Friday, March 16, 2012

New Sign Trail at Franke Scrub

There’s a bit of excitement at Franke Scrub, in Highfields.

After a year of planning and co-ordinating with Toowoomba Landcare, Condamine Alliance, and the Toowoomba Regional Council, the Friends of Franke Scrub have installed a large sign...

...and a trail of 12 small ones, to help visitors recognise some of the 76 species of native plants growing in the scrub.

They are placed around the edge of the scrub, so are easy to find (and the walk is easy on your shoes, not requiring you to plunge into the scrub’s muddy depths!)
Franke Scrub is a small (about 1.5 hectares) piece of dry rainforest close to Toowoomba. Although this kind of vegetation would once have been very common in Toowoomba and Highfields, it is now so rare on our red soil that Franke Scrub represents a very precious remnant indeed.
Many Toowoomba people are surprised to find that it was an environment like this, rather than eucalypt-dotted grassland, which may have been the original ecosystem on what is now their suburban gardens.
Like all rainforest vegetation, it is very species-rich. It contains more than 50 tree and shrub species, and more than 15 kinds of climbers.
The Friends of Franke Scrub have a partnership with Peacehaven Botanic Park, where many of the same species have been planted. After five years they are demonstrating how attractive they can look when grown in garden conditions.
For an eco-friendly garden, designed to appeal to local birds and butterflies, we need look no further than to our local native plants!
To find Franke Scrub, from Toowoomba:
Head north along Ruthven Street (New England Highway).
6k from Toowoomba’s last traffic lights, you come to Highfields’ first set.
Turn left into Cawdor Road, then after 1.6k turn left into Cawdor Drive.
After another 2.2k turn right into Franke Road.
Franke scrub is 1k along, at the end of a section of dirt road (suit 2wd).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Vitex lignum-vitae

I am delighted to find that my little satinwoods are fruiting prolifically this summer. They have such pretty fruits!

I hadn’t expected them to fruit so soon, as a mere four years ago they looked like this.
(Note the very different leaf shape on the juvenile plant).

Now they are like this, and are demonstrating just what a handsome plant they can be. You can see that they are beginning to develop the tall, narrow profile which is typical of older trees. I expect them to also develop distinctive fluted, silver-grey trunks.

They are very drought hardy. These plants spent their first two years in hard drought, and thought I watered them for their first six weeks they managed to continue their fast growth rate once I stopped. We find them locally growing on slopes in dry rainforests on red soil (such as at Franke Scrub) and on the black as (at Gowrie Junction).

I collected this bowl of fruits from under my trees. They look delicious, don’t they?
I have occasionally seen them included in “bush tucker” lists, but there seem to be no records of their traditional use, so I don't think they should be trusted.

I find their taste somewhere between completely bland and a little nasty. I am also put off by what’s known about their relative the Chaste Tree, Vitex agnus-castus, from the Mediterranean region. That plant is used medicinally, with its qualities having given it that curious common name. The fruit is said to have been eaten medicinally, and has no doubt found favour with monks, who may have felt they needed it from time to time.
Birds eat them, and are welcome to any of mine.
I would like to grow more from seed, but understand that they might take as much as two years to germinate. Steve Plant of the Crows Nest Community Nursery tells me that he prefers to grow old seeds found under trees, as they are likely to be further along through the dormancy period. They can be hard to find, but simply gathering a handful of soil from under the tree and treating it like a pot of seeds can produce the desired result, he tells me.
A.G. Floyd, in his book “Rainforest Trees of Mainland Eastern Australia” confirms the difficulty in getting seedlings up, and recommends putting the seeds in a blender with some water to scarify them. I’ll give that a try.
Old satinwoods produce lovely residential hollows for wildlife, but, sadly, their value as timber trees means that our timber-getting forebears have left very few of them to grow old enough for good hollow production. The dark grey timber is said to be hard, tough and durable, suitable for flooring and tool handles.
The smallest branchlets are also tough and flexible, good to use for basketry.
These are very long-lived trees, so it is satisfying to know that the ones we plant will be alive long after we are gone.

Ladies Tresses

Spiranthes sinensis subsp. australis (Spiranthes australis)

These lovely little orchids were flowering in the grasslands at Goomburra National Park last weekend.
Ladies tresses is a plant which spends much of its life dormant as an underground tuber, but can spring up to at any time from early spring to late autumn, if conditions are right. This recent rainy weather has obviously suited it very well.

You do need an eye for tiny details to appreciate it. Note that, just like so many of its large and showy relatives, it has a frilly white labellum designed to attract its little pollinators.
The other five “tepals” (a word used for petals and sepals, in plants like this one where the petals and sepals look alike) are a pretty, bright pink. The botanical name comes from the way the flowers are arranged spirally around the stem.

As the name “sinensis” tells us, the genus grows in China. Actually, it can be found from East European Russia to Vanuatu, but we do have our own subspecies here in Australia. If internet photos are anything to go by, it is a brighter shade of pink than other subspecies.
This is said to be an easy plant to grow, even becoming a weed in shadehouses. Now that’s a weed I’d like to have!