared last week on one of the young cunjevoi plants.
To find it, take the rainforest path and look for plants with large green “elephant ear” leaves.

For an article on this species, see May 7, 2010

Slender Darling Pea

Swainsona brachycarpa

I've had difficulty identifying this plant, but decided it must be S. brachycarpa. If there are any readers out there with another opinion, I'd like to hear from you!

It resembles Swainsona queenslandica, another plant which spreads by underground rhizomes, but is smaller, and has these lovely salmon-red flowers. As you can see, it makes a dense ground-cover at this time of the year. Is flowering profusely now, and will continue to have a sprinkling of flowers right up until May. It may vanish for a few month in winter, when it dies back to its underground stems.

I photographed it last weekend at Gowrie Junction. It is already beginning to put out a few of its (typical Swainsona) inflated seedpods. Note their curled up tails.

A very pretty plant for gardens, this one could be allowed to ramble among shrubs, added to a grassland garden, or put in amongst other perennials in a flowerbed..

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gum Vine

Aphanopetalum resinosum 

Flowering now: shiny “wet-look” foliage and masses of long-lasting, spectacular white sepals make this small climber one of our best local native climbers for garden use.

“Aphanopetalum” is a word meaning “invisible petals”, which seems surprising at first glance - as the plant seems to be covered with perfectly visible, gleaming, white ones. However, as with its relative, the New South Wales Christmas bush (Ceratopetalum apetalum), the actual flowers are tiny and inconspicuous. What we are seeing are beautiful sepals. They continue to ornament the bush as the flowers die and the fruits develop, creating the impression of a very long flowering season.
The leaves have tiny teeth on their margins, and the stems are covered with raised “lenticels” (little bumps) which make them rough to the touch.
This plant can grow as a dense, spreading shrub or deep groundcover if planted in a position where it has nothing to climb on, but it will twine if support is there, making a good privacy screen. It thrives on heavy pruning.
It can cope with very heavy shade (making it suitable for use indoors, or as a patio plant in a hanging basket). For good flowering, however, it prefers some sunshine each day.
This frost-hardy plant grows naturally on the rocky screes and stream banks on our eastern escarpment, where it can have its preferred cool, well-shaded root-run. Like all rainforest plants, it likes a rich soil full of compost, and a good mulch. Well-watered, it grows very rapidly - yet it also grows in dry rainforests, tolerating a degree of drought.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pretty Wattle

Acacia decora
In my article about this plant posted on August 19, I mentioned my plan to coppice one of these wattles as an experiment, to see whether I can turn it into a dense shrub rather than the leggy bush I showed you then.

I was a bit afraid that I had cut it back too harshly, but it’s looking good so far!

Small-flowered Raspberry

Rubus parvifolius
This little plant at Peacehaven botanic Garden (Kuhl’s Road Highfields) will be worth watching this year. I have never seen a specimen flowering so well. It was very popular with the bees when I took this photo on Wednesday, and is likely to be a mass of fruit later in the season.
The fruits, when they come, will be small, but they are sweet and tasty, particularly on well-cared-for plants like this one.

Its flowers, as you see, are not really showy. They never open widely, but keep the petals pressed close to their anthers as shown.

The smallest of our three local native raspberries, this is not a plant most people would choose to grow in their gardens. It spreads by underground stems, and can create a prickly nuisance.
Yes, I do grow one at home. It was on our land before we were, and I have the sneaking feeling that it has rights - and it does have charm. But I weed it back very firmly in spring, when it puts up shoots in unwanted places. I also weed rather carefully around it in the early stages of its regrowth, as otherwise weeding is an uncomfortable/impossible job. As you see from the above photo, it can grow very thickly, shading out weeds and providing excellent cover for small birds and other little creatures.
Raspberries are usually thought of as plants of rainforest edges, but this drought and frost hardy plant is usually found in grassy Eucalypt woodlands, and the edges of dry vine scrubs, and likes to be grown where it gets quite a lot of sun (which does keep the plants neater - in shade they send out long, prickly shoots which annoy, and produce fewer flowers and even fewer fruits.)
Its leaves can be mistaken for blackberries, but are easily distinguished because they are furry white underneath.
All three of our native raspberry species (the others are R. rosifolius and R. moluccanus) occur naturally over a large area of Australia and South-east Asia. The fruits of R. parvifolius are made into wine in Japan.
(I'm sure there are, amongst my readers, people who willl look at the botanical and the common names, and say "parvifolius... surely that should be small LEAFED raspberry". I haven't the will to argue, but in practice the leaves are not notably small compared with R. rosifolius, whereas the small flowers are a very noticeable characteristic, so the above common name seems justified.)
For notes on another native raspberry, see May 2010.