Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wombat Berry

Eustrephus latifolius

I suppose wombats (in those parts of Australia where wombats live) must eat the tubers of this plant. People can eat them too, and they are said to be sweet and delicious. If you want to try, you’ll need a good digging stick, as they might be half a metre underground.

You can also eat the crisp white arils which partially surround the seeds. There’s not much of them, so they are hardly worth the trouble - but if you are desperate for fruit, it’s there!

Each fruit has developed from a summer flower which looked like this - three pale pink sepals, and three fluffy white petals.

The plants are fruiting beautifully all around the district at present. They do it each year, but our summer of rain has given them an extra healthy glow. When they have finished, the plants will die back for the winter. These light climbers are suitable for garden use, but are best cut back to the ground each winter, and allowed to regrow in spring. They are also suitable as pot plants for porches and balconies. They grow in heavy shade, so can even be used indoors (but don’t expect flowers or fruit in that situation).

Here is a closer look at their leaves. Note that they have no stems, and no obvious mid-vein on the upper surface, though on some plants you can distinguish one on the underside.

This helps to distinguish them from a similar-looking local plant, the scrambling lily Geitonoplesium cymosum. In both plants, the leaves vary a good deal in size and shape, being bigger in damper climates and smaller in the dry places west of the Great Dividing Range.

The scrambling, lily, however, has a short but obvious little stalk to its leaves. If you look closely you can see that it is twisted. And it has an upstanding central vein on the upper side of the leaf.

Its spring flowers are pure white, and lack the little beards on the their petals which distinguish the wombat berry flowers.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Red Leaves

There are all kinds of tastes, of course, and there are Toowoomba people who love their exotic deciduous trees. I also enjoy their brief autumn blaze of glory. It is very brief, however. In our climate there are some years when the period of autumn leaf colour is little more than a fortnight long. To me, this doesn't make it worth growing a plant which looks dead for up to seven months of the year.
I can understand the love of deciduous trees in a colder climate, or one which is damp in winter. The damp brings out the colour in the bare twigs, and meanwhile there are no scorching hot October days to make us wish the trees would just a GET ON with making the new season's leaves, because their shade is badly wanted. 
I'm not sure that these trees really earn their place in a local garden.

Here’s a photo I took this morning, on a typical Toowoomba winter’s day. The orange berries are on locally native golden hollywood trees, Auranticarpa rhombifolia (FAMILY: PITTOSPORACEAE)
The "dead tree next to it isn't really dead. It is just failing to pull its'weight, as part of an otherwise lovely garden.

I’d rather have a tree like this Elattostachys xylocarpa (FAMILY SAPINDACEAE) in my garden. This is what its foliage looks like this week. It's having a growth spurt, in response to the recent rain. You can see why it’s called beetroot tree!

See April 2008 for a photo of its lovely seed capsules.

Purple and Gold

Hardenbergia violacea

Growing in the bush with the golden-flowered wattles featured in last week’s article, are plenty of these little plants. They go by the name of purple wanderer, though people more often call them by their botanical name - Hardenbergia - these days.

They just can’t wait for spring! They start flowering in June, and may be still at it in October.
This little one is wandering up through a dogwood, Jacksonia scoparia, and may be still flowering when it puts out masses of its own, similar-sized bright yellow pea-flowers in September.
See August 2008 for more on the Hardenbergia.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Still my Favourite Winter Flowers

Acacia podalyriifolia
I always feel gloomy as the day length creeps toward the shortest day of the year.

So I enjoy the cheery optimism of this, one of our best local wattles. It is sometimes called “Mt. Morgan wattle”, but its range is wider than that, so its other name is Queensland silver wattle.

I photographed this lovely specimen in a Warwick garden last weekend. Isn’t it splendid?

This particular one may not be kept for much longer, as older plants tend to get scruffy. New ones take two years to flower from seed, so it’s as well to always have a new one coming on, ready to replace the old. Mature plants like this will often produce a few seedlings, without the gardener having to make any effort at all. The healthiest plants are those which come up of their own accord, so it’s worth saving a well-placed one.
The seedlings are rather fun, as they begin by having true leaves - fine ferny ones - but soon let their “false leaves” take over. What you see on a mature tree are not really leaves. They are phyllodes - leaf-stalks which have widened and flattened. They don’t lose water the way true leaves do, so they help to drought-proof the plant.
See June 5, 2009, for more on this plant.

Small-fruited Mock Olive

Notelaea microcarpa

The mock-olives are fruiting heavily this year. I photographed this one in Rosenthal Scrub in Warwick last weekend.

It is a common plant on the Darling Downs, growing naturally on rocky ridges, where it is typically 3 or 4 metres high.
The species adapts well to all kinds of soils, and is a useful little drought and frost hardy tree for use in gardens. If pruned, it tends to sucker from the base, demonstrating that it would be happy to be made into a hedge. Left alone, it grows into a crooked little tree, often multi-trunked, and with a shady, rounded canopy. It has the capacity to be as picturesque as an old Mediterranean olive tree. Our local is related to the edible olive, but I have never heard that people eat these little fruits. They are popular with birds, however.
Its name tells its story. The second half of its generic name, “elaea” is Greek for “olive”. The first bit comes from “notos” meaning “south”. “Micro” means “small”, and “carpa” refers to its fruit.

Note the raised veins on the upper surface of the leaf, a characteristic which distinguishes it from the other Notelaea species which grow on the Downs.
(Double click on the photo for a close look.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Almost Ripe

Diplocyclos palmatus (Bryonopsis laciniosa)

These little native cucumbers were ripening out at Irongate Conservation Reserve, when I took this photo the weekend before last. If you want to see the bright red fruits in their full beauty, the coming few weeks will be a good time to go for a look.

This particular plant was a magnificent one, growing four metres high, and laden with fruit. It is just beside the path, so is easy to find.

Please remember that these cucumbers are ornamentals, not suitable for eating. They’d make you sick if you were so silly as to try them!!
For more about the species, see April 2008.
To get to Irongate Conservation Reserve:
Go to Mt Tyson, and head west out the main street. Near the property called Adora Downs the road makes a right-angled turn to the left (south). Follow this until it hits a T-intersection. Turn left, and in about 200 metres you see the Irongate Hall on the left. Turn right (south) almost immediately after that, and follow the road (which makes a bend to the left) for something like 3.5k until you come across the reserve on your right. Keep your eye out for the iron gate that marks the place.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Winter Blues

Hovea longipes
The brush hoveas at Irongate are really showing what they can do, this year. They have obviously appreciated the extra watering they got in January.

This is an unusual hovea species, and not just in its colour which is more blue than the typical hovea purple.
It is also different in that it flowers earlier in winter, filling that difficult niche when flowers can be harder to find. To judge by the old appearance of the plants at Irongate, I think the species may be much longer-lived than is usual with hoveas. Botanists find other differences, and this is one of those plants which we may yet see reorganised into a new name.
I would love to grow this one at home, but have never had any success in finding viable seed.
It is a sturdy, woody shrub - very happy on on the stony black soils of Darling Downs slopes. It is said to be able to grow to 5m high, though I've never seen it at more than 2. I imagine it could easily be kept to garden-size by pruning.