Friday, January 31, 2014

Love Flower

Pseuderanthemum variabile
These flowers are looking lovely on the roadsides at Ravensbourne at the moment.
One of the few native wildflowers to have found a place in Australian gardens, love flowers are grown for their pretty little rabbit-eared flowers and their dark green, purple-backed leaves.
They grow from tough creeping rhizomes, spreading through shady corners of the garden wherever they find enough moisture to survive

The flower colour varies. In our district, we find blue flowers in rainforests on the edge of the Range, pink in the Crows Nest area, and white flowers west of the Range where the climate is a little drier. In gardens where the plants with coloured flowers might fade away in dry seasons, it is well worth replacing them with the drought hardy white-flowered form.

Love flower plants are hosts to a number of butterfly species including these lovely varied eggflies (Hypolimnas bolina) - the male with the white moons on its wings and the female with the orange markings.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Burny Vine

Trophis scandens (Malaisia scandens)

It’s fruiting time for the burny vines. These plants are very common in our local rainforests and scrubs. They are in the same family (Moraceae) as figs, but the relationship is not at all obvious, except perhaps in their white sap – though even this can be sparse and not obvious, especially in dry weather.
The male flowers, on their 2cm spikes do look a bit like mulberries (another fig-relative). The female flowers are hardly recognisable as flowers. They cluster together in tiny (4mm) green globules, with red whisker-like styles hanging out in the hope of catching some wind-blown pollen from a nearby male plant.
The globules turn pink, as shown in the photo above, where fruits have developed from the fertilised flowers.
These fruits are said to be edible, but I sometimes wonder how these reputations arise. I tried this one and found it unpleasant and very astringent.
The plants themselves are scrambling twiners.

They put out vigorous, long young stems, which are covered so thickly with rough lenticels that they feel like cat’s tongues, and have the same tendency to grip. The grip is a one-way thing. If you run your fingers along a stem you notice that they only catch as you move in the direction of growth. This is the plant’s first climbing technique. The fast-growing young stems grip just enough to prevent them from slipping backwards and falling down, as they reach  for a suitable place to begin twining upwards.  These distinctive long stems tend to be the first thing noticed on encountering the plant in the bush. If encountered at speed (such as by a rider on horseback)  the result would be a burning experience – the source of the plant’s common name.
Failing something to climb on, the plants form large thickets, providing shelter for wildlife, and food for birds and butterfly babies.
I have several in my garden, and have found them to be slow-growing for the first few years. They are speeding up as they acquire size.  I’m not sure about their long term future, though. Grown as a thicket they would need rather a lot of space, especially if it is to contain plants of both sexes. As climbers, they would need the support of well grown trees or a sturdy pergola. I’m not sure whether my 30-year-old trees are up to it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bailey’s Cypress

Callitris baileyi

 This rather special plant was photographed on private property at Geham. You can see what a pretty feature plant it would be, especially in rather formal gardens.


Bailey’s cypress can be distinguished from our other local cypress species by the triangular look of its branchlets (which are also thicker than those of other local species).

At first glance, the photo seems to be showing you some little green branchlets, but with a close and careful look you can see that everything green  is actually leaf. The tiny, narrow leaves grow in whorls of three and lie tight against the branches, where their ridged keels produce the attractive pattern that you see here.

Seed is ripening on our local plants this week, offering us a rather brief opportunity to collect it for propagation. The capsules lose their seed fairly quickly, so they need to be collected whole, just as some of the capsules in a group are beginning to open. They should be kept in a warm dry place until they all open and shed their seeds, which should be planted while very fresh.
(If you're doing this, don't forget the ethics of seed collecting. Nature needs its seeds, so no more than 10% should ever be collected from any wild plant population. Also remember that it's against the law to collect it from National Parks and Conservation reserves.)


The natural range of this rare plant is a fairly narrow strip along the Great Dividing Range from the Bunya Mountains It is classified as "near threatened", as term which indicates that, without intervention, the population is destined to decline. Its  habitat is growing increasingly fragmented and it’s not easy to find plants in the wild any more. Some infill planting on private property would help to build up a healthy local population.

It is important, with young native cypresses, to go easy on the tip pruning. There is no need to prune them at all, and a plant that is provoked into forming multiple trunks is never as sturdy as a single-trunked specimen. The lesser trunks tend to fall away as the plant approaches mature size, spoiling the lovely symmetry of the canopy.

This young plant, on the Polzin Road side of the Charles and Motee Bushland Reserve at Highfields was planted a few years ago.  What excellent native Christmas trees these would make, if planted in gardens or in large tubs.

This one grows on the road reserve on the corner of Reis Road and the New England Highway at Highfields. It is known to have been planted in 1880. is the smallest of our local native Cypresses. You can see that even a plant 130 years old is still beautiful, and able to function as an effective screen plant or (with trimming of the trunk) a shade tree. Even at this age, it would not have outgrown a well-chosen garden situation.
This is one of the plants that have evolved to survive a climate where bushfires are frequent, not by being fire resistant (they burn like torches!) but by producing seeds that love to grow in the ashes after a fire has gone by. Bushfires are followed by a population explosion. The gradual removal of fire from much of this plant's range may explain its decline in the wild. Take, care, though. This is not a good one to plant near the house anywhere that bushfires are a concern. (Just to keep our sense of proportion, this caution applies to all cypresses and most other conifers, of both native and introduced species.)
Bailey's cypress grow best  where they have sun for all or most of the day. They tolerate saline soil, and are very drought tolerant once established.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Yellow Trumpet Mallow

Abutilon tubulosum

This plant is probably our prettiest local Abutilon, with its typical Abutilon-style velvety leaves, and its distinctive trumpet-shaped flowers.
Unlike many of the Abutilons we see about, both in gardens and in the wild, it is native. It is an endemic Australian plant, found only in Qld and NSW. It is fairly widespread, but never common.
In our area it is found on in black soil areas on rocky basalt outcrops, or where the soil has an admixture of sand. It grows in vine scrubs on red soil, further north, but I have never found it in that situation here. However, it grows well on my red soil, in a very dry situation.
You can see that my plant is not really quite happy in its present situation. It is quite determined to lean over the path, but whether it is stretching away from the sun, or wanting to be over the hot bricks I do not know. I need to trial it in various situations to see if I can work it out. The plant tends to be spindly, and this one has been cut back once, with the aim of making it bushier. More tip-pruning in spring might bush it out still further.

These lovely flowers are (obviously) related to hibiscus. Like hibiscus, they last only a day, but are plentifully produced, so the bush always has a pretty display over a long season.
The plants are not long-lived, and best replaced (from seed soaked overnight) every three years or so.