Friday, January 31, 2014

Love Flower

Pseuderanthemum variabile
Family: ACANTHACEAE
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.
 
 


 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Update: Charles and Motee Rogers Bushland Reserve


Congratulations to Judi Gray, for her work in drawing public attention to the yellow spots on trees in this reserve, and the Toowoomba Regional Council’s plan to put a very wide, concrete path through it. Congratulations also on her rapid organisation of a petition which enabled her to present a case to TRC that Toowoomba and Highfields residents (and others) value this reserve, and found the planned footpath inappropriate.

The Chronicle Newspaper (Toowoomba) published a glowing report giving the impression that a complete victory for environmental and community concerns had been won.
You can read it online here:  http://www.thechronicle.com.au/news/a-community-led-fight-to-stop-a-footpath-being-bui/2145956/
Headlined “Petition saves endangered bushland from pathway”, The Chronicle article stated that the path “will now hug O'Briens Rd on road-reserve land”.

Unfortunately, this is not true.

TRC’s own report speaks of a “compromise”, which has the footpath “primarily within the O'Brien Road reserve”. It also states that “where possible”, significant trees will be retained within the road and bushland reserves.
See the council’s statement at:
http://www.toowoombarc.qld.gov.au/about-council/newspublications/9992-council-to-work-with-highfields-community-to-find-best-footpath-option

On the surface, "compromise" sounds so mature and rational - as though the interests of all parties have been considered. In my opinion, far too many compromises have already been made, as far as this little reserve is concerned. Every further “compromise” is really just another way of making further inroads seem like sensible decisions. (I still regret the ancient ivorywood, one of the very few of this beautiful species still remaining in our district, which was destroyed to build the skate park. Something like this is impossible to replace within a human lifespan, yet no-one with the slightest idea of its of its value was consulted before it was given the chop.)


TRC made no promise that anyone with knowledge of native flora would decide which trees were“significant”. My concern is that people without such knowledge sometimes decide that size is the only marker of tree significance, and that removing even large habitat trees is the right thing to do, because their hollows allegedly make them dangerous.  (The argument in favour of a 3m concrete path through the reserve was that this would make it would be a "safe" path.)

It is the function of such reserves to preserve ecosystems, not just "significant trees", but the reserve's other flora didn't even get a mention in TRC's report. You would also have noticed that TRC's compromise leaves open the option of destruction of "significant" trees within the reserve, if it is not "possible" for these massive pathworks to avoid them. Presumably any other vegetation which gets in the way will be destroyed without a second thought!

A council vote for a compromise whereby it designs a footpath "primarily" within the O'Brien Road reserve is an odd one. Once the footpath is on O'Brien Road there seems to be no need to bring it through the reserve at all. Anything but a rather large detour through it would cut very little off the journey to be made by the schoolchildren between the school and the shopping centre or sports facilities. The proposed compromise might be very similar to the original proposal in its destructive effect.  

Anyone who didn’t get a chance to sign the petition prior to the vote can still do so.  Every signature will count in showing the Council that the people care about issues such as this.  Link to the petition here:
https://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/toowoomba-regional-council-preserve-charles-motee-rogers-bushland-reserve-at-highfields

(Please also see last week’s blog on the subject, below.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Australia Day Tucker

Araucaria bidwillii
Family: ARAUCARIACEAE
What could be more Australian than Bunya nuts on Australia Day?

They’re for sale at many roadside stalls north of Toowoomba and down at Ravensbourne, at the moment. The going price seems to be about $5.00 each. We bought these three at Cabarlah this morning for $10.00.
For ideas on how to cook them, and more about these iconic Australian trees, search this site (white search panel at top left). Don’t forget to read the comments, as readers have sent in some good ideas.
And if you have a good recipe of your own, we’d love to hear about it.
P.S. Don’t forget to save a seed or three for planting, if you have the room. They’re very easy to grow. Produce your own hassle-free organic health food.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Burny Vine

Trophis scandens (Malaisia scandens)
Family: MORACEAE

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.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Petition re the Charles and Motee Rogers Conservation Reserve


(Highfields)

Something strange is going on at this reserve.
It has come out in a rash of yellow spots.
They are quite inconspicuous, until you notice the first few, then you realise just how very many there are. I didn't count them, but there seem to be hundreds!
 
The trail of spots begins beside the entrance to the reserve in Community Court, and follows the gravel path (carefully designed to have a low environmental impact) which runs through it to Polzin Road.
 
Spots are also to be found to some depth into the reserve, along its O’Brien Road edge.
It is claimed that the Toowoomba Regional Council, plans to build a 3 metre wide concrete path, to wind through the bush. While 3m of concrete could hardly be called an insignificant gash in such a small conservation area, it doesn’t seem to explain why quite so very many trees are marked with spots of fluorescent yellow paint. At one point, the marked strip is at least 15 metres wide.
The new Highfields State High School is to be built in Polzin road opposite the Reserve, and the argument seems to be that such a path would provide safer access for students to the shopping centre. It’s hard to see why it would be a safer option than a path restricted to the road reserve beside O’Brien Road.

Even a 3m wide path through such a small reserve would have a huge impact, both in terms of vegetation removed, and in the edge effect.

I feel some sadness about the Bailey's cypress plants I mentioned in my last blog. They were planted in this reserve in the belief that this would be a safe place for these valuable rare native plants to grow and mature. 


The largest of them, still far from adulthood, is on the O'Brien's Road edge of the reserve, surrounded by yellow spots.

The plans have been made by the Engineering section of Transport and Drainage Department of the Toowoomba Regional Council. Apparently they have not consulted with any of their colleagues in TRC’s Parks and Environment Department or any other departments. This seems a surprising omission, considering that the area is designated on the recently developed Highfields, Meringandan & Meringandan West Local Plan as a Biodiversity AES (Area of Ecological Significance).

For further details, and a link to the online petition, see: https://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/mayor-paul-antonio-preserve-charles-motee-rogers-bushland-reserve-at-highfields
If you would like to sign, please note that deadline is Monday (20 January).


(Find the Meringandan & Meringandan West Local Plan plan at http://www.toowoombarc.qld.gov.au/planning-and-building/planning-scheme
Scroll down the page and click on “Local plan - Highfields, Meringandan & Meringandan West final report”)
Using CTRL+ gives you a close-up view of the area concerned.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bailey’s Cypress

Callitris baileyi
Family: CUPRESSACEAE





 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.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Yellow Trumpet Mallow

Abutilon tubulosum
Family: MALVACEAE

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.