Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Small-leafed Water Vine

Clematicissus opaca
(Cissus opaca)

I have failed (again) to catch this plant in flower, so am showing you the spent flowers, without their petals and all ready to grow into the little black fruits which will ripen in autumn.
 I suspect that the petal phase of the flowers must be rather short, as this plant had plenty of bud and plenty of spent flowers, but no petals to be seen.

Another clue to the plant's family are the seeds. There are only 2-4 per fruit, and they are so large they almost fill the fruit, but you can see they are unmistakably grape seeds.
You can eat the fruits, but as with most local native grape species they are only tolerable when very ripe, and even then not very interesting.

As so often happens with closely related plants, one member of the group is adapted to drier conditions. This member of the grape family is in the Cissus group, and the secret of its drought hardiness is its large tuber. In very dry or frosty conditions it dies back, regrowing from the tuber when warm weather and rains come.

The tubers get very large – as much as 30cm long and 15cm in diameter. A friend who is a clever gardener suggested I plant one in a pot, with the top of the tuber exposed. The result is a rather nice pot plant, which needs a bit of light trellis to support it.

Young tubers are said to be edible, and can apparently be eaten raw or roasted. They have a pungent taste which has given the plant the alternative common name of “pepper vine”.

The plant grows into a light vine. Grown in the ground, it needs only a small trellis or can simply allowed to ramble though a shrub or sprawl over rocks. Even the smallest garden would have room for  few of these plants.

Their leaves take so many forms that they can be difficult to identify in the wild. The leaves have 3–7 stalkless leaflets, arranged like fingers on a hand. The distinguishing characteristic is the middle “finger” which is much longer than the rest. The leaflets can be narrow to medium width, toothed or not, softly hairy or smooth and shiny, and have whitish or reddish backs.

Note the sprig at top right of the photo, showing a tendril coming from the stem opposite a leaf. (Click on the photo for a closer look.) This is another clue that the plant is in the grape family Vitaceae. Unlike some grape species, however, this one has few tendrils and on some plants there may be none to be seen.

In times of desperate drought, when water restrictions make garden watering impossible, it is reassuring to know that plants like this will survive even if their beauty is temporarily lost.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Crows Ash in Flower

Flindersia australis
November is Flindersia flowering time.

Sometimes the flowers are discreetly tucked among the leaves.

Sometimes the November flowering is accompanied by a partial leaf-drop.

But never before have I seen such a complete, spectacular leaf-drop as the trees have had this year in Redwood Park.

Meanwhile, the capsules which have been hanging on the trees for almost a year, are ripening fast.


Now is the time to collect the seed, if you’d like to make more of these lovely trees. The seed is very easy to grow if you plant it very fresh.

Long Jack

Flindersia xanthoxyla

In the Toowoomba area we have three local Flindersia species, all growing in similar dry rainforest habitats close to the great Dividing Range. The smallest and most drought hardy is the leopard ash F. collina.  Next in size is the crows ash, F. australis. The tallest of the three is long jack, F. xanthoxyla.
Old specimens soar to heights of up to 45 metres, in rainforests.
They are difficult to photograph in that situation, so here is a smaller one growing in a paddock near Toowoomba, where we can see its upright growth habit and and dense green canopy.

The above plant is growing naturally on its site. It must have begun its life in a patch of dry rainforest, before its growth was slowed by the conversion of its home into this open paddock.

Long jacks grow naturally from Lismore and Maryborough, between the Great Dividing Range and the coast, so they are at the dry edge of their natural range here in the Toowoomba area. As you would expect of a sub-coastal plant, they like to be well watered when young, and are happier if well mulched. Given these conditions they reward us with fast growth.

They make magnificent specimens in parks and large gardens, and are used in timber-growing projects. Xanthoxyla means “yellow wood”, and this tree's pale yellow timber is particularly amenable to steam-bending, so it was used in coach-building and would be very good for bentwood furniture and the like.

Flindersia capsules are ripening around the district at present. I found this Long Jack capsule (at right) last week, under magnificent tree in the nice little patch of dry rainforest in Charmaine Court, Highfields.


Unlike the sturdy capsules from crows ash tree trees F. australis,  (on the left, in the above photos ), Long Jack’s capsules tend to break up as they fall, so I saved this survivor to put on my mantelpiece. I am handling it gently in the hope that it will look pretty for at least a few weeks.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Irongate Seat of Knowledge

There are plenty of reasons to visit Irongate Conservation Park at present. It is looking very green and leafy after the good rain, and is full of birds, butterflies, and ripening fruits and seeds.
Whoever takes care of the park has done a great job of making a nice new path, carefully raised so you don't get your shoes muddy with Irongate's sticky black soil, if it rains.
But best of all is this lovely new seat, which has appeared half way round the circuit , just where you might want to sit down and contemplate your surrounds.
I never met Noel Mahoney. I understand he was a local farmer, respected and liked in the Irongate district, and obviously loved by his family who have installed this memorial to him.
What a wonderful way of celebrating the life of someone who must have felt a strong affection for the Irongate district's little gem of an environmental reserve.