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.