Thursday, November 24, 2011

Crows Foot

Erodium crinatum

This is a plant which some people don’t like to grow in their gardens, as they consider it weedy. I introduced it deliberately to mine some years ago. I am very fond of the bright blue flowers.

The plant is an annual that pops up in spring, fills a space with it’s fresh green foliage and delicate little flowers, and then is finished, needing to be pulled out, usually by early November. I always leave a few to seed, and they come up in the following year without any need for assistance. They are never very numerous, so I can’t say that I have found them weedy at all. Perhaps it’s their short life-span which some people object to?

The name “crows foot” is a reference to the shape of the leaf, but as you can see, it’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination to think of crows walking around on things shaped like this.

It is a very suitable plant for a children’s garden, because of its fast growth, and interesting seedpods. Their “storks-bill” or “cranes-bill” shape is typical of members of the geranium, but the ones from this plant are some of the most bird-like. As children my brothers and I used to use them to play at giving “injections”.

Being soft, they don’t hurt at all, unlike the polio injections which were the bane of every schoolchild in those days.
These are drought and frost hardy plants, and they like to be in full sun. They are easy to pull out once finished.
Aborigines ate the roots (roasted) as well as the seeds.

Golden Paper Daisy

Xerochrysum bracteatum, (Helichrysum bracteatum), (Bracteantha bracteata)
The cheerful, long-lasting golden flowers of this Australian icon are probably our best-known wildflowers. They are flowering madly in grasslands and road verges, all around our district, at present - and will go on doing so right through to autumn. They are easy to grow from seed, collected at this time of year and planted in March or April. Some plants will persist into a second year, but for garden purposes they are best grown as annuals.
Xerochrysums (by various names - the nursery trade hasn’t kept up with the botanists’ name changes) are sold in nurseries. These are cultivars, developed for the generous size of their flowers and shorter, more compact plants, and are usually perennial. There are also some multi-coloured annual forms, easily available in punnets (with names like “Bright Bikini”). They are the result of breeding done in Germany in the early 19th century, where they were crossed with African relatives of the Australian plant.

Our local natives, however, are easy to establish in our local gardens, and are bright and pretty.

Cutting flowers for use in vases only prompts the plants to produce more of them. It is a particularly good practice early in the season, as pruning the young plants makes them bushier. They have a tendency to get leggy in late summer. Planting them together with low-growing plants, produces an attractive result.
Paper daisies make very good cut flowers. Put fresh into vases, they last well over a week even in air conditioning. They are also suitable for drying, either by being wired as soon as they are cut, or by being hung upside down by their stalks, which will dry stiff and straight. Newly-opened young flowers are the best for floristry of all kinds.
Like all daisies, this species attracts butterflies to gardens. The adults of all kinds come for their nectar, and the painted lady butterfly (Vanessa kershawi) can breed on them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oakey Bottlebrush

Melaleuca quercina
(Callistemon quercinus)

I am so pleased to have been sent information about a Callistemon species which I had understood to be still unnamed. (see my article Feb 2011).

Apparently this very local plant was given a name in 2009 by Lyn Craven, working for CSIRO at the Australian National Herbarium. He has at last sorted out a number of closely related plants, establishing that this one, which is only known to occur in the blacksoil country from Oakey creek to Clifton, is a separate species. It was described and named from a specimen collected in 1991 on the western side of Brookvale Park Road, 10k west of Oakey, by Betty Ballingall.
Its new name, "Melaleuca quercina" requires a little explanation.
The plants that so many of us know as Callistemons have been moved into the Melaleuca genus which explains the first part of its name. All the "callistemons" are now officially melaleucas.
The second part, “quercina” is a rather dry little botany joke. Quercus is the Latin name for the trees we Australians call “English oaks”, and their relatives, so quercina refers to the plant’s habitat. Oakey Creek's name really has nothing to do with oaks of the Quercus kind, which is part of the joke, of course. It, and the town of Oakey which stands on its banks, got their name from the river she-oaks Casuarina cunninghamiana which once lined the creek.
If you want to be politically correct you can spell them “she-oke”, which is the modern approved spelling. The people who gave them the name in the first place didn’t care about political correctness. They named them after the familiar English oaks because of a similarity between the timbers, both of which, when quarter-sawn, have prominent and decorative medullary rays. Adding “she” to “oak” was, I am sorry to say, the way those men expressed the perceived inferiority of Casuarina timber.
So the link between Melaleuca quercina and any actual Quercus is a very tenuous one indeed - but but I like it!
I suggest that, for a common name, we could settle for calling it "Oakey bottlebrush".

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tall Lobelia

Lobelia gibbosa
Here’s a little annual which I found flowering in the Pechey area last week.

It is sometimes known as “false orchid”, and perhaps it does look a little bit like a ground orchid - though orchid enthusiasts would disagree!

It’s a tall slender plant, often with just one stem. The narrow leaves on the lower part of the stem wither once it starts to flower. As you can see, its bright blue, one-sided flower spike makes it a showy plant for its size, which is about 40cm tall. However you would need a group of them for a garden display.
These lobelias can be grown from seed, and could be sold in punnets as native bedding annuals.
They like to be grown in well-drained soil, in part shade, and are frost resistant.
This one was growing naturally in woodland, with no more watering than the rain we get. However, in the garden, these plants do best if they are watered occasionally.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Peacehaven Blog

Here's a new blogsite that you shouldn't miss!
As you can see, new botanic garden at Peacehaven is gettin up off the ground, and well worth a visit.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bush Butterflies

Velleia paradoxa
“Bush butterflies” is the name given to this pretty plant in Tasmania, no doubt because of the way it holds up its scented yellow flowers, so they seem to flutter above the plant.

Here, it goes by the more prosaic name of “spur velleia”.
It takes some rather close observation to find the spur after which it is named. It’s a tiny point which hangs down from the back of the flower.

I couldn’t manage to photograph it, so decided to show you the spur of a nasturtium instead. You certainly can’t miss this one! When you find a Velleia flower, check it out and you’ll find that it, too has a spur, albeit a tiny one.

To explain the spurs: You all know how seed-making works. Pollen from the male bit of a flower has to get onto the female bit of another flower. There are lots of variations on the theme of how it’s done, but a common one is for the flower to attract an insect to do the job.

It advertises with perfume and bright-coloured petals, carefully designed to direct the insect towards the centre of the flower while providing somewhere for it to stand. This aligns the insect in the desired position.

The insect is rewarded with a drink of high-kilojoule nectar, secreted by the flower from glands called “nectaries”, and in the process gets dusted with pollen, some of which brushes off on the next flower.
From a plant’s point of view, an insect which manages to get the nectar without doing the pollen transfer is a cheat and a fraud - but it happens. So flowers select their insects by providing facilities to suit those of the right size, shape, and behaviour.
One of these facilities may be a nectary spur. Insects which don’t have a long enough proboscis can’t reach down inside it to drink the nectar, so the supplies are kept safe until the right kind of insect comes along.
I’m not sure why this Velleia species was singled out to be named for its little spur, though, as a nectary spur is a common feature among the various Velleia species as well as the very similar-looking Goodenias.
Spur Velleia is potentially a good little garden plant. It is a short-lived perennial, fast-growing from seed, and producing a generous sprinkle of yellow flowers from early spring to autumn. It likes full sun, and just a bit of watering to get established. Once introduced to a suitable garden, it will self-seed each year.
This one of the Australian native plants that could easily be sold as a bedding annual, in punnets, for an instant spring garden.
Seed can be purchased from internet sources, or we can collect our own.

Telling the Goodenias from the Velleias.
There are a number of local species of Velleia and Goodenia, all with very similar-looking flowers. There are two ways to distinguish between them.
1. Velleias have a unique arrangement of the flower stem. Botanists, bless them, have a name for it - it’s called a “dichasium”. It means that the stem divides into three, with the centre stem having just a single flower, while the outer two stems each divide into three, with the centre stem having just one flower... and so on, according to the vigour of that particular flower stem. You can see it in the photo of Velleia paradoxa, above, but won’t find it on any Goodenias.
2. You’ll need to dismantle a flower to find the ovary. It’s the roundish bit that will turn into the seed capsule when it’s ripe (unless some curious person picks the flower, and dismantles it for science, first). In Velleia, the ovary is superior, in Goodenia it’s inferior. Superior doesn’t mean better! It just means that the ovary is above the point where the petals, sepals and stamens are attached. An “inferior” ovary is below that point. In some Goodenias, it is only “half-inferior”, while in others it’s clearly below the place where the petals are attached.