Friday, 3 November 2017

A photo that saved a river

I went to Canberra just to see an exhibition at the National Library of Australia. The library holds about 3000 colour transparencies made by Peter Dombrovskis and at the moment they are exhibiting 70 of them.

You may not recognise the name but you will probably recognise this photo taken by Dombrovskis. It was used by the Wilderness Society in their campaign to prevent the damming of the Franklin and Gordon Rivers in Tasmania in the 1980s. It was a very successful example of political propaganda and probably swung the 1983 Federal election to a victory for Bob Hawke and the Labor Party.

Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River.
A photograph by Peter Dombrovskis.
Dombrovskis walked the remote Tasmanian wilderness alone and carried heavy photographic equipment as well as supplies and camping equipment. The results are outstanding and if you get a chance go see the exhibition for yourself. You have until 30 January. Or buy the associated book called  Journeys into the Wild: The photography of Peter Dombrovskis, with an introduction by Bob Brown.

Monday, 30 October 2017

War Memorial, Canberra

In Canberra yesterday we shared a table with two strangers, and got chatting as you do. It turns out that both have lived in Canberra for decades, and agreed with us that it is a fantastic city. And then added "except that there are too many public servants".

We shared with them some of the amazing  places we had visited in the past few days, including the War Memorial. To our astonishment they said they'd never been there!

Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Eternal flame
At the memorial we looked at a lot of the amazing displays, found the names of relatives on the wall because they died in service, looked at the special exhibitions and looked at a sound and light show. Had lunch in the Landing Place Cafe.

I was moved by a simple item in the display about Australian prisoners of war in Europe in WW2. It is a page of mounted pressed flowers that Private AJ Stone picked while marching as a prisoner of war in Greece and Austria.

Pressed flowers.
Caption for the pressed flowers

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Soft Millotia hides in plain sight

There is a tiny plant that pops up every year in infertile grey sands, an annual called Millotia tenuifolia var. tenuifolia. It's common name is Soft Millotia and, yes, it looks soft and is soft to the touch.

Soft Millotia in its entirety.
Soft Millotia only grows to about 10 cm at most, flowers late winter and early spring and has pale yellow flowers and grey foliage so it can be easily overlooked amongst the other annual forbs and grasses. I've found it growing at Inverleigh, the Brisbane Ranges and at Anglesea. Sometimes it is prolific but still hardly noticeable.

All of the Millotia species are endemic - they only grow in Australia.  It is in the Asteraceae family named after a French historian named Millot for reasons unknown (to me). Tenuifolia means 'thin leaves' (Latin: tenuis + folium).

Soft Millotia
Soft Millotia. Note the grains of sand caught on the glandular hairs.
From a distance the Millotia tenuifolia plants can look very grey, mainly because they are covered in white or pale golden woolly hairs that are glandular. I often see grains of sand caught on the hairs. The linear leaves are crowded at the base and then arranged alternately up the stem. The flower heads (about 10-40 flowers in each) are at the end of the stem.

Glandular hairs on the stem and leaves.
The flower head gone to seed.
Before long the delightful little plants will shrivel and the seeds will be just blowing in the wind.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Common Bog-rush

You say tomayto, I say tomahto...

There's a little plant called Schoenus apogon. (At the moment that is. It's had other botanical names since it was first described in the early 1800s.) Schoenus comes from the Greek word for reed or rush and apogon means 'without a beard'. (I still don't know where the beard would be if it had one.)

A search of various pronunciation sites on the web revealed that Schoenus is pronounced 'shernus' or 'skinus' or 'shonus'. So I'm going to keep calling it shonus unless Neville Walsh* tells me his version.

And the common names are confusing as well. It's called Common Bog-rush here in Victoria, but also Common Bog Rush, Fluke Bog-rush, Bog Club-rush and, because it also grows in New Zealand and Japan, who knows what else. That's why we use the scientific name. It's standard across the world. (Did you see how I used the word 'we' there? I'm a citizen scientist.)

Schoenus apogon flower
Schoenus apogon, habit
If you want to see the Common Bog-rush flowering you need to get out there now (spring and summer) and look for a very small rush growing in a seasonally damp area. It's common so you have a good chance of finding some but they're easily overlooked and you've probably walked on one heaps of times because it looks like grass. Compare the size of the gum leaves in the photo above. It's an annual so that means it grows from seed each year.

The culms are terete and striated. To you and me that means the stems or stalks are circular (in cross-section) and striped or streaked. The sheaths around the flowering spikelets are dark red-brown and quite attractive really when you get down low to have a good look. The sheaths are shiny with glabrous margins. (That means they're smooth and free from hair so maybe that's the 'apogon' cleanshaven aspect.)

These plants were growing near Heywood in Western Victoria. I've identified them as Schoenus apogon but there are 19 other Schoenus species in Victoria so it's possible I'm wrong. I'm happy to be corrected.

* Click on photos to view large
** Neville Walsh is Senior Conservation Botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria.
*** Schoenus plants are in the Cyperaceae Family