Saturday, December 31, 2016

Dry Rainforest Trees

Suitable for Gardens

























Auranticarpa rhombifolia

Not all “rainforest" trees are the same. As a general rule, the wetter the rainforest type, the more likely its plants are to have evolved  shallow root systems. Trees of typical rainforests are likely to be problematical if planted close to buildings, driveways, paths, and drains. Many of them are also too large to be suitable for suburban gardens.
“Dry Rainforest” plants are their drought-hardy relatives. Unlike the plants of wetter rainforests, they can’t count on getting regular rainfall. The secret of their survival in their drought-prone native habitats is their tendency to put down deep roots as fast as they can, to find water deep underground.
They tend to be smaller trees than their big rainforest relatives.
They also prune well.
These three habits make them very garden-friendly.
1. Their deep-rooting habit means that they don’t make much use of the upper layers of soil. They can be planted close together, and are happy to share the space in the upper layers of the soil where most small garden plants want their roots to be. They are also less likely to damage paths, driveways, house foundations, and to send their little roots into our pipes and sewers. (Yes, of course they will do damage if you tempt them by planting them right next to a leaky pipe, or place a large plant smack up against a brick wall. Use some commonsense here! Think low-risk, not no-risk. No-risk means a garden of concrete and plastic plants.)
2. Their smaller size means that we can grow nice shady trees which won’t outgrow our suburban-sized gardens.

Denhamia bilocularis

3. Their adaptability to shaping and pruning means that they make good hedges or dense shrubs if pruned to the size of your choice. Cutting them back hard encourages the formation of multiple trunks. They can also left (or encouraged) to grow as shady little single-trunked trees. Trim the lower branches a bit, and you have a spot for a bird bath or a garden seat.
Too many trees? No problem! Cut some off at the ankles and let them regrow as multi-trunked shrubs.


Notelaea microcarpa

4. And their drought hardiness means that once established they will live a normal lifespan, possibly hundreds of years, without ever needing more rainfall than our erratic climate gives them. Like most plants, they appreciate extra water, especially in winter or dry times when their natural habit is to drop some of their leaves to conserve water. Watering keeps them dense and shady - but those who can’t manage the water can just wait it out. When the rains start, their canopies will thicken up again.

Some of our Local Dry Rainforest Trees:

Acmena smithii (Syzygium smithii) LILLYPILLY, COMMON  
Acronychia laevis ACRYONYCHIA, GLOSSY  
Alangium villosum MUSKHEART, BLACK  
Alectryon diversifolius BOONAREE, SCRUB   
Alectryon pubescens BOONAREE, HAIRY  
Alectryon subcinereus BIRDS EYE, QUINCE LEAFED  
Alectryon subdentatus BIRDS EYE, HOLLY LEAFED   
Alectryon tomentosus BIRDS EYE, HAIRY  
Alectryon tomentosus BIRDS EYE, HAIRY  
Alectryon connatus BIRDS' EYE, COMMON  
Alectryon oleifolium ROSEWOOD, WESTERN  
Alphitonia excelsa ASH, SOAP   
Alstonia constricta BITTERBARK   

Aphananthe philippinensis  ELM, NATIVE  
Araucaria cunninghamii PINE, HOOP  
Arytera distylis COOGERA, TWIN LEAFED  
Arytera foveloata COOGERA, PITTED  
Atalaya salicifolia WHITEWOOD, BRUSH   


Atalaya salicifolia


Auranticarpa rhombifolia HOLLYWOOD, GOLDEN   
Backhousia angustfolia MYRTLE, CURRY   
Baloghia inophylla BLOODWOOD, BRUSH  
Brachychiton acerifolius FLAME TREE  
Brachychiton discolor  LACEBARK  
Brachychiton populneus KURRAJONG  
Brachychiton rupestris BOTTLE TREE  
Bridelia exaltata IRONBARK, BRUSH  
Bridelia leichhardtii IRONBARK, LEICHHARDTS  
Bursaria incana BURSARIA, FROSTY  
Capparis arborea CAPER TREE, RAINFOREST  
Capparis mitchellii CAPER TREE, MITCHELL'S  
Casearia multinervosa CASEARIA 
Castanospermum australe BEAN, BLACK   
Citronella moorei CHURNWOOD  
Citrus australis LIME, NATIVE ROUND   
Claoxylon australe BRITTLEWOOD    
Croton insularis CROTON, SILVER   
Cryptocarya bidwillii LAUREL, YELLOW
Cryptocarya glaucescens  JACKWOOD  
Cryptocarya triplinervis var. pubens LAUREL, HAIRY BROWN  
Cupaniopsis parvifolia TUCKEROO, SMALL LEAF   
Denhamia bilocularis (Maytenus bilocularis) ORANGEBARK, HEDGE   
Denhamia celastroides DENHAMIA, COMMON  
Denhamia disperma (was Maytenus disperma) BOXWOOD, ORANGE  
Denhamia pittosporoides DENHAMIA, VEINY   
Dinosperma erythrococcum TINGLETONGUE  
Diospyros australis EBONY, PLUM  

Diospyros humilis EBONY, SMALL LEAFED   

Diospyros humilis

Diploglottis cunninghamii (Diploglottis australe) TAMARIND, NATIVE   
Drypetes deplanchei TULIPWOOD, YELLOW 
Dysoxylum fraserianum ROSEWOOD  
Ehretia membranifolia KODA, THIN LEAFED  
Ehretia acuminata KODA  
Elaeocarpus obovatus QUANDONG, HARD    
Elaeodendron australe var. integrifolium 

              OLIVE PLUM, RED FRUITED  narrow-leafed
Elattostachys xylocarpa BEETROOT TREE, WHITE   
Emmenosperma alphitoniodes ASH, YELLOW   
Erythrina numerosa CORAL TREE, PINE MOUNTAIN   
Euroschinus falcatus RIBBONWOOD  
Everistia vaccinifolia EVERISTIA  
Excoecaria dallachyana POISON TREE, SCRUB  
Ficus rubiginosa FIG, SCRUB  
Flindersia collina ASH, LEOPARD   


Flindersia collina

Geijera parviflora WILGA  
Geijera salicifolia WILGA, SCRUB  
Guioa semiglauca GUIOA (Pronounced GHEE-OA)   
Linospadix monostachya WALKING STICK PALM  
Mallotus philippensis KAMALA, RED  
Melicope micrococca DOUGHWOOD, WHITE   
Myrsine variabilis (was Rapanea variabilis) MUTTONWOOD 
Neolitsea dealbata BOLLYGUM, GREY  
Notelaea microcarpa MOCK OLIVE, GORGE   
Owenia acidula APPLE, EMU  
Owenia venosa APPLE, ROSE   
Petalostigma pubescens QUIININE TREE, HAIRY  
Pittosporum angustifolium GUMBY GUMBY  
Pittosporum undulatum PITTOSPORUM, SWEET   
Planchonella cotinifolia (Pouteria cotinifolia) 

                                       CONDOO, SMALL LEAFED   
Psydrax buxifolium CANTHIUM, BOX-LEAFED  
Psydrax odoratum SWEET SUZIE 
Rhodosphaera rhodanthema YELLOWWOOD, DEEP   

 Rhodosphaera rhodanthema

Siphonodon australe IVORYWOOD  
Streblus pendulinus (Streblus brunonianus) WHALEBONE TREE 
Vitex lignum- vitae SATINWOOD
  

Some of our Local Dry Rainforest shrubs 

and Small Understorey Trees.

Alchornea ilicifolia DOVEWOOD, HOLLY
Alyxia ruscifolia CHAIN FRUIT 
Bursaria spinosa BURSARIA, SWEET  (Prickly. Good bird plant)
Carissa ovata KUNKERBERRY (Prickly. Good bird plant)  
Clerodendron floribundum LOLLY BUSH  
Clerodendron tomentosum LOLLY BUSH, HAIRY  
Denhamia silvestris (Maytenus silvestris) ORANGEBARK, NARROW LEAFED      

Dodonaea sinuolata HOPBUSH, THREADY-LEAFED  
Dodonaea stenophylla HOPBUSH, STRINGY LEAFED   
Dodonaea tenuifolia HOPBUSH, FERN-LEAFED  
Dodonaea triangularis HOPBUSH, TRIANGLE LEAFED  
Dodonaea triquetra HOPBUSH, FOREST   
Dodonaea viscosa subsp angustifolia HOPBUSH, NARROW LEAFED  
Homalanthus populifolius BLEEDING HEART  
Myoporum montanum BOOBIALLA, MOUNTAIN  
Notelaea linearis MOCK OLIVE, NARROW LEAFED  
Pittosporum revolutum PITTOSPORUM, YELLOW  
Pittosporum viscidum BIRDS NEST BUSH (Prickly. Good bird plant) 
Psychotria daphnoides PSYCHOTRIA, HEDGE  
Psychotria loniceroides PSYCHOTRIA, HAIRY            
Santalum lanceolatum SANDALWOOD, NORTHERN 
Santalum obtusifolium SANDALWOOD, SHRUB
Trema tomentosa PEACH, POISON 
Turraea pubescens WITCH HAZEL, NATIVE  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Common Bulbine

Bulbine bulbosa
ASPHODELACEAE

Spring is here, and our grasslands are full of the new season’s flowers, like this fragrant little bulbine lily. 










This plant can be expected to keep producing more flower-spikes like this one, through to late summer.






















 











Each individual flower lasts only one day, but new flowers keep opening, up the spike, so each flower-spike is decorative for quite some time.








  Notice those lovely shaggy stamens!

 

 Despite its name, this perennial plant doesn’t actually have a bulb. It does, however, have a corm, with very fat, succulent roots attached to it.




The root at left is of a rather young plant, dug up in December. That little corm has a way to grow before it reashes full size. (Click on the photo for a closer look at it.) However the roots have already stored up a good supply of the starch which is to see the plant through winter.

 Bulbine bulbosa is “deciduous”, which means that its above-ground parts die down when flowering and seed production finish, and the plant then remains dormant until the following spring. The business-like root is the secret of its long life, letting it survive droughts, fire, and frosts.





Its leaves also work to help it make the best of the sparse rainfall of its natural habitat. They are channelled on the upper surface, a design which leads the rain into the centre of the plant, where it gives the roots more water than the surrounding soil.

The leaves are hollow, rather like slender onion leaves, and the plants have been called "wild onion". (Don’t eat those leaves, though. They are likely to give you a severe case of diarrhoea!)
The sweet, nutritious corms were one of the favourite summer foods of the Aborigines, and are said to be the best flavoured of the lily roots.  They fatten up throughout the growing season, and are best dug up at the end of the flowering season. They must be roasted, to make them safe to eat.
Like so many of our Australian plants, common bulbine is more popular in gardens overseas than here, which is a pity. For garden use, the best position for it would be in a garden of perennials where it can pop up again year after year.
It is a colony-forming plant in the wild, and a good colony can be quite spectacular. In gardens, the same effect can be achieved by planting bulbines in groups.
Despite their natural drought hardiness, they looks best if given some supplementary watering during the growing and flowering season.


Annual Bulbine
Bulbine alata
This is the taller of our two local bulbines. The flowers are very similar to the above, but the leaves  look as though they are coated with blue-grey powder.
It behaves as an annual in the wild, but well-cared-for, in a garden situation, it can be a clumping perennial. New plants can be grown from the tiny winged seeds, which should be stored for several months before planting. They are likely to take a month or two to germinate.
This species is found naturally in the Jondaryan area and further west, and is the best bulbine for heavy clay soil.









Monday, September 26, 2016

Volunteers Wanted, Thursday Mornings

Crows Nest Community Nursery
Depot Road, Crows Nest (35 minutes' drive from Toowoomba).


Crows nest Community Nursery is Toowoomba Regional Council's 
ENVIRONMENTAL NURSERY
It specialises in growing the native plants of the Toowoomba Region. 
It opens from 9.00am to 1.00pm every Thursday.
Customers include those who buy in ones and twos for their gardens, and those who buy in thousands for large revegetation projects.
The plants include koala food plants, bird and butterfly-friendly plants, bush tucker, windbreak and honey tree species, and fire retardant plants for people who live in bush-fire-risk areas.

There are also plenty of our ornamental, but little-known, local native species, for the customers who just want something pretty.
 Velvet beauty berry, Callicarpa pedunculata
 Batwing Coral Tree, Erythrina numerosa
 Quinine bush, Petalostigma pachyphyllum

Staffing consists of one TRC-employed manager, and  a team of volunteers. 
There is no formal roster. Volunteers turn up as it suits them. The result is that there are usually between 6 and 10 volunteers on any given Thursday. 
Some are Crows Nest Residents, but most come out from Toowoomba, with some car-pooling to save petrol costs and to have company on the drive.
The nursery is becoming so popular that the volunteers have trouble keeping up with the work that could be done. So do consider joining the happy team!
Volunteers collect seed, store it in the seed bank, plant it, pot the seedlings on as they become ready, grow cuttings, tend the plants on the shelves, and generally do all the little tasks that keep the nursery running smoothly.



No experience needed. There are jobs for people with no prior knowledge of gardening and plants, and jobs for those with more expertise.
 All you need to do is to turn up at the nursery after 9.00am on a Thursday.
Alternatively, you could contact the manager, Lisa Churchward at TRC,
for more information. 
To find the Nursery:
Approaching Crows Nest from the south (i.e. from the Toowoomba direction), slow down at the 80 sign and take the first turn right into Industrial Avenue.
Follow the green street signs (which say NURSERY). 
 

Friday, September 9, 2016

King Orchids
Dendrobium speciosum var. hillii
(Thelychiton tarberi)

Family: ORCHIDACEAE
It’s king orchid time again, and these lovely plants are in flower in gardens, and in the wild.
Like all our native orchids, these are tough plants. You can see that this orchid is thriving in its very exposed situation, high on a tree in a degraded environment, where most of the original sheltering forest has disappeared.


It may have trouble making babies up there in its rather isolated site, though. First, it has to be found by pollinators, such as the stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria. The chances are better when there are quite a lot of the orchids around top attract them, but it’s all a bit sad for the bees. Like most orchids, these lovely plants are “con artists”, attracting insects to do the hard work of transferring the pollen to other flowers, by promising nectar rewards with their shape, colour, and perfume – but not actually making the effort to produce any nectar. Working without pay is not fair in anyone’s book!
However, despite its fine show, this plant may be wasting its fragrance on the air. If no bee finds it, it will never produce seed, a continuing problem it shares with many of our native plants as our bushland is ever more segmented and it gets harder for the increasingly isolated plants to attract pollinators.

Unlike some of their closest relatives, king orchids are tree-dwelling plants. Their fine seeds are happy to germinate on the rough park of perfectly straight trees like the one below. All they need is for the right kind of fungus to be already there, to help the helpless little seeds to begin growing.


And orchid seeds are unusually helpless, which means they must become parasites from birth. Most parent plants provide their seeds with a little food package (endosperm) to feed the newly germinating baby plant. Orchids, in their enthusiasm for producing enormous numbers of their very tiny seeds, neglect this rather basic precaution. If none of their seeds can latch onto a suitable fungus nursemaid to provide them with the necessary nutrients, then the orchid’s efforts to create a new generation will fail.
Orchids are one of the most successful plant families in the world, proving that, all things being equal, it pays to be a user. All is not equal in our local environment, however, and our district’s once-rich orchid flora is dwindling away.
All praise to those who give it a chance to recover, by conserving and restoring patches of our local bushland.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Forest Daisy

Brachyscome microcarpa
FAMILY: ASTERACEAE
As usual in our fortunate part of the world, signs of spring appear almost as soon as the signs of autumn have gone.
Trees are bursting into new leaf, birds are looking around for mates, and little daisies are starting to open their bright eyes.


We have so many native daisies, that it can be difficult to identify them all. This one, however, is distinctive, with it’s unmistakable leaf shape, and its (relatively) large mauve flowers.


A plant of eucalypt woodland on light, well-drained soil (such as at the Bunya Mountains), it could make a useful, ankle-high ground-cover.
It prefers to grow in dappled shade, and where there is not too much competition from other plants.
It is commercially available (in several colour forms), but it may be difficult to buy plants of local provenance.
Once established, this is a plant that would need little care, resisting both drought and light frost.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What’s Good about Lantana?

FAMILY: VERBENACEAE

 
It’s easy enough to list the things we Australians DON’T like about that invader from South America, Lantana camara. Alas, that we inflicted it upon ourselves, with our careless gardening habits!


1. It colonises disturbed soil with dense shrubbery, 2-4 metres tall, crowding out smaller plants and preventing regrowth of native trees.
2 As the native vegetation is lost, so is the wildlife that depended on it.
3. Lantana behaves as a nurse plant to privet, an even worse, tree-sized weed, enabling it to establish a virtual monoculture on what was previously rainforest land. The privet forest on the Eastern slopes near Toowoomba, is a classic example of this.
4. Lantana has huge economic impact, reducing the productivity of pastoral and forestry land.
5. Its leaves are poisonous to stock, (some varieties more than others).
6. It’s a prickly, scratchy nuisance to bushwalkers.




Lantana has some Good Points Too
Whenever a super-weed like lantana creates a new environment, some native animals will find a niche to their liking, and thrive.
 

1. Small birds like wrens find lantana thickets an ideal place to live, eating the succulent fruits, and building nests in the scratchy thickets.
2. It shelters small mammals, such as antechinus, bush rats, and bandicoots.
3. Reptiles, especially small skinks, make use of the shelter.
4. Butterflies love the nectar-rich flowers, which provide them with food over a long season (albeit while slowly exterminating their species by crowding out their host plants).
5. The pithy stems are used as homes by the primitively-social reed bees (Exoneura species). These bees are important pollinators of native plants.
6. It improves soil quality, and controls erosion on slopes.



Does this mean we should love lantana, after all?
Well, no. Not really.
A natural mixture of native plants is the basis for a richer, more varied ecosystem. It hosts more kinds of birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects than lantana ever could, and stabilises the soil just as well.
But lantana’s good points can be a reason for avoiding the “bull at a gate” approach to removing it. We have to keep in mind that clearing weeds is not a beneficial environmental activity in itself. It’s what comes after the clearing that matters. If no thought is put into where they are to go, those little creatures which managed to make lives for themselves among the weeds, then clearing them only causes a net loss of biodiversity.
“Softly, softly”, is the answer.
If we’re hoping that natural regeneration of plants will provide for the displaced wildlife, we need to clear in small doses, and monitor whether regeneration, of the kinds of plants we were hoping for, is really happening.
Were our expectations unrealistic? If clearing doesn’t result in a cheering surge of new growth - and it often doesn’t in our dry and erratic climate - then active revegetation is needed. Plants must be planted, and tended until their survival is assured, and meanwhile, the cleared area will need constant weeding of lantana (and other weed) regrowth so the carefully-planted seedlings aren't lost to shading and root competition. Too many bushcare projects have been sent back to square one by lack of follow-up!
Working with nature is the way to go, when revegetating. A half-and-half approach, blanket planting planting pioneer species to modify the environment, can provide both fast shelter for wildlife and a suitable mileu for natural regeneration of  longer-lived species. This only works if there is a natural seed source nearby, of course. Revegetation of rainforests and scrubs, on the other hand, can be slowed down by mistaking fast-growing dry sclerophyll plants such as wattles and eucalypts for pioneers, though. These greedy plants rob the soil of moisture, slow down the growth of other plants, and simply establish themselves as the dominant vegetation.
Sometimes, the best approach to clearing lantana consists of leaving it alone for a few years, and getting on with planting, instead. Once refuges for wildlife have been established, the clearing can go ahead - but always in proportion to the shelter available.
Now is the time to be planning it. The frosts will be over before very long.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

White Cypress

Callitris glaucophylla
FAMILY: CUPRESSACEAE

This is one of our most underestimated local plants. It deserves to be used more often in gardens, streets, and parks.
Its neat shape makes it suitable for formal situations

The fine, dense foliage makes it a useful contrast plant, when grown with other types of trees, as shown here in a natural situation at Maclagan.

Despite its name, individuals of this species vary in leaf colour, from the “white” (really blue-green), to a clear green. In the wild, plants of a variety of canopy colours often grow side by side.

Mature trees reach a height of about 18 metres.

Young trees may respond to damage by producing more than one trunk. For a cypress, pruning or trimming the foliage counts as damage, and is best avoided. Gardeners should supervise their young trees, and if any show signs of producing a second trunk (or more) to compete with the main trunk, these should be removed as soon as possible.
Older trees, however, benefit from tidying up by removal of dying lower branches, to neaten their trunks.

The new season’s cones are starting to be seen around the district at this time of year. Male and female cones are found on the same trees.

As with all conifers, the male cones (above) shed masses of pollen.
They depend on the wind to transfer their pollen to female cones. This is a rather hit and miss method. Unlike those plant species whose pollen is transported efficiently from flower to flower by insects or birds, they can’t afford heavy pollen, but must produce something light, and lots of it, so that at least some of it finds its way to its target.

Once pollinated, the female cones grow into this attractive spherical shape.

Later in the season they will split open to shed their small winged seeds.

White cypress is the famous timber tree, often called “cypress pine” although strictly speaking cypresses are not pines. The honey-coloured timber is an Australian classic, well-known for its use in house frames, floors and decking, where its hardness and its resistance to white ants (termites) and Lyctus borers is an important quality.
However it is also a good ornamental timber, attractively marked and taking a high shine.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Murnong

(Yam Daisy)                                                        
Microseris lanceolata,  
FAMILY: ASTERACEAE

This small perennial has yellow flowers similar to a dandelion.
It was once one of the most important food plants for Aboriginal people of the grassy plains of southern and eastern Australia.
The small sweet tubers are produced each year in early spring, and harvested in summer (about November). In a typical example of the semi-agricultural practices of the Aborigines, smaller tubers were left in the soil, and meanwhile the soil-loosening effect of the digging sticks used by the harvesting women provided good growth conditions. Old records tell of hundreds of women spread across the plains at harvest time, all digging for these nutritious roots.
The plants die back to their underground roots in March, and begin putting up new rosettes of fresh leaves in Autumn. The grasslands where the murnong grew were burned off during this dormancy period, with the burning controlled so that only some patches were burned each year. The whole growing area was burned every 3 years. This controlled the growth of larger plants, which would otherwise have shaded out this valuable food crop.
The roots are washed, then roasted for about 10 minutes. They become soft and rather syrupy-sticky, with a sweet flavour which some people describe as resembling coconut, or a sweet nut. Modern recipes recommend little olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.

My pot-grown plants produced rather small roots, so I have moved them into better soil, and hope for a better crop next year.

The following sequence shows the interesting development of  the dandelion-like flowers. Their heads droop modestly until the flowers open, then it is time to lift them and attract pollinating insects. They stay upright for just one day, then droop again as the seeds form. When the seeds are ripe, the stems elongate and straighten, holding the seeds up to the wind, for distribution.



 







 

As with all daisies, each “flower” is really a bunch of tiny, individual flowers. In murnong, they have  just one petal each.



Murnong is one of Australia’s best bush foods. The prominent 19th Century botanist Ferdinand von Mueller thought it was so valuable as a food plant, that it was the only Australian plant he recommended for development as a crop for white Australians.

Unfortunately, the wild plants, which once attracted people in their hundreds for the annual harvest, grew in the same grasslands as the white settlers coveted for sheep pasturage. Early records say that sheep loved it so much that they would eat the leaves and dig up the roots. (Some accounts say they did it with their hooves. Others say they dug them up with their noses. Perhaps someone who knows sheep better than I can clarify this!) Some squatters claimed that their sheep lived almost entirely on murnong for their first year, on their newly claimed pastures. Whatever digging technique they used, they would exterminate most of the plants in the first year. They rapidly drove the species to extinction over most of its range, causing disaster for the people who depended on it for food.

We will probably never know whether it once grew widely on the Darling Downs. The only record of it being found here, that I know about, was of plants growing naturally at Gladfield, near Cunningham’s Gap, in 1891 - 50 years after the squatters arrived with their flocks and herds.

This is a very tolerant plant, growing well in a range of soils, from acid to alkaline. It tolerates drought and frosts, but no more than very light shade.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Giant Pepper Vine

Piper hederaceum
FAMILY: PIPERACEAE

The storm the other night brought down this sprig from a giant pepper vine in Goomburra National Park.

 These fruits would have been preceded by tiny white female flowers, fertilised by the male flowers (which grow on the same plants as the females). I haven’t ever seen them (they tend to grow too far up in the rainforest canopy), but am told that they have a strong perfume.

A few giant pepper vines can still be found in the rainforest remnants on Toowoomba’s eastern escarpment. In earlier times they were so common in the Toowoomba district that they had a reputation for causing a major summer influx of white-headed pigeons, as they came to feed on the ripe fruits. This tells us something about how very much our local vegetation has changed since then. Anyone seen a white-headed pigeon lately?

Pepper vines have ornamental potential. They can be used both as small plants in hanging pots (in a shady spot where their broad “shade-leaves” would show to advantage) ....

or on a strong trellis or pergola of the sort that we more often see covered with Wisteria. Used the latter way, the pepper vine’s smaller “sun-leaves” would create a shady arbour, and the pretty summer fruits could be seen (together with the birds they would bring to the garden).

Curiously, the flowering stems produce even smaller leaves if they are going to flower. This lets us know when flowers and fruits are “in the pipeline”.

Giant pepper vines begin life as  root climbers, ascending the smooth surfaces of trees or rocks (or, potentially, a shady brick wall). This tendency to climb like ivy is the reason for its name “hederaceum”, a reference to the Latin word hedera, for “ivy”.
Here’s one whose high hopes are about to be dashed!


Stems of mature plants lose the clinging roots. However their nodes where leaves and roots were once attached, continue to be marked by distinctive rings. Pepper vine trunks are easy to distinguish from all those unidentifiable climbers that disappear up into the rainforest canopy.




The root-climbing habit gives giant pepper vine a tendency to cling rather closely to its supporting frame, clothing it in greenery and outlining its silhouette.
This dead tree has acquired a very quaint appearance! 

Fortunately for the beauty of the rainforest, the pepper vines avoid the smaller stems, so the host trees' own canopy is never overtaken by its pepper vines.

Stems which find nothing to cling to do not build high bulk, as with some climbers, but hang downwards in long festoons, sometimes almost reaching the ground. The effect, as they sway gently in the breeze, is cool and attractive.


Growers of the related Indian pepper of commerce (Piper negrum) say their plant restricts itself to whatever size of trellis it is given. Clearly ours would do the same. The festoons could be trimmed off if neatening is required. In the case of a pergola, they could be left to form curtain walls.

The Festoon Falls in the Bunya Mountains were named after a magnificent curtain of pepper vine, which enclosed the falls. My mother remembered it from her youth, but said it was destroyed in a cyclone “round the time of the war”. If you visit the site, you can see that the enormous trunk of the vine still grows at the top of the falls, but that the supporting trees from which the curtain used to hang have gone. The existing trees now support a few festoons...

... but it will be many years before the whole curtain will be restored.

Giant pepper vine is a frost tender plant. It grows moderately fast in Toowoomba’s climates, including its droughts, if it is in a shady site with well-mulched soil. Like all rainforest plants, however, it grows even faster if watered.


About Pepper
Worldwide, there are approximately 1,000 species of Piper.
Although the fruits and leaves of many of them are used in cooking, the best-known is , the source of the common pepper we buy in the supermarket. It is imported from Southern India, and the same plant is used to make white, black, green and red pepper.
White pepper is the hottest form, and consists of the naked seeds of green-picked fruits. They are separated from the flesh by soaking in a hessian sack for several weeks, causing them to ferment. Then they are trampled and washed until none of the fruit or skin remains on the seeds.
To make black pepper, the green fruits are spread on a cloth to dry in the sun. Their tangy black pepper flavour is developed by enzymes present in the fruits, as they dry and change colour.
The green-coloured pepper seeds we buy are “hot”, like the black, but not particularly flavoursome. The green colour is fixed by plunging them into boiling water for twenty minutes (to kill the enzymes), then sun-drying or freeze-drying them. Despite their inferior taste, there is a commercial demand for them, to enhance the appearance of mixes used in transparent pepper mills.
Left to ripen on the vine, pepper fruits turn yellow, then red. Dried ripe fruits are considered to have poor flavour and are rarely used, except in the same ornamental pepper mixtures. Their colour may be retained by freeze-drying, but  a commonly used commercial technique is to treat both red and green peppers with sulphur dioxide. While it preserves the bright colours, it has no appeal for those who would rather avoid unnecessary chemical additives in their food.
Pepper fruits can also be used fresh. The green ones are a staple of Thai cuisine. The red have a distinct fruity flavour.
Our native Piper hederaceum seeds less hot than Piper nigrum, but have a pleasant spicy flavour.