Monday, October 14, 2013

The Ghost Gate Hop Bush

Dodonaea tenuifolia 
Nature has many surprises for those of us who stop and look. A recent surprise, for me, came from a closer look at these two hopbushes.

They were on the roadside by Ghost Gate Road, between Allora and Goomburra (the road with the interesting local legend and owl sculpture). We had stopped on a low ridge to look at the rather lovely view to the west, when the hopbushes attracted our attention with their showy display of bright red hops.
Who would have thought that they would be two different species?
The one on the left is Dodonaea viscosa subsp. angustifolia. (See article below)
The other is Dodonaea tenuifolia. (Well, that's what I think it is. I had some trouble identifying it because the available descriptions don't all agree with each other. I'm open to further suggestions, if any reader would like to comment.)

Note that the leaf in the photo has six pairs of leaflets. This tended to vary considerably from leaf to leaf with some having as few as one leaflet, but six was fairly typical. The leaves were shiny, as shown, and close examination with a magnifying glass revealed that they were covered quite densely with white hairs.
The leaves were mostly 5-6cm long (including the petiole). They all have that rather large terminal leaflet, which seems to rather unusual for a Dodonaea.
The long-lasting, pretty, rose-pink, seed capsules of this plant have four wings, in contrast to the nearby D. viscosa subsp. angustifolia, plant whose capsules have three wings.

The plant has a neat growth habit, about 3m high, and with a trunk 60cm in diameter. It is a female plant (of course, as the male plants don't have seeds). We couldn't find any nearby plants, but there must be some, as the capsules, which are ripening this week (23 October) have seed in them. I collected some to be grown in the Crows Nest Community Nursery.
They were planted today, so you can look for them there in a few months' time.

Narrow-leaf Hop Bush

Dodonaea viscosa subsp. angustifolia

This sturdy plant is looking pretty in the wild, at present, with its coloured hop-like seed capsules. We find it in on ridges and hillsides in our local black soil areas.
Dodonaea viscosa is a large and very variable genus with seven subspecies, at least three of which grow on the Darling Downs. The various subspecies occur naturally from Africa (where it is known as “sand olive”) through India, Australia and many Pacific islands, to tropical America. The one most often sold in nurseries (often incorrectly labelled “native”) is a purple leaved variety of Dodonaea viscosa subsp. viscosa from New Zealand.
We have three subspecies on the Darling Downs, and they all have the typical “viscose” (shiny-sticky) leaves of the species.

This narrow-leafed subspecies is one of the hardiest to drought, and makes a good garden plant. The showy hops  grow only on the female plants, and many growers prefer to produce their plants from cuttings so as to be sure of having females. They are wind pollinated, and female plants have been known to receive pollen from male plants as much as two kilometres away. They do produce capsules even if not pollinated, but of course in that case they are empty of seeds.
If grown as seedlings, these rather slender plants might be best planted in close groups, which can be thinned down as they mature to flowering age and reveal their sex.
Some growers consider that putting a little mother soil from around a parent plant produces healthier plants. This practice inoculates the soil with soil fungus, and it may be that hop bushes, like many other Australian plants, grow better in association with their favourite fungus. This is something to consider if you are collecting seed, which can be done over the next month or so.

(For more on Dodonaea species, use the white search box at top left of page.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Getting Bugs

Insect Study at Franke Scrub, Highfields
Saturday 12 October, 9.30am to 5.30pm.

Members of the public are invited to participate in this event, whose aim is to survey the insect population in this remnant of local dry rainforest.

No specialist qualifications or knowledge are needed - just an interest in insects and how they interact with the environment.

Scientists from the Queensland Museum will guide the participants in using various scientific methods of collection, and then (once again with plenty of expert help), we will spend the afternoon in a local hall, sorting the catch into orders.

(This is an activity for adults, though older school students with a particular interest in biology will be considered.)

To register, please email me (address at right). Only a few places remain, so register soon to be sure of a place.

For more information, see the Franke Scrub Blog at