Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Jacaranda, the Tree of Heaven

The magnificent Jacaranda

While most of the colour has drained from the bush and it seems to be a quiet time while it catches its breath, the city streets have erupted in a blaze of purple.  This is because the Jacaranda is in bloom.  I always thought that this was an Australian tree because it is so widespread on most of the east coast, but it turns out that according to Wiki  the Jacaranda is a member of the Begonia family and a native of tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America, although it is now very common in South Africa too.

Close -up of the blossom

According to Helen Curran, Assistant Curator of the Sydney Museum, in her delightful article "The Dream Tree: jacaranda, Sydney icon"  it has come to us via those intrepid plant hunters of the C19th. with the first specimens arriving in Australia from London. Curran explains how the tree became so ubiquitous despite early difficulties. I especially like the following quote:
“The jacaranda flames on the air like a ghost,
Like a purer sky some door in the sky has revealed.”

Excerpt from ‘The Jacaranda’ by Douglas Stewart, from The Dosser in Springtime (1946) 

The Jacaranda is certainly popular in Perth. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw all that purple. You don’t see many in Tasmania because they don’t like frosts, but it is said that on the mainland you can literally follow the progress of spring by the successive blooming of the Jacarandas along the coast. Grafton, about 600 Km north of Sydney has been celebrating their flowering for 81 years with its annual Jacaranda Festival  in late October, but Perth has been holding its own for the past sixteen years.
Older suburbs have the finest specimens
Here it doesn’t take place until late in November - last weekend to be precise, but unfortunately I didn’t hear about it until the day after, when we were on our way to a Christmas Festival.

Around Darlington
And another
Purple haze above and below -Jacaranda season is very shortlived
The early settlers (at least since the 1930's anyway, according to Curran) must have really appreciated those magnificent trees as you see many fine examples in older suburbs. Applecross, where the festival is held,  has a whole avenue of them. You do have to be quick though to catch those Jacarandas in bloom. I had planned to go back and take more pictures (I seem to be saying that a lot lately), but after only about a week which included several days of weather above 30o C, many of the blossoms had fallen and the trees were starting to look threadbare.

Purple petals on the footpath behind the Midland Town Hall
There's still a flush of purple in the Hills 
The ephemeral beauty of the Jacaranda reminds me of that equally short -lived lilac that blooms all over Siberia in Spring. What a pity it doesn't seem to have a scent.

PS You'll be pleased to know that the Bobtail depicted on the previous page was not '"our" lizard, the one that gave me the fright of my life a couple of years ago when its large reptillian head appeared behind the roses I was weeding. I saw it again yesterday - my youngest son could probably tell you whether it was a girl or a boy. It was snacking on a snail. This is good because the snails aren't my friends anymore. I've noticed that they are responsible for the big black spots that appear on the leaves of the roses and sometimes you find them curled up right inside the flower heads or destroying the buds before they open.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Kambarang - Parrots in the roses, Kangaroos in the front yard

Kangaroo enjoying the shade and very probably the much too long grass

 This week there have been kangaroos in the front garden and parrots  among the roses. Bush creatures are coming down for moisture, food and shade. In the bush, many more birds can be heard and seen taking advantage of all those burgeoning seed heads and the weather has become very hot and dry with several days above 35oC. We’ve also had the first bush fire alerts and warnings that this year – climate change deniers please note, the chance of catastrophic fires is particularly high. 

Whiskers the resident Bandicoot stealing the food we left out for a stray chicken
 There was such an abrupt shift in both the weather and the vegetation this week, that I wondered if it had meaning in the Aboriginal Calendar of Seasons. I had read that both the Tasmanian Aborigines and those of the Top End (Darwin, Kakadu) had six different seasons, even though Europeans consider the north to have only two. Here in the south of Western Australia, the Nyoongar*  people also note six and it looks like the season of Kambarang (hot and dry and the season of birth) is upon us. 

Alas, poor Bobtail. This poor lizard (about 30 cms long)  didn't make it to the garden. This is a pity because although they look fierce and can actually bite if threatened, they aren't poisonous and are very good at crunching snails.
They are slow moving creatures so watch out for them when they come to bask on the roads
Just like European seasons, these are based on observed changes in nature, but unlike European seasons they depend less on calendar dates than on actual changes in the environment, such as the flowering of a particular species, which signal a shift in the movement of Aboriginal people and a change in activities. For example, at this time of year the Nyoongar people traditionally migrated to the coast to take frogs and turtles or begin burning off to flush out game which they did before the ground dried out too much, making the risk of large wild fires less likely. Many native species do require fire for germination and regeneration and the resulting new shoots provide food for game. Marissa Verma, the speaker in the above video, describes the the necessity of moving to other locations (nomadism) as, “Nature’s way of restocking the shelves,” just as our supermarkets do at night.

Pods and seed heads are the order of the day
Late comers to Australia i.e. since 1788, are only beginning to appreciate some of the traditional wisdom of the Aborigines, particularly with respect to fire regimes, land management practices and the idea that humans belong to the land, not the other way around. Fortunately, several efforts are now underway to preserve indigenous knowledge.

Xanthorrhorea  provided many useful substances for Aborigines including a type of glue for spears
 When white people came to Australia, over three hundred different languages were spoken by the various tribal groups. Though many of them have been lost, the Nyoongar people of this region have  created their own Nyoongarpaedia and  just this month, the NSW government has legislated for the protection of  Aboriginal languages.

There are very few flowers now and most of these are white
Aspects of Aboriginal culture are also being taught in schools, and far more respect is being accorded to Aboriginal visual artists, dancers, sportspersons, storytellers and musicians. More importantly, increasingly it is Aboriginal people themselves who are doing the teaching, the recording, and conducting business and  tourism ventures such as Ecotours and introducing Europeans to things like Bush Tucker, the different notions of spirituality represented by the Dreamtime and their unique ways of looking at and treating the land.  

Tall Everlasting about 1 metre
 While this may not immediately bring about change in attitudes towards Aboriginal people nor immediately overcome generations of neglect, abuse and disadvantage, it is certainly a step in the right direction and may help to restore a sense of pride in a unique and ancient culture – possibly the oldest living culture in the world. For more on the origins of the Aboriginal people based on the latest palaeontological and genetic research, this You Tube video provides interesting background, though clearly the speaker is American. 
This is another .

Aboriginal people represent 3% of the Australian population and number just under half a million. Despite huge efforts – true, some misguided and paternalistic, by successive governments to heal the wounds of dispossession and raise the living standards and life expectancy of Aboriginal people, many continue to fall through the gaps. Voting Rights were granted in 1962, though recognition as Citizens did not occur until 1967. Land Rights started being granted in the 1970s and many Positive Discrimination measures were introduced. While there have been numerous success stories, alcoholism remains a problem for many and Indigenous Australians are overrepresented in the prison population where far too many continue to die in custody.  Visitors are often shocked by the conditions in which many live.

A new small white flower with small everlastings

The good news is that as of 2005, life expectancy has begun to increase – closing the 10.6 year gap between  Aboriginal males and non -Aboriginal  males (9.5 years for women) by 1.6 years for men  and .6 for females, but more needs to be done. Simply acknowledging Aboriginal people in the Australian Constitution would be an easy place to start.

* There are several spellings of Nyoongar/ Noogar etc - This is because Aboriginal languages were an oral tradition and thus there is no fixed way of writing a word

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Shades of Lilac as the Bush Parade moves on

This week's star of the bush- theoretically a Blue Flag, but all the ones I saw were a reddish lilac

I shouldn’t have said that about the Lechenaultia being stayers. This week they have almost gone and the bush is the poorer for the loss of their vibrant colours. While there are still a few new flowers, these are more subdued and with a few notable exceptions, namely the fringed lilies and the purple flag, it is the season of seed heads and grasses and a sense of nature turning inwards to get on with its real business of making fruit and fat rhizomes out of that glorious floral display.

The co -flowering Fringed Lily is also reddish lilac in this area
There is no sign now of last week’s magnificent “Blue Ladies” which, like the enamel flower which I also saw, are in fact covert orchids according to my guru in such matters, Ray from G’day from WA who says that their central petals just look “like the other petals to mimic co-blooming blue flowers.”

Speaking of co – blooming, there is seems to be real colour coordination in the bush too. The little place where I stop on the way to the shops has mainly pink tinged fringed lilies and the Dampiera there have exactly the same shade on the purple spectrum, not the blue which I saw elsewhere.  Although the specific shade may be determined by the soil, rather in the way that blue hydrangeas thrive on alkaline soils, while pink ones do better in acidic ones, I am wondering if it is to attract the same pollinator too. It must be fairly large, have poor eyesight perhaps and a preference for purple, or perhaps it’s the only colour it can see? I should wait patiently and see what happens but as usual, my time to contemplate nature is much too short. is the Dampiera
Nature is rather skilled at contrasts too. The preferred complimentary shade is a pale cream colour as seen in the grand stalks of the grass trees which are also flowering now and in some of the understorey plants which previously attracted little attention when the rest of the bush was a riot of colour.

Not sure what this is, but one of several cream flowering shrubs which draw more attention now that the showier plants - such as the bright red kangaroo paws and lechenaultias, have gone
Detail on the flower spike of a young Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea )which are just starting to come into their own

One of the newcomers ???

...and another, but they are now few and far between

A few trigger plants remain. Some three hundred Stylidium species exist in Australia and most of these are in Western Australia with a few in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania. Tasmania has only one and beyond Australia there are around four species scattered around SE Asia.

Interestingly, only about half the Australian species have been properly classified and studied to date, so it makes me feel like a real explorer when I come upon one that I haven’t seen before. According to Wiki it is not yet known whether the plants consume insects to prevent predation or to extract nutrients which are unavailable in the soil. The plants aren’t saying.

Mostly the bush now looks like this. You can just see a Kangaroo Paw in its final stages to the right of the stump
Just as I was feeling a bit sad that the great flower show was almost over, I heard the most dreadful cacophony overhead. At first I couldn't see anything, but eventually I could make out a few dark parrot -like shapes, though they were larger than any I had seen previously. It was only when they began to fly away as they always seem to do when I take out my camera, that I noticed the bright red flashes on their tail feathers. This then was the endangered red tailed cockatoo, in this case most probably the subspecies C.b. Naso, or Red Tailed Forest Cockatoo. You can hear its call below.(Mine too, alas).

Noisy feathered friends
Land clearing, fire and the removal of the old trees along with the hollows it uses for nesting, have greatly reduced its range, so special programs are underway in Victoria and WA to prevent further decline. Another reason for its scarcity is that it only breeds every two or three years and then only lays one egg. The chicks then stay dependent on the adult birds for around two years. It makes me feel privileged to have seen them. In Western Australia, the volunteers of the Kaarakin Black Cockatoo Conservation Centre work to educate the public, rehabilitate injured birds and degraded lands and to protect their habitat from further destruction. See their website for a number of ways in which people can help including planting their favourite trees - the Jarra and Marri. The pictures on their website are also much better than mine.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Wildflowers of the Week – more floral wonders of the West

The true Blue Lady - over a metre tall and sometimes seen in other colours
The time for photographing wildflowers has almost passed. Not only have they begun to diminish, but we are now getting those typical Western Australian days, hot, dry and sunny - too much contrast, too much UV, which results in pictures so overexposed that you can barely make out the detail, not even when you adjust the exposure. That ominous rustle and crackle in the undergrowth is also starting to make me wary of heading into the bush alone, but there are still a few pleasant surprises.

Blue Lady tending to blue grey/ purple

My first Flower of the Week is the true Blue Lady of the hills, not that one I showed you earlier which was smaller - about half a metre tall and only had two or three flowers per spike. The real ones are much taller – around a metre or so and their densely clustered flower spikes come in several shades  from bluish grey, through several blues, to pinkish purple.

The second is the  fringed Lily which first appeared a couple of weeks ago. It ranges from bluish purple to a pinkish purple and comes in a thick leaved variety with a cluster of heads looking rather like a Sweet William and also a more delicate one with only two to three florets offset on a single slender stem.
And almost pink

The larger Fringed Lily
At around the time that these were in bloom I also saw a clump of red rattlebeak orchids, now long gone, and as I was admiring them a lady from a nearby house invited me into her native garden to see the green ones. She has twenty three different orchids that come up naturally every year in her garden. I am looking forward to seeing the others. The now hot and almost ever present wind, has not made for very good shots and you have to wonder how these plants manage to survive in this harsh environment at all.

A clump of Red Rattlebeak Orchids
The Green Rattlebeak Orchid seen in a neighbouring yard

This week's Flower of the Week - The Blue Flag
 My latest find is a purple flag, a substantial plant which would do any garden proud. This also comes in a variety of colours and types. 

Here is a large pink one, but I have also seen small ground hugging ones

 The many different trigger plants continue to intrigue me as the season unfolds  - the mauve, the yellows, pinks, the small white cowkicks, and the clumps of tiny, butterfly shaped ones "Circus" perhaps, that range from white to salmon pink to brick red and grow prolifically in several places. 

Tiny White Cow Kicks
Tall pink Trigger Plant - 'Queen' I think - about 1 metre,

I have also seen this one in a rich purple
A sprinkle of 'Circus" Trigger Plants which I have also seen in densely packed mounds and fairy rings

Lilac coloured Trigger Plant about knee high with spiky leaves. It also has a cousin with similar colours but with lobed leaves
Another close relative, the slightly smaller "Pink Fountain" is very prolific too
 The pea flowers are also changing. Bright red ones on a medium size shrub have replaced many of the earlier ones. I have also seen low growing  pink ones, pale lemon ones on trees and shrubs and two varieties of 10 -15 cm tall spiked plants densely covered in tiny lemon or orange flowers. It makes me wonder about the insects which would visit them. It is probably not a coincidence either that there are so many trigger plants nearby. Do trigger plants die if they don't manage to catch anything or do they just make use of insects for pollination? I stay on the paths to avoid treading on them. It is the sides of the paths and roads - the border lands, which are richest in species anyway, because the variation in sunlight allows a broader range to flourish.

The beautiful Lechenaultias, Cottonheads in pink or white and everlasting daisies of various heights and types, continue to make up the backdrop of this everchanging carpet, with a few other plants thrown in here and there such as the pink boronia one week, a wax flower the next, or a little tousleheaded Purple Tassel -about the size, shape and colour of a chive flower, popping in to keep things interesting.
White Cottonheads - these come in pink too

Sadly many plants seem to be very shortlived. Now you see them, now you don't. I spent ages looking for an unusual orchid I had seen, only to find that it was no longer in bloom and there were no others like it, before or since. I was also really sorry that I missed getting a better shot of the mace -like head of this flower (Blue Devil) below or the little blue flowers underneath it, because they were already forming seed heads the next time I came. Apologies for the appalling picture quality. It was windy here then and just as windy when I went back.

Another of my fails. this is a Blue Devil. Had hoped to go back and get a better picture, but it was not to be

Same goes for this one. There were only seed heads when I finally got back to this spot
 Not so these little blue flowers below or my lovely Lechenaultias despite their delicate looks.
Stayers - these delightful blue stars just seem to keep on going

 Lechenaultias continue to delight

Seas of Everlasting Daisies fill bare ground

This Enamel Flower is among the newcomers
Also this Hemegenia, one of two colours I have seen

Dampiera -one of several types and  another plant to add to the collection of blues
These are just a fraction of the ongoing parade. The sheer diversity and utter strangeness of the flora here continues to amaze me. There is always something new. Real botanists would wet themselves with excitement!