Friday, November 2, 2018

Some Pretty Cullen Species.

Cullen patens, Cullen tenax
Two of our local species of Cullen are flowering at the moment, out near Oakey.
They are both perennial plants, and are pretty at this time of the year, smothered with flowers in two shades of pink.
As well as being good for native pastures because of their palatibility to stock, they are great plants for a wildlife garden. A number of animals eat them, and they are hosts for several butterfly species. This includes several kinds of small blue butterflies, and the large and showy chequered swallowtails - butterflies whose numbers are dwindling in the Toowoomba area due to loss of habitat.

The photo below shows Bullamon lucerne, Cullen patens, a spreading perennial growing to about 15cm high. It comes in two leaf colours. Out west it’s blue-green, but here the leaves are dark green.

It loves the hard conditions in the gravel right near the edge of the road, where the drainage is good and the plants get a bit of moisture from the road.

Cullen patens.

Emu Foot, Cullen tenax, has lush green leaves, lavender-coloured flowers, and is slightly taller than its cousin, growing to knee-height.


Cullen tenax

 Both plants are flowering out near Oakey this week.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Carex appressa

A Useful, Adaptable Sedge
Carex appressa
This is a plant that is happy to have its feet in the water all year round.

(Note the frog eggs in the corner behind it.)

It also grows on dry land, tolerating a surprising amount of drought. This makes it excellent as a plant for the edge of a dam or pond whose water might vary in height, but it is also good in shady nooks on the garden, dry watercourses, and areas of poor drainage.

It’s common name is “tall sedge”.  How boring is that? For such a useful and attractive plant, I feel we should be able to do better!

I find it is a frog-favourite. My single pot of Carex creates a nice little niche for a pair of frogs to get together to produce eggs. After a croaky night, we often see a froth of eggs tucked in the corner behind it.

These are striped marsh frogs.

Like most Carex species, it is monoecious (having male and female flower-heads on the same plant). Female flower-stems are shorter than the males

Male flower head

Female (above) and male.

Detail. The male flower head has yellow anthers, which shed pollen.
The female flowers (behind) have sticky white styles, to catch the flying pollen. Only the female flower head will produce seeds.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Desert Senna

Senna artemisioides subsp. zygophylla

It’s senna time again, and our roadsides are lively with bright splashes of yellow.

These plants were in flower on the Oakey Cooyar Road last weekend.

If you drive past without looking closely, you might think you were seeing wattles. A closer look will tell you that these pretty plants have cassia-type flowers.

Despite its name, this is not just a plant of deserts, but is quite at home in the drier parts of Toowoomba region. It lives up to its name when it comes to its water needs, though. It is a very drought hardy plant, never needing watering once established

Australia has 46 of the world’s 350 Senna species. Alas we also have a few extras, including the weedy Easter cassia, Senna pendula, which is a native of tropical America. It is it has put some people off growing sennas at all, which is a pity. Our natives are very civilised plants, usually growing to not much more than waist high, and of course, by definition, local native plants can't become feral weeds!

Sennas are not long lived plants. They tend to need replacing every 5 - 10 years, which is easy enough to do as they are simple to grow from seed. Look for them in November. In nature a fire, followed by rain, results in a flush of new plants. You can imitate this by using the boiling water method to get them started. (Put them in a coffee cup. Pour boiling water on. Leave to cool overnight. Plant.)

They may also self-seed for you if you live in their home territory, as older seed can germinate without fire.

Like all Sennas, they are butterfly host plants, attracting several different species of yellow butterflies to breed.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Gum Vine

Aphanopetalum resinosum

I visited the Cranbourne Australian Garden near Melbourne, some time ago. It impressed me because of its many suggested ways of using Australian native plants in stylish ways, for modern small gardens. It takes Australian gardening away from the informal “bush garden” style which has dominated native plant gardens.
This nifty idea makes use of gum vine, Aphanopetalum resinosum.

The theme of that particular section of the Cranbourne garden was to do with getting height in a small garden, and I was intrigued with these tubular trellises. I expect that this particular vine species would fill the tube with growth, then could be kept loosely pruned to make a screen, or trimmed more closely to make neat formal columns.
As you can see from the photo is going to conceal the trellis, as the plant grows to fill it. This is quite a fast-growing plant, so it shouldn't take long.
A spring-flowering plant, it grows naturally east of the great Dividing Range from the Sunshine Coast to eastern Victoria. It can be found near Toowoomba along the eastern side of the Range, where it grows in rainforests and dry vine scrubs. Its favourite sites are rocky screes and cool gullies.
Its shiny “wet-look” foliage and masses of long-lasting, spectacular white sepals make it one of our most beautiful local native climbers for garden use.

“Aphanopetalum” is a word meaning “invisible petals”, which seems surprising at first glance - as the plant seems to be covered with perfectly visible, gleaming, white ones.  Closer examination shows you, however, that these are not petals, but sepals.

It is the beautiful sepals which catch our attention, but if you turn one up to face you, you can see the tiny flowers, complete with four very small petals, which they conceal. (Double click on the photo for a closer look.)

The sepals continue to ornament the bush as the flowers die and the fruits develop, creating the impression of a very long flowering season.

The leaves have tiny teeth on their margins, and the stems are covered with raised “lenticels” (little bumps) which make them rough to the touch.

If planted in a position where it has nothing to climb on, gum vine grows as a dense, spreading shrub or deep groundcover, but given something to climb it twines upwards, and can make a good privacy screen. It thrives on heavy pruning. It needs a bit of discipline to restrict it to a trellis or fence, as it has a natural tendency to get quite wide.

It can cope with very heavy shade (making it suitable for use indoors, or as a patio plant in a hanging basket). For good flowering, however, it prefers a little sunshine each day. It grows naturally on the rocky screes and stream banks on our eastern escarpment, where it can have its preferred cool, well-shaded root-run. It is claimed to be frost hardy, and thrive in a sheltered Toowoomba garden but I would not trust it to survive in areas which get hard frosts.

Like all rainforest plants, it likes a rich soil full of compost, and a good mulch. Well-watered, it grows very rapidly - yet it also grows in our local dry rainforests and scrubs, tolerating a degree of drought. Leave it alone and it can survive and look attractive without any watering at all.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Crows Nest Community Nursery
Open Day
Saturday 6 October
8.00am to 2.00pm

It has now been scientifically proven that trees keep the area where they grow cooler (by 2-3°) and make more rain.
(See )
You can be part of the process.
Any old trees will do the job.
At the same time, you could be helping our local environment, and growing the plants that attract our local birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

For this, what you need are "indigenous" plants - those plants that are native to your own patch of Australia.
Crows Nest Community Nursery specialises in growing the native plants of the Toowoomba Region, from seed and cutting of local provenance.
These plants are suitable for local gardens, as street and park trees, and for farm plantings and revegetation work.


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).  
For more information, call 131872

Volunteering at the Nursery
 Much of the work that keeps the Crows Nest Community Nursery going is done by volunteers. 
If you want to do something worthwhile for the local environment, or just to learn more about plants and make new friends, you might consider becoming one of them.
The jobs done include:

  • Seed collecting
  • Preparing seed for planting, or for storage in the seed bank.
  • Planting seed
  • Potting on the little seedlings, into nursery tubes.
  • Putting plants out on the shelves. 
  • Weeding and tidying them as required.
 No expertise is needed. Other volunteers help you to learn on the job. Just bring along a pair of willing hands and a smile.
To join, you can simply turn up on a Thursday and introduce yourself. Alternatively, you can make enquiries by email or phone to the nursery manager, as above.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Western Boonaree

Alectryon oleifolius

This is a plant that could easily go unnoticed, because it can be mistaken for a wattle.

Its yellow-green flowers are small and inconspicuous, and even the bright and pretty fruit could be overlooked unless the plant has branches close to the ground.
Livestock find the leaves very tasty, so wherever it grows in grazing country the leaves are trimmed off as far as the animals can reach. Seedlings have difficulty surviving under these conditions. Western boonarees were once very common, as is shown by their impressive list of common names (western rosewood, inland rosewood, bullock bush, cattle bush, jiggo, boneree, bush minga, applebush, and red heart). They are known to live for more than 100 years, but may be in decline in the wild nowadays, due to non-native animals which destroy the seedlings.  They are a favourite food for cattle, sheep, and wild goats. Even rabbits love them.
One of those alternative names, rosewood, tells us that heartwood is a pretty shade of red. It is soft and easy to work, but non-durable if used outdoors.
It is not a common plant here on the eastern Darling Downs, but I found some plants in seed a few days ago in the piece of Yarran woodland by the roadside east of Jondaryan. (This ecologically valuable woodland remnant contains several plants that are more usually found further west, including yarran, Acacia melvillei)

As with most Alectryons, the flowers are produced in pairs but often only one of them is fertilised so the result is one developed seed twinned with an undeveloped embryo.


When the seed is ripe, its red aril swells and bursts the capsule open. The seed is half covered by the nutritious, bird-attracting red aril, and is brown rather than the typical Alectryon black.

The internet informs me that Northern Territory Aborigines eat the arils. I find them so disgustingly astringent that I wouldn’t recommend putting them in your mouth.

Like all members of its genus, it is a host to some species of little ant-blue butterflies - provided it is grown where those particular butterflies occur naturally, and where they have the right kind of ants to help rear the caterpillars.

Western Boonaree is a pretty plant, with its silky new leaves, and drooping foliage which covers the plant to ground level for many years when it is young.

It is very tough, hardy to both frost and drought, and suitable for windbreaks.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Orange Thorn

Pittosporum multiflorum (Citriobatus pauciflorum)

Here’s a modestly pretty little bush which can start to show fruit at this time of year when there is little else in the way of bright and pretty fruits to be seen.
There’s something odd about its name, though. “Multiflorum” implies that it has lots of flowers, while the old name “pauciflorum” means that it doesn’t have many at all. Wherever I see it, I would have to say that it neither flowers nor fruits particularly vigorously. What they lose in quantity, though, they make up for by being bright and pretty, gleaming out amongst the dark leaves in its usual shady habitat.

It is the rainforest cousin of our more familiar birds’ nest bush, Pittosporum viscidum. Not quite so drought or frost hardy, it grows in our local wetter rainforests at Ravensbourne, Goomburra, and the Bunya Mountains.
Like its cousin, it no doubt offers much appreciated shelter to the small birds, which are doing it tough these days when cats are everywhere. Those of us who like to attract birds to our gardens try to make space for some prickly small shrubs in the low-traffic corners of our gardens.

Orange thorn tends to be a scruffy little bush in the wild, but as a garden plant it could probably be tided up with pruning  to produce an even more dense, bird-sheltering bush. It does best in sites where it gets some shade.
The fruits were apparently eaten by aborigines, but I have not heard of any modern people eating them and suspect that we might not rate them as particularly tasty. I would rather leave them for the native pigeons, myself, but if your experience is otherwise, can you please let me know?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Donkey’s Ears Wattle.

Acacia complanata

In our district, the big wattle-flowering season begins in June, peaks in August, and is all over in September.
A few rebel species don’t flow along with the crowd, however, and this is one of them. Its flowering time can vary, according to rainfall, but it is common for it to choose to flower in February and March.
It has been spectacular this year.
Botanists use a rather boring “common name” (flat-stemmed wattle) for this plant, but I prefer the more descriptive name that ordinary people use -  "Donkey’s Ears". It is such an easy plant to pick from a distance because its “leaves” (actually they’re phyllodes) are held at such an unusual angle. Sometimes they stick out sideways, sometimes they stand up like donkey’s ears. They never droop downwards.

The species is quick growing, and long lived. A well-grown plant can get to 3m high, but it’s more usual to see it at about 1.5 metres and it is very comfortable if kept to that height with occasional pruning.
If it gets a bit old-looking and scraggly it is easily refreshed by pruning it very hard.
It’s a drought hardy plant for full or half sun, and is hardy to frost and drought in our district.
Keep an eye out for local seed in August.

You will find it easy to know that you have identified the plant correctly because of those distinctive phyllodes. Pick it when it’s ripe (which the ones in the photo are not, quite), and give the seeds the boiling water treatment before planting. The seeds grow quickly, and you can have a fine display of flowers when the plant is about a year and a half old.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

10 Butterfly Plants for the Toowoomba District

 The secret of attracting butterflies to your garden. 

Well, there's more than one "secret";
SECRET 1: Provide baby food. Butterflies’ favourite gardens are the ones that will let them raise a family. Put in plants that their caterpillars can survive on, and they will come - BUT be aware that most butterflies can breed on only a few plant species. Some can breed on only one. These are called “host plants”.  Female butterflies are attracted by “their” plants’ special smell, (and male butterflies are attracted by females) .
SECRET 2. Know your local butterflies. Putting in plants for species which never come to our district will get you nowhere. Right now, it’s the peak of the butterfly season - a good time to get out and look for butterflies. If you don’t already know your locals, it’s a great time  to start learning. If you garden seems to have a poor selection, take a trip to somewhere with a better selection of surviving bushland, to learn what could be attracted to your garden with the right host plants.
SECRET 3. Choose local native plant species.
SECRET 4. Plenty of flowers for nectar. Flowers with a "honey" smell do the job best. This is a "secret" with erratic results, though. Plenty of people plant flowers with nectar, but many native butterflies are disappearing from Australia's suburbs for lack of host plants. Don't count on using "Secret 4" by itself!

Butterfly Host plants for our Own District.
A Shortlist
1. NATIVE CASSIA,  Senna acclinis and other Senna species (small shrubs) - Yellow and lemon migrants, small grass-yellow, large grass-yellow
2. MONKEY ROPE VINE Parsonsia straminea (Large climber) - Common crow, Native wanderer
3. SNOW WOOD Pararchidendron pruinosum (Small tree) - Tailed Emperor
4. ORANGE SPADE FLOWER - Hybanthus enneaspermus (Small perennial) - Glasswing
5. DARLING PEA - Swainsona queenslandica (Small, spreading perennial) - Grass Yellow
6. CRESSIDA BUTTERFLY VINE -Aristolochia meridionalis (Very small light climber)  - Clearwing
7. CURRACABAH Acacia concurrens (Medium wattle tree) - Imperial hairstreak, Tailed Emperor
8. FAN FLOWER Scaevola albida (Groundcover perennial)  - Meadow Argus
9. ZIG ZAG VINE Melodorum leichhardtii (Large climber) - Four-barred swordtail, pale triangle, eastern dusk-flat
10. LEOPARD ASH Flindersia collina (Small to Medium tree) - Orchard swallowtail
11. JACKWOOD Cryptocarya glaucescens (AND OTHER Cryptocarya species. Medium shade tree. - Blue triangle

Getting Hold of the Plants.
All the above are currently available from the Crows Nest Community Nursery.
Normally only open on Thursday mornings, it is also having an Open day on Saturday 3 March. 8.30am - 2.00pm.
To find the nursery, see

For a longer list of suitable local  Butterfly host plants see
There is also a recent ABC article on the excellent work being done by Helen Schwenke on butterfly host plants in SE Qld coastal districts. Excellent reading.

Some Local butterflies
Common Crow

Tailed Emperor

Blue Triangle


Meadow Argus

Grass Yellow

Orchard Butterfly

Grass Blue

Native Wanderer



Saturday, February 3, 2018

Something special, in Rainy Weather.

Tar Vine Boerhavia dominii

Some of you will be familiar with this delightful little plant.

I photographed the one below near Wyreema,

and the one below this was at McEwan State Forest near Pittsworth. As you can see, the leaves vary a bit from place to place.

The plant itself is not showy enough to ever become popular as a garden ornamental, but is pretty, all the same. The tiny flowers are exquisite. As a romantically-inclined farm child from the Darling Downs, I was sure they would be fairy favourites.

A friend from Pittsworth sent me these photos yesterday, showing the amazing transformation of the seeds after rain. She says the little blobs which have developed to encase the seeds are “slimy”.

Aren’t they beautiful? Like little pearls! If you click on the photos, you can get a good look at the details.

On the second rainy day, the seeds are falling off, and collecting under the plant, looking "like frogspawn".

The reason for it all is that the seeds contain mucilage, which swells when wet, encasing the seed in a little damp ball to improve its chances of staying wet long enough for the newly germinated seeds to have a good chance of growing. Now would be a very good time to move some of those seeds into a bare dry patch that needs a bit of ground cover, and tuck them under a light cover of damp soil, being careful to preserve their mucilage coating. They can cope with a very tough, sunny site that gets very dry.

The mucilage has another function as well. It is designed to stick to the fur of passing mammals.This technique has helped the plant to spread itself about over much of Australia.

ADDENDUM: Since I published this blog, a correspondent has told me several other things about this plant.
The secret of its survival in hard, dry conditions is its persistent  taproot. This root is edible, and is still collected for this purpose by people living a traditional lifestyle in Central Australia. (If you want to try it, please be cautious. It may need to be cooked first). The leaves of the closely related B. diffusa are often used as a green vegetable in many parts of India.
Apparently it is unpopular with farmers, and can actually reduce the value of a farm because it is a difficult "weed" to kill by any means including poison, and tends to tangle in a plough. Pastoralists, however, regard it as a good, palatable pasture plant. Horses are said to get fat (and lazy) on it.