Back to nature

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Skeletons of Eucalyptus leaves

This can be one of the most rewarding times of year to observe native plants flowering, whether in one's own garden or in the various wildflower gardens, reserves and sanctuaries that are open to the public. I am quite ignorant about native plants as I don't grow many of them, but I really enjoy seeing them in a bush setting, and on Friday I was fortunate to participate in a guided walk at the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden in Sydney. Our guide drew our attention to many fascinating aspects that I would probably have been oblivious to had I been walking on my own.

Hakea sericea

The parade of native flowers begins in winter, and we saw a number of dainty blooms during our walk. Close inspection of these flowers shows how their shapes and textures are so different to traditional garden plants. Many wattles were smothered in bloom and a tiny, pretty, brilliant blue orchid-like flower on wiry stems was one of the noticeable flowers. Bright pink Boronia (possibly B. serrulata) blooms scented the air; and the spidery flowers of creamy Hakea sericea and bright red Grevillea speciosa were like small jewels in the grey-green landscape.

Kennedia rubicunda

We saw the intriguing and exotic-looking dusky red pea-like flowers of the twining Kennedia rubicunda and the brilliant yellow and brown Dillwynia juniperina - what we used to call 'eggs and bacon' when we were young. Larger inflorescences included a variety of dramatic Banksia species: their weird seedpods from last year's flowering still present on the branches of the shrub.

Resprouting Banksia

Part of this bushland had been subject to a controlled burn last year (to reduce the risk of bushfire to nearby houses), so it was interesting to see the effects of this on the landscape. The relationship between fire and the Australian bush is a long, complex and interactive one. Many plants recover from fire by sprouting from epicormic buds beneath the bark, and we saw a number of examples of this happening in this area of bushland. Other plants - particularly Eucalyptus - sprout from lignotubers at their base that are released from dormancy by fire. The seeds of some species depend on the heat or the smoke of fire for germination.

Regenerated grass tree with flower spike

Sometimes the death of the plant through fire is what actually triggers the dispersal of its seeds. The thick bark of many native trees protects them from the ravages of fire, and specimens such as grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) are also able to quickly regenerate after fire, which may also stimulate them to send up the tall flower spears: a phenomenon we were able to observe on our walk. The removal of undergrowth during a fire also allows fallen seeds to germinate more easily.

Scribbles made by insect larvae on bark of Eucalyptus haemastoma

During the walk we also became aware of the animal and insect life around us - from the signs of digging of bandicoots and possibly bush turkeys (sending a shudder down the spines of those in our group who have had these creatures in our own gardens) to the amazing markings made by the burrowings of the larvae of moths on the scribbly gums (Eucalyptus haemastoma), the remnants of a nest of termites that eat the fallen wood in the bush, and the skeletonising of many fallen burnt leaves by some tiny grub essential to the ecosystem.

There are a number of opportunities to visit native plant reserves in the coming weeks. The Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden at St Ives and the Muogamarra Nature Reserve near Cowan north of Sydney are both good places for an outing. The Muogamarra reserve is only open for six weekends in late winter and early spring, being closed for the rest of the year, and has a number of excellent bushwalking tracks. When I visited a few years ago, there was a wonderful display of waratahs in bloom at this time of year. The Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan is also an excellent place to visit to see native wildflowers.

Reader Comments

  • By Robin 2121 Monday, 22 August 2011

    A very interesting outing, Deirdre. I can recommend Sydney-siders visiting Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden. I had not been for 30 years but was impressed by the facilities and activities provided. Now planning a native mound bed so I can enjoy Aussie beauties in my front yard. Thanks for your photos.

    Hope all goes well with the new garden bed! Deirdre

  • By Densey 2446 Monday, 22 August 2011

    Memories of happy walks through West Head heathlands when I lived in Turramurra. 60 years ago my solitary walks were undisturbed and flowers and birds were my companions. Now my garden is big enough to have its own areas of native shrubs and plants but now I have to weed and prune! Densey

    It must have been wonderful to see those bush areas at that time. Deirdre

  • By Ann 2076 Monday, 22 August 2011

    This reminded me of growing up close to Warraroon Reserve in the Riverview area. We played in the bush reserve and remember egg-and-bacon plant, spider flowers, and big bad Banksia men. There was plenty of brown Boronia too, in the 1940s! Thank you Deirdre.

    I think many of us have fond memories of playing in the bush as children. I feel sad for kids these days who don't have that opportunity. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 22 August 2011

    That is a lovely native garden to visit. As I drive from my home in the Illawarra to Sydney and the Central Coast I have been enjoying the native clematis, eriostemon and the pink boronia. Also the good old hardenbergia - such wonderful splashes of colour.

    There is such an amazing variety amongst the native flowers, and Hardengergia is certainly looking good at the moment! Deirdre

  • By Lyn 4570 Monday, 22 August 2011

    As a child living in Manly 65yrs ago I spent much of my time amongst wildflowers on Nth Head, visits to Kuringai Chase and holidays in then untouched coastal spots.Now I grow my own but it's not the same. Search in litter under forest trees to find cicada wings to make tiny toy dolls into fairies!

    Thanks, Lyn, that sounds a wonderful time. Deirdre

  • By barbara 3196 Monday, 22 August 2011

    Coincidentally I visited Maranoa Gardens today.It is in Balwyn,a suburb of Melbourne.What a surprise and what a treasure.Visit if you possibly can.

    Thanks for giving us that information for Victorian readers, Barbara! Deirdre

  • By Frances 3941 Monday, 22 August 2011

    Growing up in New Zealand,I used to think that Australian native plants looked dry and harsh. I've recently changed my mind after noticing how beautiful the flowers of these plants can be. Anybody who can, should make a trip to the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens a beautiful display of native plants.

    Thanks, Frances - I have heard how good those gardens are and hope to visit them some day on a trip to Victoria. Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2119 Tuesday, 23 August 2011

    I have not been to that Wildflower Garden before and really enjoyed it; I would like to explore other parts of that garden. Congratulations Deirdre, so eloquently written your description of the day was expressed so beautifully. Well done! Great photos as well.

    Thanks, Gillian. It was an enjoyable outing and we were lucky with the weather! Deirdre

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