Sunday, December 9, 2012


Picris evae

I can’t see this plant ever being particularly popular in gardens, but I’m sure you’ll agree its fluffy heads give it a ragged sort of charm. These plants are in my garden (which has its own brand of ragged charm) and are looking their best at present, having been planted last autumn.



It is an annual plant, belonging to the branch of the daisy family which includes dandelions and lettuce.There are 12 Australian Picris species, and about 40 of them worldwide, including the European  Oxtongue hawkweed Picris hieracioides - originally named for the ancient Greek words pikros "bitter" (for the flavour of the roots and leaves) and hierax "hawk", because it resembled another European plant known as hawkweed. 

If you hear of "hawkweeds" as environmental problems in Australia, it refers to these OTHER hawkweeds, (Hieracium species), not to Picris. (Here's another case where a bit of discrimination in applying common names would be a great help to ordinary people understanding of our wild plants!)

Meanwhile, our local "hawkweed", Picris evae, is now so rare that’s listed nationally as vulnerable. Its natural range coincides largely with the cultivated areas of our black soil plains, which is the reason is getting hard to find. However, it does also occur naturally in grassy Eucalypt woodland along the edge of the range, on red soil, where “inappropriate fire regimes” are listed as a threat to it.
This is a reminder that a significant portion of our local ecology developed as a result of many thousands of years of consistent management by Aborigines, who used fire as a tool to shape the landscape of their homeland to suit their needs. The burning was far from random or ad hoc. Burning at the right time (whenever that is) is good for this plant. Lack of burning, too-hot burns, or erratically timed burns are bad for it.
Unfortunately, the detailed knowledge of how to manage our local fire ecology has been lost with the people who held it.

1 comment:

Ian Menkins said...

Picris barbarorum is another rare species on the Darling Downs. It tends to be found further west on the plains, rather than on the eastern foothills where P. evae is more likely to be found.

P. barbarorum does not have a woolly coma like P. evae. Instead there are bristly hairs in neat vertical lines.

P. barbarorum is extinct in Victoria, the only record being from an Aboriginal woman's dilly bag in early Colonial times. I am not sure of its status in NSW. It can be quite common here on the grasslands of the Darling Downs, particularly when rains have followed a very long dry spell. But it can then become very scarse for decades.

In the garden it performs very much like P. evae and comes up reliably from seed each year. The plant has similar growth habit and flowers to P. evae.