Thursday, June 28, 2012

Five-leafed Water Vine

Cissus hypoglauca

Another of our native grapes, like the kangaroo vine described below, this is also a very common plant in our local rainforests. It is similar in almost every way to kangaroo vine, with it’s only really obvious distinguishing characteristic being its very different leaves.  They have five, silvery-backed leaflets, arranged like the spokes of an umbrella.

It flowers a little earlier than does kangaroo vine, and its edible fruits are mostly over by June. I find them pleasanter-tasting than those of the kangaroo vine, so long as they are eaten very ripe. Some people complain that they can have the same tendency to irritate the throat. I haven’t noticed this, and it may be the case that fruit varies from plant to plant.

In the garden or as a pot plant, it can be used in all the same ways, and perhaps a few more, as it is a little hardier to drought.

 Like kangaroo vine, five-leafed water vine can get to be very large, as this photo of an ancient rainforest specimen shows.In a garden, it is suitable only for growing on a large, well-established tree, or on a sturdy pergola where it could make an attractive, bird-attracting shade plant.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kangaroo Vine

Cissus antarctica
Now is fruiting time for Kangaroo vines. Probably our best-known local rainforest vines, they are potentially very large plants. Because they can grow high into rainforest canopies, we might only be aware of their presence because we find the fruits on the ground.

These can be distinguished from the similar-looking (but poisonous) fruits of the roundleaf vine Legnephora moorei  (see May 2010) by the shape of their seeds.(see May 2010) 

  Kangaroo vine’s seeds are recognisably shaped like seeds of the grapes we buy in the shops. These are true "native grapes" and can be eaten. They can irritate the throat, however, so are best not given to children.

Kangaroo vines are also common plants of rainforest edges, with foliage forming a screen right down to the ground. The leaves are very variable - sometimes toothed and sometimes not.

Note the tendrils which grow opposite a leaf - a distinguishing characteristic of plants of the grape family (Vitaceae).
The sculptural shape of the  new shoots is very beautiful indeed.
The strong stems of this vine were once used as ropes for climbing trees. The technique involved making a loop around the tree trunk and the waist of the climber, who leaned back into it and “walked” up the trunk, slipping the loop upwards with each step.
This fast-growing climber is often used in gardens for its handsome curtain of shiny leaves. It is not a small plant, however, and can easily gobble up a small garden. Where there is room, a vine can be used to cover a fences or convert a large pergola into a shady outdoor space, or left to scramble up a large tree. Kangaroo vines are also used as ground covers on large banks and road batters.
Their leaves are hardy to full sun, but the plants prefer their roots to be well-shaded or under a thick layer of mulch. They tolerate droughts and light frosts.
Confining small plants to pots does slow down their rapid growth rate, and they are very popular in America as indoor plants. Tip-pruning them turns them into bushy trailers, hanging gracefully from pots in high positions. Alternatively, they can be grown in troughs to create green screens, or trained as a green archway between rooms.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Narrow Leafed Ironbark

Eucalyptus crebra

Winter is the usual flowering time for this, our most common ironbark. These blossoms, found between Maclagan and the Bunya Mountains last weekend, are earlier than we usually expect.

The flowers are small, though plentifully produced. These are not trees that people would plant for the ornamental qualities of their flowers, but they do a valuable job of  providing nectar for insects at a time of year when it might otherwise be more difficult to find. It is a valuable winter source of nectar for bees, and produces a light-coloured honey with a delicate flavour.

The strength which makes them useful timber trees also means that ironbarks do not have the limb-dropping habit which has given Eucalypts a bad reputation in some circles. (In fact the “widow-makers” - those trees which have an unpredictable tendency to drop large limbs, comprise relatively few of the over 700 Eucalyptus species.) The hard, heavy, durable red timber of this species is used for outdoor construction purposes.

Ironbarks have a reputation as our best firewood trees, and this one is a good species to plant for the purpose. It is fast-growing where growing conditions are good, and coppices well as shown in this photo.

Coppicing (cutting a tree about 20cm above the ground) is a good practice in a woodlot, producing future crops of timber in relatively little time. The resulting multi-stemmed trees are smaller than single-trunked specimens, so coppicing is an effective way of converting a too-large tree into something more suitable for certain situations.

This hardy tree grows on a variety of soils (including poor ones), and tolerates frost and drought.
It is a koala food tree.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Yellow Buttons

Chrysocephalum apiculatum 
(Helichrysum apiculatum)
This sturdy little perennial daisy begins to flower each year in spring, and continues through summer and autumn. These plants were still at it, in Franke Scrub last week.

A daisy head is really a bunch of tiny flowers. This can be seen from this photo, where one head is still largely in bud. In the other heads, the florets have opened up and we can distinguish each one’s five tiny petals.

The species grows in every state and territory of Australia, usually in sunny open grasslands, where it happily survives frosts, and droughts.
The plants vary from district to district. Some are sprawling groundcovers, some are bushy, and some are slender little plants. Leaf colour varies from grey to the blue-green of our local plants.
Each type is adapted to its own local soil. Many of the plants supplied in nurseries come from areas where the soil is light and sandy, and usually come with the information that they need well-drained soils. Yet the species grows naturally on our clayey red and black soils. Obviously, for best results we should be growing plants of local provenance.