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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Blotched Hyacinth Orchid

Dipodium variegatum
 Most of our local orchids flower in spring, but there are a few exceptions. Hyacinth orchids do it in high summer, usually after rain, as with this one which I saw yesterday.

The common name of this plant seems a misnomer to people who know other hyacinth orchid species as well. They are all blotched!

This one is more blotched than the others, though. Notice that the blotches extend to the flower stem (the pedicel and ovary) which doesn’t happen with the others.

It’s always a pleasure to find a hyacinth orchid, as they can’t be grown. They occur only where they’ve planted themselves, and I’ve never heard of one choosing to come up in a garden.
This plant was living in the typical habitat of the species, which is open eucalypt forest with a light grassy understorey. Most of its life is spent completely underground. It only puts up flowering stems once a year, when it’s time to try for babies. A flourishing plant might put up three or four stems.

This flower has its "tongue" hanging out, hoping for a native bee or wasp to be tricked by its bright colours into thinking it will find nectar here so it can be roped into the job of pollination. Like most orchids, it's a cheat. It has evolved to look like a nectar-producing flower, but doesn't make any. It takes a lot of energy to make nectar, and this plant is a miser where energy is concerned. As for which nectar-bearing plant it is imitating - your guess is as good as mine. You do just need to keep in mind that the bees and/or wasps that pollinate this species can't see red.They can, however, see ultra-violet very well, and to them it would look like another colour - something we humans don't have the equipment to imagine. So if we are pondering which look-alike flower the orchids are imitating, the flower shape is probably a better guide. Orchids also often seem to out-compete the flower in question by being larger.  Bluebells, perhaps?

Hyacinth orchids don’t do leaves in any very effective way, from the point of view of being equipped to photosynthetise. (Look closely - they are there, but can't be doing much.) These plants are often described as parasites or saprophytes - the latter meaning plants that get their nutrition and energy from decaying matter under the ground, rather than by photosynthesis.

Saprophytes are not the same thing as parasites. Parasites live on other living organisms. Saprophytes live on plant material which is already dead. They are usually  bacteria and fungi, and are an important part of the growth and decay cycle of their ecosystem, breaking down dead material and making it available for re-use by other plants.

Strictly speaking, hyacinth orchids are neither parasites nor saprophytes. They are myco-heterotrophs, which means that they attach their roots to a  mycorrhizal fungus which is the true saprophyte, living on dead eucalypt roots.  Most myco-heterotrophic plants live in partnership with their fungi. They take some nutriment from them, but also photosynthetise, making carbohydrate which they share with their fungus hosts. Despite their lack of leaves, hyacinth orchids do photosynthise. Those green stems are doing the job. But considering the short life of the flowers, on what is a perennial underground plant, I suspect that the fungus is the partner that does most of the work.
(A few plant species of myco-heterotroph are 100% parasitic. These are the ones that have no green on them at all, such as our local bootlace orchid,  Erythrorchis cassythoides.)

To grow hyacinth orchids, all we need is some land with an open eucalypt forest ecology (complete with its cycle of growth and decay), some relatively open grassland, and the right species of fungus. Nature does it without apparent effort, but we humans have not managed to copy it.

 We have still not invented anything as clever as a plant.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Tree Root Problems

Trouble with foundations, sewer and water wipes, footpaths, fences?
   I would like to know what other people’s experiences are. There must be a lot of knowledge out there about Australian native plants growing near built structures, but it’s hard to find it.
I got curious about the subject because one of my readers asked about about her kurrajong Brachychiton populneus. She has it planted 10 feet (3 metres) from a porch. Her husband wants it removed, as he is worried that it might affect the foundations. She would like to believe that it is far enough away to be of no concern.
   I would have thought 10 feet was far enough. This is a drought hardy tree which has evolved to survive by putting its roots deep, unlike Brachychitons from wetter parts of Australia, which might have shallower roots and be more of a problem.  

The owners of this house at Inglewood didn't seem to have any problems with their kurrajong, and it looks as though both house and tree have been there a long time. What wonderful shade it gives, on a hot summer's afternoon.
   I went looking on the internet, thinking recommendations for suitable distance from structures, for planting various species, would be easy to find.
   Not so!
   I found various lists of recommendations, but the differences between them were so great as to be ludicrous.
   In the case of the kurrajong, I found that Western Water (a water authority near Melbourne, which surely cares that its users don’t wreck their pipes with careless planting), lists kurrajong as one of its "acceptable plants near sewer lines" so long at it is 2 metres away from the pipes. It is interesting that they don't list any other Brachychitons as "suitable".
    The Australian Plant Society recommends the kurrajongs should be placed 3.5 metres away (the same recommendation as it makes for some other, less drought hardy Brachychitons. Are they really all the same?) An East Gippsland site thinks they should be 4 metres away. A Western Australian water corporation recommends 6 metres. Bundaberg Regional Council doesn't think they are safe unless they are 10 metres away. One site makes a blanket recommendation that all trees should be planted a distance 1-1.5 times the potential, full-grown height of the tree away from all structures! 
   What boring places our suburban gardens would be if we all took his advice.

   So what is your ordinary person to make of this? Do these people really know their stuff? If so, which ones? They can't all be right.
   Well there are some obvious clues that let us know which advice we should take with a grain of salt. Clues to the clueless are:
a. They have a blanket rule for all trees, whether or not they are species which would really be surrounded by a wide circle of shallow roots equal to the tree's height (possible with Eucalyptus trees) or more likely to have roots which plunge deep in a narrow root-zone, (like dry rainforest species).
b. They don't supply botanical names, so you can be left in doubt as to which plant they are talking about. If they do give a botanical name, it is the name of the genus only, and then we are warned against the lot as if they were all the same. No, a little Meleleuca thymifolia is NOT going to cause the same problems as a whopping Meleleuca quinquenervia. To say that "Melaleuca sp." should be kept more than 6m away from drains is not helpful!
c. They seem to be written by someone who doesn't know much about plants, but knows that he/she will suffer consequences, if the distance recommended is not big enough. Huge margins of safety probably indicate a less reliable site.
   Sadly, advice provided on these ill-informed sites must have caused the destruction of  many harmless plants. They are certainly no help to those of us who like plants in our gardens. We can't help but be very well aware that many of the plants that they warn us against are growing in gardens around us, causing no problems at all.

I did find some sites which looked as though they had been written by people who knew their stuff.
   The best of them seemed to me to be East Gippsland Water, at www.egwater.vic.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/PlantThoughtfully2013.pdf  , and the Australian Plants Society’s Drain Cloggers page, at http://www.australianplants.org/fsjten.htm.
   However, even the best sites suffered from plant lists which were too small to be broadly helpful. Better to be silent than to spread misinformation, of course, but we could do with more, and more reliable, information on the performance of a wider range of Australian native species near built structures.

Can you help? 
   I would love to hear from experienced gardeners who live with gardens containing Australian native trees and shrubs, and are prepared to share the knowledge they have gained from practical experience. 
  I feel sure there would be readers who  would like to hear it, too.
   I don’t just want to know about the problems, though that certainly helps. I also want to know what plants can tentatively be classified as not too risky. What grows close to your house / footpath / drive / water-carrying pipes, and seems to be problem-free? 
   Please see my email address in the white column at right. I’d love to hear from you!
Or write a comment, but be warned that when you publish it, it won't appear at once.  I screen all comments first, and don't do it every day.

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