Friday, April 23, 2010

Butterflies at Brookvale

Butterflies Love Callistemons
and here’s a photo to prove it!

Those flowers are just full of energy-rich nectar, and are designed to provide handy footholds for butterflies.

The butterflies jostling for the trough, in this photo, are a caper white (Belenois java) and three “danaid” butterflies: a blue tiger (Tirumala hamata); a common crow (Euploea core); and a native wanderer (Danaus chrysippus). The poisonous danaids are easy to identify because their black bodies have distinctive white polka dots. They only have to find foot-room for four legs each - the other two being the tiny front ones which they keep tucked up.

There were several other butterfly species fluttering about the same bush last Sunday, including this lovely scarlet jezabel (Delias argenthona).

These butterflies were just some of the thirteen species of large butterfly which were very much in evidence last Sunday at the Jondaryan home of Robyn Weick, the president of the Toowoomba Society for Growing Australian Plants. It was the venue for this month’s club outing, and gave members a chance to appreciate the way that a native plant garden’s beauty comes from more than just the plants.
The plant in the above photos is Callistemon phoenicius. This is not a local native species, but the flowers of all Callistemons are equally popular with butterflies. Those who want to grow indigenous plants would choose the weeping bottlebrush Callistemon viminalis (Melaleuca viminalis) instead.
However, it takes more than nectar-rich flowers to attract such a wealth of butterflies.
The reason Robyn's garden is so alive with them is that there are plenty of host plants, on which butterflies can lay their eggs, and their caterpillars grow to maturity, in and around the garden.
They include wattles, one of which provided a resting place for this large yellow migrant (Catopsila gorgophone). The migrant itself was being attracted by its host plants, some native Senna species.
A number of native capers, Capparis mitchellii, were pulling in the several species of caper butterflies, and several species of mistletoes would have been responsible for the jezabel.
While Robyn has planted many of these host plants herself, some of the butterflies would have been there because there is still a lot of native bush near her home, providing host plants of kinds that are rarely grown in gardens. The Danaids, for example, breed on native climbers in the Apocynaceae family - Parsonsias, Marsdenias, and the pretty Secamone elliptica. The crow butterfly has adapted to non-native species (such as Oleanders), but in this case it would have been using its native hosts.

The blue tigers could have flown from far away. These butterflies are strong fliers and can cover long distances. However its host plant, corky milk vine Secamone elliptica, if not actually found at Jondaryan, does occur not too far away at Kingsthorpe Hill (just west of Toowoomba) where this blue tiger caterpillar was photographed..
Below is a better look at this lovely butterfly.

Interested in joining Toowoomba SGAP? You can find out more about it by phoning Trevor Cockburn on 07 4691 2867

Banana Mistletoe

Lysiana subfalcata

This distinctive local plant is flowering at present. The species is found Australia-wide, but usually with red flowers. Our locals are bright yellow, looking just like little bananas.
Now is the time to look for seed of this butterfly host plant, to grow in your own garden. (Squeeze the seed onto a likely small branch and keep it watered by pouring a cupful of water over it once or twice a day until it starts growing - probably just a week or two.)

This specimen was growing on a Eucalyptus at Jondaryan.

Other known native hosts are: Cassia and Senna sp., Apophyllum anomalum, Capparis sp., Casuarina cristata, Petalostigma pubescens, Pittosporum angustifolium, Owenia acidula, Angophora sp., Bursaria spinosa, Canthium and Psydrax sp., Eremocitrus glauca, Flindersia collina, Geijera parviflora, Exocarpos cuppressiformis, Santalum sp., Alectryon sp., Atalaya hemiglauca, and Callitris sp. It will also grow on introduced oleanders and citrus trees.
Such an adaptable plant is worth trying to grow on almost any plant of a suitable size and shape!
(For more information about the Banana Mistletoe, see January 2009)

Friday, April 16, 2010


Lobelia purpurescens (Pratia purpurescens)
The friend who gave me this plant for my garden couldn’t understand why I wanted it. “Once you have it, you’ll never be rid of it”, she warned me.
She was quite right, but actually I’ve never really wanted to be without it.
It’s a pretty little thing, which gracefully fills in the gaps between other plants and is ornamented with a sprinkle of little white flowers for more than half the year. Its dark green leaves are backed with purple. It wanders where it pleases, hugging the ground in half-sun (or if mown), and growing a little taller in well-watered shade. Full sun is too much for it.
I doesn’t really qualify as a “groundcover” in the sense that it grows only as a rather open plant. This is not something to plant as a weed-excluder, but has the converse virtue that it co-exists happily with anything, even small plants, that you might want to plant in the middle of a whiteroot patch.
In this photo taken in Franke Scrub, it is growing very lushly in damp, shaded soil - yet it has survived happily in my garden with no supplementary watering, through the droughts of the last few years.
It is a frost hardy plant.

ON WRITING COMMENTS. I have had the occasional abusive response to this blog from lawn purists who apparently cannot believe that anyone might find a pretty native plant to be aesthetically more pleasing than an expanse of green lawn.
I am reminded of the Chinese landscape gardener who was baffled by the Western fashion for lawns, remarking that he saw them as being "of interest only to cows. "
To those who feel the urge to write abusive remarks on my own preference for native plants, can I remind you, please, that this is a personal blogsite about growing plants native to the Toowoomba region, in their own place in the world. Here, whiteroot only becomes weedy in gardens where it is given supplementary watering.
Feedback on exterminating it in favour of introduced plant species is out of place.

Butterflies at Franke Scrub

Our local butterflies are loving the last warm days of summer. They are outstanding at Franke Scrub, near Highfields, really making the point that the local native vegetation supports so many more of them than do our suburban gardens. You can find glasswings (Acraea andromacha) there, probably breeding on the little orange spade flower Hybanthus stellarioides.

Here’s a plant with butterfly eggs. Glasswings, perhaps?
(See February 27, 2009 for more on the spade flower)

This Australian Admiral (Vanessa itea) was sunning itself in the scrub this morning, very much at home there, where it’s host plant, the native nettle (Urtica incisa) grows.
(See October 9, 2008 for a lot of good reasons for growing nettles.)

And the Nysa jezabel Delias nysa is another butterfly rarely seen in home gardens - though you might miss is as it flies by. Its upper wings are plain white - a very sexy colour, as far as jezabels are concerned - with a rim of black. You need to see it settle to appreciate the beautiful underwings. Like all the jezabels, this one breeds on mistletoes, so appreciates what Franke scrub has to offer.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gargaloo at Ironbark

Parsonsia eucalyptophylla
These vines are flowering madly at Irongate Reserve at the moment, and I am intrigued to contrast them with the flowers I photographed in January, on the road south of Blackbutt. (See article January 14, 2010) At that time, there were plenty of Gargaloos in flower along the range, but the Irongate plants were only just beginning to put out a few buds.
The perfume of these Irongate flowers is much sweeter - more honey, and hardly a hint of the rotting fruit undertones - and the insects attracted by them consist largely of bees and butterflies. There were none of the beetles which swarmed to the Blackbutt flowers.
I wonder whether this is something governed by variable factors like the season, the soil, and the rainfall, or whether these Irongate plants are just genetically a bit different. If so, (and considering where they grow), they are probably tougher, and more resistant to drought and frost.

Some of the Irongate gargaloos are producing their seeds already.
The green pods (which resemble this pod on another species of Parsonsia at Irongate) ripen to brown...

and split into two parts, spilling out hundreds of flyaway seeds.

Crow Butterflies

and some Lookalike Moths
(Euploea core corinna and Cruria donowani)
These “common crows” were indeed common at Irongate reserve last weekend - here seen feeding on a Zinnia flower. (The zinnias we see growing wild on the Darling Downs are garden escapees from Mexico, very popular with butterflies.)
Crow butterflies breed on climbers of the Apocynaceae family -  Parsonsia species and their closely related cousins the Marsdenia vines. There are several species of each growing at Irongate, all vines with opposite leaves. The Marsdenias can be distinguished from the Parsonsias by the white sap which wells out of broken stems. (See an article on Marsdenia viridis, March 2010)
Crow butterflies are common despite the destruction of much of their native bushland, because they are also able to breed on the poisonous introduced plant, oleander. They are so often found on oleander bushes there that some people know them simply as “Oleander butterflies”. They are easily distinguished from other black and white butterflies by their polka-dotted bodies, and by the fact that they seem to have only four legs. (Actually, they do have the regulation six, but the front two are small and kept tucked up against their bodies.)
As caterpillars, they absorb poisons into their bodies from their host plants. These are retained in the bodies of the adult butterflies, and protect them from predation by birds.

A curious insect common at Irongate at the moment is this “crow moth” (Cruria donowani). It is a day-flying moth, always flying within a few feet of the ground, and not poisonous at all - but it keeps itself safe from birds by imitating the poisonous crow butterfly.
The wings are very like, though somewhat narrower, but the body is very different - tiger striped rather than polka-dotted, and having an orange “tail end”.
Crow moths are known to breed on a number of different plants, but at Irongate they are probably breeding on the little “tar vines” (Boerhavia dominii) which are common there.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Carissa ovata
The delicious fruits of this “bush tucker” plant are ripening now, and I am impressed by their size, on the plant in the Toowoomba Community Organic Garden’s bushfoods section (left). These plants have had no watering, but despite this the fruits are impressively large. They are said to be rich in vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, and were much valued by our early white settlers, who called it “currant bush”.

I don’t know where their plant originated, but think it likely that it’s not of local native provenance, as the ones we see around the district have smaller fruits, of which they produce plenty with no supplementary watering. This one grows in Franke Scrub at Highfields.

Plants of local stock would probably have the advantage of being hardier to drought, frost, and sun. We usually see kunkerberry described as a frost-tender understorey plant of dry rainforests, but these plants at Irongate are growing naturally in a very exposed location, and are clearly thriving.

“Carissa” is Italian for “little darling”, and a this is indeed a potentially very pretty plant, with its fresh, shiny-green leaves and beautifully-perfumed, starry white summer flowers.

The spines are a consideration, though. They are quite wicked, making kunkerberry a suitable plant for a security hedge, or a good place for little birds to build their nests, safe from marauding cats. The birds love the fruits, too - so much so that there may be no fruits left for human consumption. This is a top plant for a wild-life-friendly garden.