Friday, April 28, 2017

Bailey's indigo

Indigofera baileyi
Here's a  pretty little plant that we don't often see.
It's rare, although not as rare as we can be led to think because it is easy to overlook when it is not in flower

It grows naturally in open woodlands, and seems to be found on every soil type from very well drained ones, to heavy black soil with river red gums. I found this one on a hilltop site near Preston Boundary Road.
Bailey's indigo is a perennial which dies back to its rootstock in hard times, as a lot of our small grassland plants do. This trick means that they can withstand drought, and hard frosts.
As you can see,  the recent rains have done it good, and now is the time to look for the little pink flowers.
It deserves to be introduced into horticulture, but at the moment the only way we can have it in our gardens would be to find a plant and wait until it makes seed. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Native Plumbago

Plumbago zeylanica
Hasn’t this rain greened up the countryside beautifully?
Now is the time to get out and enjoy our local native plants.
Franke Scrub* is particularly beautiful, with its native plumbago in the understorey showing off how our local variety of the species has pretty blue flowers.

“Zeylanica” means “from Ceylon”, but it's not really only a Ceylonese plants. It's a genuine Australian native - one of those plants that we share with south-east Asia. Most of the species worldwide have rather boring white flowers, so you can see that our local is rather special.
In our district it grows naturally along the Range, and in hill scrubs as far west as Oakey.

It is an ideal water-efficient plant to grow among shrubs, where it wanders about, popping up where it pleases. It also grows in full sun, but never looks quite as pretty as it does in partial shade.

This plant is the native host plant for the Plumbago blue butterfly (Leptotes plinius).

It’s not easy to catch its blue wingtops in a photo, and the picture below doesn’t do justice to the brilliant blue flashes they make  in the bright sunlight. (On cloudy days, these butterflies tend to fly whenever the sun is out, and settle, apparently disappearing, each time it goes behind a cloud. )

Although native plumbago itself has a very diminished range here due to clearing, the butterfly is in no danger, as it is also able to use the shrubby introduced plumbago, Plumbago capensis, as a host.
Where butterfly host plants become isolated, some butterflies just don’t spread to other planting sites, as they are too far away. Your chances of attracting the butterfly by planting its native host are good because introduced plumbago is a popular garden plant, and acts as a bridge which can lead it to your garden.

*Franke Scrub, Cawdor, is on the western edge of Highfields. Carry on past the end of the bitumen of Franke Road, along a few hundred metres of good dirt road, to find it.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Local Plants for Local Butterflies

Most of us would like to have more butterflies in our gardens.

 Orchard butterflies

Now is the peak time of year for it. Have you been out to have a look, on a good sunny day, to see what is about?

Occasionally we have a big year (as two years ago) when the weather is just right, and masses of butterflies can be seen all around the district. Those years mask the general trend, which is one of decline. Some butterflies can fly a very long way, especially if they have a tailwind. Australian butterflies turn up in New Zealand every summer!
The greatest decline is in our more closely settled areas, and the reason is one that Blind Freddie can see. We are depriving them of the food their babies need. No baby food, no caterpillars. No caterpillars, no butterflies.

Some keen nature-lovers are taking affirmative action. They plant HOST PLANTS - and sure enough, the butterflies come!

 Capparis arborea with Caper White butterfly eggs

NOTE: Butterfly Host Plants are not the same thing as "butterfly attracting plants". Host plants are those special plants that caterpillars can eat. They attract a permanent population of butterflies to settle down and raise their families. Some plants sold as "butterfly attracting plants" may be FIFO jobs. Adult butterflies fly in, sip some nectar, and fly out. As our suburbs spread, they may not even do that. If our gardens are too far from the host plants, we will only get the butterflies of the strongest-flying species - and may even not get that, most years.

Which host plants are the best? There is a great deal of advice to be found, in books and on the internet, but it can be difficult to sort out the relevant from the other kind. No amount of host-planting will attract butterflies that do not occur in your area.

Choosing local native plant species.
I recommend it. There are some non-Australian plants which host local butterflies, as well as some Australian plants from other regions. However, people with an interest in our local wildlife may prefer to put in plants that are native to our local area. A butterfly garden might as well be an effective multi-purpose wildlife garden!

Some Local Native Butterfly Hosts,
and Some Local Butterflies
These plants are attractive, and suitable for gardens:
Chrysocephalum apiculatum    YELLOW BUTTONS    Painted Lady
Crotalaria mitchellii    CROTALARIA    Tailed pea-blue
Einadia species    SALTBUSHES    Saltbush blue
Plumbago zeylanica    GROUNDCOVER PLUMBAGO    Plumbago blue
Pseuderanthemum variabile    LOVE FLOWER   Varied eggfly
Scaevola species    FAN FLOWERS   Meadow Argus
Swainsona queenslandica, Swainsona brachycarpa    DARLING PEAS    Large grass yellow 
Urtica incisa NATIVE NETTLES. The only host for the Yellow Admiral. An exception to the "suitable for gardens" criterion, perhaps - but a carefully conserved nettle patch is possible on acreages and farms.
Xerochrysum bracteatum    STRAW DAISY    Painted lady

Female eggfly, photographed in a butterfly house, where there are so many butterflies they will land on your hands.

 Yellow admiral. This one was dead, but still beautiful. This butterfly species needs nettles, for its survival.

Alchornea ilicifolia    HOLLY DOVEWOOD    Yellow albatross
Apophyllum anomalum    WARRIOR BUSH    Caper white, Caper gull
Breynia oblongifolia    BREYNIA    Large grass yellow
Carissa ovata    KUNKERBERRY    Common crow
Dodonaea triquetra  (and probably other Dodonaeas)  HOPBUSH    Fiery jewel
Indigofera australis    NATIVE INDIGO    Large grass yellow
Melodorum leichhardtii ZIGZAG VINE (grown in sun as a shrub) Fourbar swordtail,  pale green triangle.
Rhagodia species  SALTBUSHES  Saltbush blue
Senna species    NATIVE CASSIAS    Yellow migrant, Grass yellows
Swainsona galegifolia    DARLING PEA BUSH    Large grass yellow
(Note that the zigzag vine can be grown as a vine, if given trellis or higher plants to climb on, but grows as a shrub if it is out in the open with nothing to climb. It attracts butterflies best if it is grown in full sun.)

 Small grass yellow.

Yellow migrant

A pair of tailed emperors - and yes, they were kissing!

Acacia species    WATTLES     Tailed emperor, Large grass yellow, Hairstreaks
Capparis species    NATIVE CAPER TREES    Caper white, Caper gull
Cassia species    NATIVE CASSIA TREES    Lemon migrant, Yellow migrant, Tailed emperor
Citrus australis    NATIVE ROUND LIME    Orchard swallowtail, Dainty swallowtail, chequered swallowtail
Ficus coronata    SANDPAPER FIG    Common crow
Neolitsea species    BOLLYGUMS    Blue triangle
Notelaea species    MOCK OLIVES    Bronze flat
Pararchidendron pruinosum    SNOW WOOD    Tailed Emperor

Blue triangle

Acacia species    WATTLES, BRIGALOW   Hairstreaks
Alphitonia excelsa    SOAP ASH    Small green-banded blue
Brachychiton species    BOTTLE TREE, FLAME TREE, KURRAJONG    Tailed emperor,
White-banded plane
Cryptocarya species    JACKWOOD, BROWN LAUREL    Blue triangle. Bronze flat. Macleay’s swallowtail.
Drypetes deplanchei    YELLOW TULIPWOOD    Yellow albatross,
Ficus species    NATIVE FIGS    Common crow
Flindersia species    CROWS ASH, LEOPARD ASH,  LONG JACK    Orchard swallowtail
Geijera salicifolia    WILGAS    Swallowtails, all kinds

 Caper gull

Small green-banded blue 

Carex species    SEDGES    Evening brown, Skippers, Darts
MOST NATIVE GRASSES    Common brown, Evening brown, Ringlets, Skippers, Darts, Xenicas
Lomandra species    MATRUSH    Splendid ochre, Skippers, Darts

Grass dart 

Hardenbergia violacea    HARDENBERGIA    Grass Blue
Hoya australis    HOYA    Common crow
Melodorum leichhardtii    ZIG ZAG VINE    Four-barred swordtail
Parsonsia species    GARGALOO, MONKEY ROPE    Common crow, Lesser wanderer.
Passiflora species    NATIVE PASSIONFRUITS    Glasswing
Secamone elliptica    CORKY MILK VINE    Blue tiger

 Blue tiger

ALL SPECIES, Jezebels, Azures.

Black Jezebel

 Satin azure

Where possible, fight for the survival of trees which carry mistletoes! They are always vulnerable, because of the widespread (but wrong) belief that they kill trees. Some of our most beautiful local butterflies can't live without them.

Where to get the Plants
Local native plants for the Toowoomba Region are not widely available. Some of the better local nurseries (i.e.not the big chains) may have these plants.
Otherwise, the above plants (except mistletoes and nettles) are all stocked at the Crows Nest Community Nursery. At any given time, you would find most of them in stock.
For more on how to shop at the Crows Nest Community Nursery, type its name into the white search box at top left.

Hosting a Party, but Nobody Comes?
It is frustrating to have planted a butterfly smorgasbord, and still not have no sign of your hoped-for guests.
If you are not finding your butterfly garden as successful as you had hoped, here are some handy hints:

1. Pay attention to which butterfly species you already see within a kilometre or so of your home. Target these ones first, with your host plantings. If you see
only cabbage whites, you may have a lot of work to do! (Cabbage whites are not Australian natives, but are now our most common species - a sad state of affairs!)

Cabbage White. We can do better than this!

2. Butterflies can and do fly a LONG way, so you can reasonably expect to attract new butterflies to your area. Australian butterflies turn up in New Zealand with some regularity. Queensland species have spread to Victoria because of the planting of their host species down there). They are more likely to move in at your place if there is more than just one, lonely isolated host plant. Plant more if you can fit them in. Encourage your neighbours to do the same. Contribute to any going revegetion projects in your area, making sure the plant lists include butterfly hosts. Ask for suitable street and park trees.

3. Plant lots of flowers. Most adult butterflies need nectar. It's a high-sugar food, and fuels a high-energy lifestyle. It's actually the honey scent, rather than the colour, that is the big draw, so some very modest-looking white flowers are tops for butterfly-attracting. Butterflies aren't picky. Native, non-native, so long as they provide a good nectar supply, butterflies will come. And once attracted to your garden, they may stay, if they meet other butterflies and discover that there are suitable host plants nearby.

Food for the Grown-ups
 It's all about nectar, and a sweet honey scent.
 Caper White, Blue tiger, Common crow, and Lesser wanderer, on a Callistemon flower
Here are some good nectar plants. These are all local native species, so help to support other native wildlife as well.
Senna species NATIVE SENNAS (The yellow flowers attract yellow butterflies. For some, these are host plants as well.)
PEA FLOWERS. (Are also host plants)
Melaleucas and Callistemons. BOTTLEBRUSHES (Try Melaleuca quercina, an endangered local native species which is outstandingly attractive to butterflies.)
DAISIES - all kinds, including the ones with bright yellow centres, but no petals. (Are also host plants)
Bursaria spinosa SWEET BURSARIA Fabulously successful at attracting a multitude of insects.
Flindersia species CROWS ASH ETC.(Are also host plants)
Pavetta australiensis.BUTTERFLY BUSH
Morinda jasminoides SWEET MORINDA
Parsonsia species GARGALOO, MONKEY ROPE, ETC. (Are also host plants)
Hoya australis HOYA (Also a host plant).
Xanthorrhoea species. GRASSTREES.

 Painted lady on grasstree spike in spring.

Worried about Caterpillars?

 Laying eggfly, and caterpillar 

Some people just can't bear the thought of caterpillars  eating their precious plants, and even avoid butterfly host plants for that reason.

Do any of these thoughts help:
1. Actually, most butterfly caterpillars don't make themselves conspicuous. A casual glance won't notice any damage at all, even when a plant is actually producing plenty of beautiful butterflies. If you have an ugly caterpillar infestation, it's probably a moth, or even a non-caterpillar like a sawfly.
Two exceptions are:

  • Caper butterflies, which do make a mess of native caper plants. It doesn't seem to worry the plants, which bounce back refreshed from being pruned. Like any pruned plant, however, they are temporarily ugly. 
  • Orchard butterflies. Even these are not usually conspicuous, especially on their native hosts, but they have large caterpillars and sometimes do make a mess of some vulnerable, introduced citrus species.
 Orchard butterfly caterpillar

2.  Butterflies are beautiful, and having host plants means that you spend a lot of time noticing them, and less time noticing infinitesimal variations from perfect, in your plants.

3. Do you want a garden with soul? Some gardens are nothing but a pretty face, but most of us would like something more that that.   Gardens with soul are vibrant living communities. They can provide far greater pleasure, if you will only notice the beauty of all the garden's residents, not just the plants.

See also my post, “Planting for Butterflies”, December 2, 2010

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pretty Peperomias

Peperomia blanda var. floribunda
Peperomia tetraphylla

We are not famous, in this region, for shade.

There is some in our rainforests and gullies, though, and it provides us with some very good plants for growing in those difficult shady places in the garden.

Our two local Peperomia species fit the bill nicely.

This one is hairy peperomia,  Peperomia blanda var. floribunda.

Peperomia blanda is a very widespread species, with its two varieties growing naturally in a belt all around the warmer parts of the world.

The name “floribunda” implies that it gets lots of flowers, but don’t get excited – this is it!

The fruits are no more exciting. They are tiny and green. Their little black seeds are said to taste peppery, but this is really not a good way to get yourself a usable quantity of pepper.

I usually trim the flowers off, to let the plant get on with making its new season’s shoots.

Despite its lack of interesting features in the way of flowers and fruits, hairy peperomia is a quietly elegant plant, making a good filler in shady spots of the garden, and useful as a pot plant as well.
It is quite drought hardy.

A slightly more delicate plant, both in its looks and in its need for water, is the little four-leafed peperomia, Peperomia tetraphylla, which has its shiny leaves in whorls of four.

We usually notice it in the rainforests of our region, but it can also be found in damp gullies close to Toowoomba, on the eastern side of the Range. It will cling to little crevices in rocks, provided there is enough water for it, but it is also happy in a pot or in well-mulched and well-drained soil.

It is one of the little surprises of the plant world, that these little plants are in the same family as our giant pepper vine Piper hederacea (see my blog of January 24, 2016) and the pepper of commerce, Piper nigrum. At first glance there is little resemblance between these shy little fleshy-leafed plants and the enormous, shiny-leafed pepper vines.

A closer look at the leaves, however, lets us see the family resemblance.

Giant Pepper vine, Piper hederaceum

 Hairy peperomia, Peperomia blanda var. floribunda.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Green Pearls

Jasminum simplicifolium
If pearls came in green, I think this is what they would look like.

My stiff jasmine Jasminum simplicifolium  is laden with them at the moment.
When they ripen, they will look like this:

 and will be very appealing to fruit-eating birds.

The flowers that produced them looked like this:

Note the variation in the number of "petals". These jasmines can have anywhere between five and eight.

As with many white flowers, they would have been pollinated by moths attracted by the perfume. For those who are curious to find out whether moths are indeed the pollinators, a quick check of the perfume at night, after the day’s heat has worn off, will tell you. If the perfume is stronger (and Jasmines all have a lovely perfume), then you know that the plant has evolved to attract moths. You may even see the culprits while you are investigating.

A likely pollinator, is this big hawk moth.

Pollinators don't necessarily breed on the plant that produced the flowers they feed on, but this Psilogramma menephron does breed on native jasmines. (It is known as the “privet hawk moth”, because it also breeds on the introduced privet, as well as a number of other native and introduced  host plants).

Hawk moths have long tongues, and the long tube of the jasmine flower may have evolved to attract them while preventing other less effective pollinators from reaching the nectar at the base of the tube.

You need to be quick to catch a hawk moth feeding/pollinating, because these fast-flying night feeders dart in to a flower, hover (like a hummingbird) for just a split second, then dart off again.

We saw this Psilogramma menephron caterpillar on our Jasminum didymum subsp. racemosum last month.

Isn’t it a lovely thing? It was being attacked by ants at the time, and it was wriggling about catching them and biting them.

It looks almost ready to pupate. When quite ready, it would have dropped off and burrowed into the ground.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Native Verbenas

Verbena gaudichaudii, and Verbena africana
There are so many weedy introduced verbena species invading our native grasslands, that it can come as a surprise to discover that two of the species are native. These wispy plants look quite different from all the weedy invaders.  They don’t make a big splash, with their pale lavender-coloured flowers but they are rather charming all the same.


They consist of a clump of leaves on the ground, around the drought-hardy perennial taproot.  In summer they put up waist-high flowering stems.

The plants are perennials, whose leaves die back each winter and reappear in spring. You can see that I have cut back last season's flowering stems from this plant, with its fresh new spring leaves.

For a good show of flowers, it would be best to group a number of plants together.

This is one of the very best local nectar plants for attracting butterflies – well worth a place in a garden for this reason alone.

For those who want to distinguish between the two, the first clue is that the flowerhead of V. africana feels a bit sticky, while that of V. gaudichaudii does not.  Next, is that the basal leaves of V. africana are often deeply dissected, while those of V. gaudichaudii are always merely toothed.   A further clue is revealed if you examine a flower calyx with a magnifying glass. The pointy little green bracts on the outside of the calyx are at least as long as the calyx of  V. africana, but are noticeably shorter than the calyx in V. gaudichaudii.

Verbena gaudichaudi’s delightful species name comes from a French botanist, Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupré who sailed around the world with Louis de Freycinet, visiting Australia in 1818. Verbena africana is an Australian native, despite its name, but is also native in Africa.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Crows Nest Community Nursery
opens every Thursday 
8.30am - 1.00pm.
Plants $1.50 and $2.50 

The Crows Nest Community Nursery is Toowoomba Regional Council's environmental nursery. Staffed by one professional nurseryperson, and a team of happy volunteers, it specialises in growing the native plants of the broader Toowoomba region.

If you would like to plan some of your purchases in advance, you can get a stock list emailed to you by asking Lisa, at:
or phoning the Toowoomba Regional Council 13 18 72 and asking for the Nursery Manager.

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).  

Volunteering at the Nursery
 Much of the work that keeps the Crows Nest Community Nursery going is done by the happy band of volunteers.
It's a great opportunity to learn more about plants, make new friends, and do something worthwhile for our local environment.
The jobs done include:
  • 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.