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?