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

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Glossodia major

Glossodia major Wax-lip Orchid, Brisbane Ranges 4 October 2017
At this time of the year the Wax-lip Orchids are ubiquitous, seemingly flowering everywhere in the bush. I found this little group in the Brisbane Ranges today but they were scattered throughout the understory. After the first few minutes of delight I tend to ignore them because I'm looking for other plants or insects. I hardly ever photograph them but this is one I took several weeks ago.

Wax-lip Orchid, Brisbane Ranges 17 September 2017
But this one stopped me in my tracks. The white form is rarely seen.

Wax-lip, Brisbane Ranges 4 October 2017

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Darlot Creek photopoint

Darlot Creek, Homerton in September 2017
For over a decade I've been taking photographs from a bridge over Darlot Creek in Homerton, Victoria.

I've posted blogs several times here and here and here.

It's been a very interesting project. The creek is never the same and has changed quite a bit over just that short period of time. It has never dried up because there are springs and swamps upstream, and it supports a suite of plants and animals that has interested scientists from time to time. And it has huge cultural connections to the local Gunditjmara people who call the creek Killara.

The photo, below, was taken ten years ago just after the bluegum plantation was established on what had previously been a paddock. Stock were able to graze right into the creek. Willows were a problem then and continue to be in this section of the creek. In a big Victorian Government study of the Glenelg-Hopkins catchments this was the finding:
Invasive willows were not a significant problem with the exception of reaches 38 and 39 on the Merri River in the Hopkins basin and reach 9 on Darlot Creek in the Portland basin where a number of willows were recorded. #

Darlot Creek, January 2007
The next ten or twenty years will interesting because, at least in this section of the creek, the bluegum plantations mean that stock are not grazing along the west banks. The east side is not such an issue because it is part of an old rocky lava flow from Mount Eccles (Budj Bim).


Swamp photopoint

Swamp in September 2017
I have been photographing this ephemeral swamp at Homerton for over ten years. My intention is to monitor changes after the paddock, that was previously grazed by cattle, was planted with bluegums.

At the moment is is full of water because it's been a wet winter and spring in western Victoria. This photo was taken in the summer of 2006 when it was a lot drier . I have previously blogged about changes in this swamp here.

Swamp in January 2006
The plantation is probably about due for its first harvest and then the bluegum trees will be allowed to regrow from the stumps for the next harvest in another ten years. I'm hoping that the reeds and rushes, as well as possibly trees like Blackwoods, Black Wattles and Swamp Gums, will grow around the swamp because they grow in another swamp less than 100 metres away but that's not happening yet.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Hands up for the Woolly Teatree

Crawford River, Hotspur
There is a tall shrub that grows in swamps and along watercourses in south-eastern Australia and in my lifetime it has become much less common. It's the Woolly Teatree Leptospermum lanigerum.

The 'lanigerum' part of its name refers to the woolly (hairy) capsules and leaves. It has a a silvery appearance. In fact its other common name is Silky Teatree. The references call it 'common and widespread' and it is a plant used a lot in regeneration and restoration projects so in no way is it a threatened species but what is under threat is their favoured habitat. Farmers for generations have drained swamps and allowed stock to graze along river banks and in wet areas. My father was a dairy farmer and one paddock on our farm was a Woolly Teatree swamp when I was a child. Dad allowed his cows to graze the paddock and subsequent owners have as well and now there are no teatrees left.

Some farmers are doing the right thing and fencing off swamps and creeksides. Organisations like Landcare, Greening Australia and Catchment Management Authorities are providing funding for fencing in some cases. But I fear it is too late for some populations of Woolly Teatree. In the photo, above, the swamps beside the Crawford River at Hotspur are full of water at the moment and the Woolly Teatrees must be loving getting their feet wet. But there won't be much regeneration because this particular patch (and others like it) is not fenced off and teatrees rely on a 'cool' fire to release the seeds from woody capsules.

A swamp along the Crawford River at Hotspur with Woolly Teatrees, Phragmites, Poas and flowering Billy Buttons. 
Remnant Woolly Teatree in a small gully near Myamyn, Victoria.

Remnant Woolly Teatree, fenced off from stock. Milltown, Victoria.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Slime moulds and fungi

It's late September and normally I wouldn't be looking for fungi but this last winter in southern Victoria has been wet and the mosses, mulch and logs are all still saturated so some of the fungi are still happy to send up their fruiting bodies to the air. And not only fungi. There's a whole other Kingdom called Slime Moulds and I've found some of them as well.

These are some that I've seen in the last week or so.

Fungi, Coltricia australica growing in debris on the forest floor at Inverleigh.
Slime Mould on grass, Inverleigh

Slime Mould on grass and moss, Homerton
Slime Mould (I think. It could be called Tubifera. Update: See comments below.) and moss on an old dead tree trunk.
Slime mould on an old tree trunk. It was very, very small and I don't know if the blue discs are a separate species of fungi.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Scarlet Sundew

Drosera glanduligera Scarlet Sundew
With a name like 'glanduligula' you would expect it to be covered in glandular hairs and so it is, except for the flowers. They are a very small plant of the heaths in southern Australia. The leaves form a very pretty flat basal rosette and if an insect lands on them it is trapped on the glands and its nutrients absorbed by the plant. The Scarlet Sundew is a carnivorous plant.

Drosera glanduligera Scarlet Sundew
The flower is a beautiful orange-red colour but because the plants are so small it can be overlooked. I like the styles in the centre of each flower of this sundew. There are only three, and they are divided at the tip.

Compare the styles with those of the Climbing Sundew Drosera macrantha and Scented Sundew Drosera aberrans. Both plants also grow in southern Victoria.

Drosera macrantha Climbing Sundew
Drosera aberrans Scented Sundew

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Mary's flower?

There's a small perennial shrub, about 40cm high, that flowers in the Brisbane Ranges and in heathland near Geelong called Rhytidosporum procumbens White Marianth. I don't know the origin of the word 'marianth but several sources suggest it means 'Mary's flower'. procumbens means 'lying on the ground' and Rhytidosporum means 'wrinkled seed'.

In the past it has been called a Billardiera and Marianthus and a Pittosporum but in 1862 von Mueller, the Government Botanist in Victoria, transferred it to the genus Rhytidosporum, but it remains in the Pittosporaceae family.

White Marianth Rhytidosporum procumbens, Steiglitz, Victoria
The White Marianth thrives on poor soils of south-eastern Australia but can be easily overlooked and many people would be struggling to name it. The leaves are interesting because some, but not all, have three teeth on the apex.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Anglesea heath in early spring

It's officially spring but the last week has seen driving rain, hail, snow in the Otways and strong winds. But today the sun was shining so I went to some heathy areas near Anglesea to see what was flowering.

I wasn't the only creature out and about. This caterpillar was on a Hakea shrub. I think it's a Oenochroma vinaria.

Caterpillar on hakea (Oenochroma vinaria)

Bushy Needlewood Hakea decurrens ssp. physocarpa
And a Scorpion Fly was just hanging about like they do. It looked like it was caught in a web but soon flew on to a new spot.

Scorpion Fly

Scorpion Fly
There were mosses and lichens, several types of orchids flowering and a few other plants as well but the flush of spring has not reached us yet.

Lichen and moss






Pterostylis nutans Nodding Greenhood, with visitor.

Trim Greenhood Pterostylis concinna

Small Gnat Orchid Cyrtostylis reniformis
Creamy Candles Stackhousia monogyna, is just starting to flower.

Poranthera microphylla Small Poranthera

Hibbertia sericea var. sericea Silky Guinea-flower

Drosera aberrans Scented Sundew


Heath Teatree  Leptospermum myrsinoides

Running Postman Kennedia prostrata