Friday, March 25, 2011

Yellow Ash

Emmenosperma alphitonioides
The best photo I can manage, of this uncommon rainforest tree, is the of the plant I took away from the Toowoomba Regional Council’s annual free tree day, in exchange for the voucher which came with my rates notice.
You can see that it gets its common name from the yellowish look of these healthy, shiny leaves.
In our district, we see it as an uncommon tree in rainforests - difficult to photograph. I have never seen it in a garden, though I believe it is grown in some botanic gardens, where it has been established that it is fast-growing, and becomes a medium-sized tree, with a very dense, shady canopy.
From my little tree, I can expect a striking display of creamy-white flowers, followed by a generously sprinkle of long-lasting little orange-yellow fruits. The seed-coats eventually split and fall away, leaving the bright red seeds on the tree - as also happens with its much more common relative, the soap ash Alphitonia excelsa. Also like that tree, the stems become beautifully lichen-covered from an early age.
The seeds are a popular food source for fruit-eating birds.
I have only seen full-grown specimens in the rainforest at Ravensbourne, but am told that if grown in the open, this is an ornamental feature tree, neatly pyramid-shaped, and suitable for use in formal gardens because of its predictable shape.
If grown from cuttings, it becomes a multi-trunked screening shrub, showing off its flowers and fruits at face-level
Large specimens of the trees are rare. They have high quality timber - heavy, and bone coloured (which is why it is also called “bonewood”), so were ruthlessly cut out in the early days of the timber industry.
The seeds have a reputation for being difficult to germinate, so I am impressed at the success that excellent nurseryman Steve Plant has had, with these trees which came from the Crows Nest Community Nursery.
Apparently the seeds grow best if they have dried on the tree and split naturally - a hint for those who wish to try germinating seed themselves.
At present, these plants are available at the Peacehaven Nursery. If you’re quick you may be able to get one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Russet Mistletoe

Amyema miquellii

March is flowering time for one of our most spectacular and best-known local mistletoes.
The russet mistletoe is often seen on its host trees - always Eucalyptus species - on our roadsides. It can be a magnificent plant, 2 metres tall.
As you can see, it flowers generously.

The petals are creamy-pink, but it is the red stamens which attract our attention.
Notice how the flowers are borne in neatly geometrical “triads”.

They will be followed by fruits which ripen in late winter. They may remain green when they’re ripe, or may turn pale cream.
Like all fruits of the Loranthaceae family of mistletoes, they are edible and tasty. Don’t be put off by their common name, which is “snottygobble”! To eat them, you squeeze them out of the skin into your mouth, trying not to touch the very sticky flesh.

These plants have a second spectacular phase in winter and spring, when their leaves can turn bright red. The effect is stunning when it grows on gums with blue-green foliage such as the silver-leaved ironbark Eucalyptus melanophloia.

I have recently been told that people who like to dye wool and fabric with Australian native plant material value this plant as a source of red dye.
Mistletoes cope well with pruning, so there is no need to destroy any plants while collecting material for the purpose.

This species grows on minor branches of its host, taking over the branch completely, without harming the tree as a whole.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Slender Water Vine

Cayratia clematidea
Some people dislike this little climber, considering it “weedy”.
I’m fond of it, myself.
Slender water vines are chaotic plants with a tendency to spread at will through the garden. They grow very fast, in spring, creating the impression that they will smother everything in sight - but they never fulfil the promise. The growth slows right down as soon as they begin flowering in summer - which happens when the stems are 2-3 metres long. The plants trail through the foliage of other plants, ornamenting them with these pretty leaves. The flowers are tiny and white, but add to the lacy appearance of this delicate-looking plant. They are followed by bird-attracting black fruits.
In autumn the above-ground parts of the vine die, and are easily pulled off their supporting plants by hand. Under the ground, they survive as tennis-ball sized tubers, to regrow in spring.
The brown tubers are edible, as are the tiny fruits, though neither has much flavour. The tubers were traditionally prepared by beating and roasting.
A very good reason for growing these plants is that they are the favourite host plant of the Joseph’s coat moth. This stunningly beautiful day-flying insect is often mistaken for a butterfly, as it is brightly coloured - black with red, yellow, and light blue markings, and the plant would be an appropriate inclusion in a garden designed to attract butterflies.
This female is probably laying eggs on this plant, which , as you can see from the poor state of its health, must have been treated with glyphosate, so if she did indeed leave eggs there they are doomed.

Slug Herb

Aneilema acuminatum
What dreadful common names have been given to some of our native plants!
This dainty local plant is a relative of the wandering jew (Tradescantia species). Unlike that plant, which has become a serious environmental weed, this is an inoffensive little thing, common in our local rainforests, and useful for an authentic touch in a rainforest garden.
Each of the flower heads, on delicate foot-high upright stems, can produce several dozen little white three-petalled flowers, of which only one or two open at a time.
We usually see it as an understorey plant, wandering through the mulch of rainforests, never growing strongly enough to crowd out other plants. It flowers in dense shade, the white flowers gleaming in the shadows, and this would probably be the best garden use for it. However it can be grown in places where it receives full sun for part of the day, provided it is well-mulched and receives adequate water. In that situation, the leaves form a dense summer groundcover. They are knocked back by frost, but mulch protects the roots, so the plant recovers as soon as warmer weather comes around.
Like all our dry rainforest plants, it is drought hardy. If grown on Toowoomba redsoil, the natural rainfall (or lack of it) is enough to keep it flourishing.
It is said to be a magnet for snails and slugs, which is a good reason not to waste water on it, as these pests thrive best where foliage is wet.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What is this Butterfly Doing?

I was puzzled by the behaviour of this, and several other blue tigers, which were hovering around a Gargaloo Parsonsia eucalyptophylla vine. They were landing on the leaves and young stems, and poking out their little proboscises, apparently tasting the plant. They pumped their wings rhythmically, from fully open to fully shut, while they were doing it, and were so busy concentrating on this obviously important activity, that this one let me come withing a foot of it to take his photo. You can see that he is interested in the leaf’s central vein. (It is a “he”. You can clearly see a raised black patch on his hindwings, that marks him as male.)
Not knowing what he was doing, I asked a question on the “Bring Back Our Butterflies” website, and found that he is getting perfumed up, before going out to meet girls.
Apparently he is extracting a chemical (possible a pyrolizidine alkaloid). This is the butterfly equivalent of Aerogard - it keeps the birds away - so replenishing the store, already in their bodies as a result of their infant diet, helps keep them safe while they go out courting.
However the reason that males spend more time at this activity than females do is that the chemical is used to make a pheromone which is excreted by “hairpencil” glands on their abdomens. In the courting process they apply it to the antennae of females, thus attracting their attention to the availability of an eligible bachelor.
I find it interesting that blue tigers use Parsonsia eucalyptophylla for this purpose, even though they are only known to breed on Secamone elliptica in our area. I’ll have to keep watch for caterpillars, to see whether the vine is actually a breeding site as well.
The website I mentioned above is managed by Frank Jordan, and is a great place of find information and ask questions about butterflies.

Myrtle Rust

There’s a nasty new plant disease, with depressing implications for the future of Australian vegetation, that we should all know about - and report if we ever see it here.
It begins as purple spots on leaves, which develop into bright yellow, powdery pimples, and deforms all the affected parts of the plant, stunting it, and possibly killing it. (An internet search will show you photos.)
Myrtle rust is caused by the fungus Uredo rangelii. It was first found in Australia in Gosford NSW, in April 2010, whence it has spread rapidly to other states. It was first found in Queensland in Dec 2010 and has now travelled as far as Cairns. It is carried by the wind, insects and other animals, and of course by people who buy, sell, and transport plants. Even your shoes, clothes, packaging material, and so on, can transport it.
It is native to South America, but also exists in North America and Hawaii. We may never know how it got here, but it is very infectious, so could have hitch-hiked on anything or anyone coming from any of those places.
It seems to only affect plants in the myrtle family MYRTACEAE. Unfortunately, the most iconic Australian plants are in that family. This is a disease with the potential to transform beautiful landscapes into ugliness, and its economic impact is likely to be considerable.
Where would we be without gum trees, ironbarks, stringybarks, applegums, brush box, turpentines, bottlebrushes, teatrees, lillypillies, lemon myrtles, golden pendas... ?
The list of exotics that are also susceptible is long as well. (It includes New Zealand Christmas Trees, and guavas.)
For a full list of plants known to have been affected, see
For the potential total list, see
If you suspect Myrtle Rust on your property, in the bush, or in a park, garden, or nursery, please notify Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 or call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.
For further information and printable documents to help identify the disease visit Biosecurity Queensland at:

Blue Argus

We were surprised and delighted to find this butterfly at our place, as we hadn’t known that it could occur in this district.
It’s a blue argus (Junonia orithya albicincta).
You can see its resemblance to the more common meadow argus, in the February article on the plant “pink tongues” Rostellularia adscendans.
However, its behaviour is quite different. This one was very shy indeed, and quite hard for the camera to catch.

Its local host plants are shared with the meadow argus - a group of dainty little plants, all with pretty flowers, that grow naturally among grasses.
They include:
Blue Trumpet, Brunoniella australis
Love Flower, Pseuderanthemum variabile
and Pink Tongues, Rostellularia adscendans.
The meadow argus also uses Goodenia, Scaevola, Portulaca and Verbena species, which may explain why it is more common than the blue argus.
Blue argus may also breed on Pretty Pants, Hypoestes floribunda (see June 2009)