Thursday, June 11, 2015

Scrambling Lily

Geitonoplesium cymosum
Nature never really has a winter sleep, in our district.
These scrambling lily plants are getting ready for spring, putting out their first shoots.

They are rather tasty. Eaten fresh and raw from the vine they taste like crisp asparagus.
Not all plants flower every year, but when spring comes, we can look for masses of sparkling white flowers, 

followed by succulent black fruits which are eaten both by people and by birds.

Scrambling lilies have a decidedly contrary nature. Not content to follow the usual climber habit, which is to twine anti-clockwise, they do it the other way round. This is our only local native climber with the clockwise habit.
(There is much discussion about Australian’s twiners’ anti-clockwise habits, with some people linking it to the southern hemisphere, and believing that northern hemisphere twiners all go clockwise. Some even state, apparently without ever having actually checked, that the same plant species will change their twining direction if grown on their non-native hemisphere. A charming theory, but untrue. In fact, most twiners the world over have the anti-clockwise habit, many are ambidextrous, and a small proportion prefer to go clockwise.)

Determinedly non-conformist, scrambling lilies have also taken a dislike to the way plants usually hold their leaves. They give the petioles a twist, turning the leaf blades upside down. If you look very closely, you can see this little twist.

Faced with such preposterous behaviour by their plants, the leaves have quietly adapted, toughening up their exposed undersides so they look and function like leaf tops.

Scrambling lilies are long-lived plants whose pretty green foliage makes them look good all year round.

Distinguishing Scrambling Lily from Wombat Berry

At first glance, wombat berry Eustrephus latifolius, and scrambling lily Geitonoplesium cymosum look very alike,  yet they have so many basic differences that botanists not only place them in different genera – they are even in different families!
They often grow together, as with this tangle of both plants in Silverleigh Road.

To tell one from the other, check these points:
FLOWERS: Scrambling lily’s petals are white and smooth. Wombat Berry’s are pink, and 3 of the 6 tepals have hairy “beards”.
FLOWER POSITION. Scrambling lily flowers and fruits at the tips of its stems. Wombat berry flowers and capsules are attached at the point where the leaf joins the stem.
FRUITS: Scrambling lily has succulent black fruits. Wombat berry has larger orange capsules that split open to show white flesh and shiny black seeds.
LEAVES: Scrambling lily’s have little stalks. Wombat Berry’s have none. Scrambling lily has a prominent mid-vein on the upper surface. Wombat berry leaves have no mid-vein to speak of.
STEMS: Scrambling lily does not die back in winter as wombat berry does, and develops multi-stemmed thickets with much larger stems than those of wombat berry as the plants mature.
TWINING HABIT: Scrambling lily usually goes clockwise. Wombat berry is usually a more normal anti-clockwise.
ROOTS: Scrambling lily has fibrous roots close to the surface. Wombat berry has tubers some 50cm below the soil surface.
 A Surprising Similarity
Wombat berries and scrambling lilies, if growing in wet rainforests, have long, wide leaves (up to 10cm long and 3.5m wide), while very short and narrow leaves characterise the drought-hardiest plants from the dry vine scrubs west of the Dividing Range. Both species often grow together, with scrambling lilies and wombat berries  from the same habitat having leaves of the same size and shape. They retain their ancestral leaf size even when provided with very different growing conditions, so we can choose hardy varieties for our own gardens by finding plants whose leaves match our own situations.

(To find more on Wombat Berry, use the white search box at top left.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Urn Heath

Melichrus urceolatus

This is a very fierce little winter-flowing shrub, which grows on some of our rather skeletal red soils. Those dagger-sharp leaves are just as unfriendly as they look, which makes this plant a popular nesting site for small birds. It usually grows to about waist height.

If the flowers of this bird-friendly shrub are not eaten by rosellas, are followed by small greenish-white succulent fruits which are eaten by many kinds of birds.

It has a lignotuber, which means that it can survive bushfires. The stems and branches burn, but it regrows from its rootstock afterwards. Shrubs with lignotubers in garden situations like to be pruned to the base every every half a dozen years or so. They respond by producing more stems and generally thickening up.

Urn heath is difficult to propagate from seed or cuttings, so value it if it grows naturally on your land.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Northern Maidenhair

Adiantum atroviride
Lots of fern species are producing spores at the moment. The pattern of these brown spore bodies, on the backs of the fern fronds, helps us identify the species, so it’s a good time of year to go exploring in places where our local ferns grow well.

Northern maidenhair is one of our best-known ferns, and is often grown in pots and in gardens.

Growing naturally in Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, it is very similar to the “common maidenhair” Adiantum aethiopicum, whose wider range includes Africa, Australia, Norfolk Island and New Zealand. Indeed, both species used to be lumped together under the name “aethiopicum”, but botanists have decided that the variety which grows here in Queensland and in northern New South Wales is different enough to warrant a name of its own.
Most of us would find it difficult to distinguish between the two. Our local is a larger plant, with stronger coloured leaves and darker stems (black, as opposed to the deep reddish brown of common maidenhair). 

Adiantum atroviride is much more drought hardy than Adiantum aethiopicum, and as such is far better suited to local gardens.
It is one of the earliest plants to recover after bushfires. I find it astonishing to see their delicate-looking fronds emerging on a hot, sunny, ash-covered slope .
So if we want to grow the local maidenhair species in our gardens, we need to be careful of our sources of supply, and check that we have the right species. We will be rewarded with tough plants, better suited to our own, sometimes difficult climate.