A few weeks ago, Liz Hardman posted some stunning Protea or Suikerbos flowers on what is one of my favorite blogs, Nature on the Edge. If you are interested in South Africa’s Cape Peninsula, the conflict between its native wildlife and humans, but above all excellent photography, I can’t recommend this blog high enough. Suikerbossies are iconic South African plants, and, although cultivated as cut flowers, don’t occur naturally in Western Australia. But what Proteas are for Southern Africa, Grevilleas are for Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea: both are part of the same family, with common ancestors growing in the super-continent of Gondwana tens of millions years ago. The wildflower season is not in full swing yet, but on a recent venture on the granite outcrops in Beelu NP I discovered the majestic Fuchsia Grevillea (Grevillea bipinnatifida) as well as the Sea Urchin Hakea (Hakea petiolaris), another member of the family, showing their flowers and delicate textures. Nectar abound, so time for the honeyeaters to star in the upcoming posts!
“I care more about Drosera than the origin of all the other species in the world” – Charles Darwin, Origin of Species Charles Darwin’s fascination with Sundews is no secret, and after elaborate experiments to unlock the mechanisms of those carnivorous members of the Kingdom of plants, he published his findings in Insectivourous Plants in 1875. And as Darwin wondered about the sensitivity of the tentacles and leaves, their reflexes and digestive powers, I’m continuously amazed by how the small and delicate Leafy Sundew (Drosera stolonifera) is so well adapted to the poor sandy soils of our Jarrah woodlands, patiently waiting to trap and devour the next unsuspecting insect.
The carnivorous Red Ink Sundew (Drosera erythrorhiza) grows on the poor soils of Western Australia’s south west. It is a tuberous species that survives underground during summer, and emerges in abundance after the first rains in autumn and winter. It supplements its limited nutrient uptake by trapping anthropods with its glandular tentacles, with the glistening drops of mucilage resembling fresh morning dew.
Makuru is blue, Makuru is wet. The rain keeps falling, and the forest is full with damp, musty smelling wood. Fungi start fruiting, rotting away trees and leaf litter, like this Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina spiculifera). Known as Numar by aborigines, it fruits on Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) trees, producing a slow decay in the wood called ‘pencilling’ or ‘black fleck’.
The Western, Gregorian or Christian calendar is the most used calendar in the world, with twelve months and four seasons dividing each year. This is no different in Australia, where it was introduced by European settlers. However, the Noongar of Australia’s South West use a six season calendar, based on the emergence of plants and animals rather than solar cycles or dates, and the seasons therefore can be longer or shorter. More importantly, the Noongar were guided by them, as they provided crucial clues and information for when to substainably hunt, gather and take care of country. Blue Leschenaultia (Leschenaultia biloba) Purple Flags (Patersonia occidentalis) When living in the forest we experienced the significance of the Noongar calendar, and realised how far city dwellers are removed from the natural world. Throughout the years I have mentioned and used the names of the Noongar seasons in several posts, but realised they were never explained within their context (courtesy South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council): Birak (Dec-Jan) – Dry and hot – Season of the Young Bunuru (Feb-Mar) …
Last Saturday we battened down the hatches when a severe cold front hit Perth like a freight train, carrying destructive winds and dumping copious amounts of rain. No chance to go out on the trails, but excitement of things to come instead. Those early winter rains are essential for all future life, as this time of the year is called Makuru or the season of fertility in the Noongar calendar. This is the time of the year for birds to pair for preparation of breeding, like the Black Swan or Mali, and also the time for the first wildflowers, as the Pinheath (Styphelia tenuiflora), to emerge.
The Swamp Paperbark (Melaleuca rhaphiophylla), also known as tea tree or Yowarl, is a common appearance near rivers, lakes and salt marshes in the south west of Western Australia. Its name refers to the paper-like bark, and the long flaky strips were used by aboriginal people as roofing for shelters, carrying of water, cooking, medicinal purposes and smoking ceremonies. Most paperbark trees grow in flooded areas, providing the perfect refuge for the many water birds that share its habitat.
“Moreover the purchasers of plants will often be able, by a reference to this sketch, to ascertain, by the names under which Swan River plants are offered for sale, whether particular species are worth possession, either for the sake of their beauty or singularity” – John Lindley, A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan River Colony Even when the forest is eerily quiet, when not a single sound can be heard, in the Australian bush there’s always something new and interesting to discover, no matter how small. On a recent walk I found those beautifully red hairy jugflowers (Adenanthos barbiger), a species of the Proteaceae family endemic to south-west Western Australia. Apart from the esthetic aspects, I often find the botanical history of flowers and plants equally interesting, as it reflects the amazement of the early botanists and explorers when new species were discovered – species that now have become so common and sometimes even unremarkable to us. The hairy jugflower was first described by John Lindley in A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan Colony. …
Visiting some of our favorite Australian National Parks is not always easy as many of them are located in the northern part of the continent. Distance is not the major obstacle, as traveling just costs time and petrol, however, it is the climate that makes things complicated. In summer the tropical regions can be unbearable hot with temperatures exceeding 40°C, while the cyclones and heavy rainfall of the so-called ‘wet’ season hinder access to many areas. Unfortunately our leave is mostly taken during summer holidays with the result that many wild places are still on our bucket list. This is exactly why we’re so excited that finally we’re heading up north this July, to visit Karijini National Park in the Pilbara region of Western Australia; an outback adventure we have been dreaming about for many years! The Tall Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus) we spotted around the Shark Bay area late last year will definitely be one of many attractions, as this magnificent wildflower is a true icon of the outback.
The Stirling Range National Park is a biodiversity hotspot with a dazzling array of wildflowers. Although most of the area’s iconic species flower in spring, there is not a single season when the landscape is not alive with colours, textures and shapes. A few walks or climbs on and around the numerous peaks unveil a true botanical treasure – as long as you’re able to focus on the little things instead of getting lost in Koikyenunuruff’s lovely vistas. The plants that populate the Stirling Range make it a special place, however, especially the rare montane heath and thicket is under serious threat: Phytophtora dieback disease, intense and frequent fires, climate change, as well as browsing by animals such as quokka’s (Setonix brachyurus), mardo’s (Antechinus flavipes) and quenda‘s (Isodoon obesulus) has led to severe population declines. Protective fencing for highly threatened species in order to allow regrowth has shown promising results – so don’t be surprised to find those fencing structures on top of Bluff Knoll!
The Candlestick or slender Banksia (Banksia attenuata) – also known by its Nyungar name Piara – is the most widely distributed western Banksia. It occurs on sandy soils from Cape Leeuwin to Fitzgerald National Park in the south-west of Western Australia and as far as the Murchison River and Kalbarri National Park to the north. In the latter we encountered numerous small shrubs with early budding, almost green spikes that slowly develop into bright yellow during anthesis – ready to attract insects, birds and mammals for pollination.
Each time I go out for a bush walk this time of the year I wonder which treasures nature keeps in store for us to discover. Because of the warm spring weather many plants and animals undergo a transformation; the flowering of the Moodjar or Christmas Tree indicates that hot weather is already underway, but before the season of Birak brings the wildflower season to an end the incredibly beautiful Myrtle flowers show off their purple splendour. And although both the Graceful and Rough Honeymyrtle (Melaleuca radula and Melaleuca parviceps) are most common it is the ostentatious Pink Flowered Myrtle or Kudjid (Hypocalymma angustifolium) that steals the show.
The Granite Petrophile (Petrophile biloba) is endemic to the south-west of Western Australia and mainly grows on the granite overlaying soils of the Darling Scarp. It is generally unremarkable, but when this shrub starts flowering in spring it displays pink, grey, white and yellow flowers arranged in a seemingly chaotic order only seen in works of Jackson Pollock – a cacophony of colours, shapes and textures that draws you in when engaging with it long enough.
The last few weeks have been a real wildflower carnival. With warm weather and still decent rainfall we have been watching a parade of colours and shapes unfold up in the hills. Although the participants in this parade try to outshine each other in the quest for pollinators, the striking Sea Urchin Hakea (Hakea petiolaris) is one of my favourites. This early flowering tree is mainly found around the granite outcrops where it benefits from increased moisture and shade, and because of its stem-flowering or ‘cauliflory’ habit, it is thought that the Sea Urchin Hakea is a relict of an earlier, wetter and more forested habitat.
The season of adolescence or Bunuru is well underway – the days are still hot with temperatures in the mid-thirties, warm easterly winds and little or no rain. Bunuru is also the season of flowering gums, and the Marri trees (Corymbia calophylla) surrounding our tree hut are in full bloom now – a truly spectacular sight!
When French naturalist Jacques Labillardière visited New Holland (Australia) in 1792 under the command of Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, the foundations were laid for what became the most extensive collection of Australian flora of its day and age. Especially his collections from southwest Australia produced numerous new species amongst which the ones from the genus of Anigozanthos, better known as Kangaroo Paws. His discoveries are described in the Novae Hollandiae Plantarum Specimen, a masterpiece of botanical science and art. I clearly remember my own amazement when I first saw those wonderful plants with their tubular flowers, dense hairs and claw-like structures. No wonder the State Government named the striking Red and Green Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii) as WA’s floral emblem in 1960, after which it was incorporated in the State Coat of Arms. Although this species is the best known and most famous of all Kangaroo Paws, the tall Evergreen Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos flavidus) and the much smaller Cat’s Paw (Anigozanthos humilis) are equally remarkable and spectacular.
The Australian Christmas Tree (Nuytsia floribunda) or Moodjar is not exactly known for its lights or baubles, but for its spectacular display of golden flowers that appear in Birak or the ‘yellow season’. The succulent roots, nectar-rich flowers and nutritious sweet gum of the world’s largest mistletoe are prized by the Nyungar, however, as the tree is thought to be inhabited by the spirits of dead people it is better left alone when not in bloom. So we are lucky to have another kind of Christmas tree around our place – and therefore would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas while it’s in full glory!
Only one look at the flowering spike of the Bull Banksia (Banksia grandis) and you know why the Nyoongar season of Birak was sometimes called the ‘yellow season’. During the hot and dry summer months these Poolgarla spikes where collected for their nectar – either sucked directly from the flower or steeped into water to produce a sweet drink called mangite or mungitch. An account from famous botanist John Drummond (1839) states that ‘the natives, men, women and children live for five to six weeks particularly upon the honey which they suck from the flowers of this fine tree’. In the Diary of George Fletcher Moore (1884) the production of mangite was described as ‘this was done by lining a hole in the ground with paper-bark, filling it with the spikes, and then covering these with water and leaving them to soak’. Consumption of this slightly fermented drink in large quantities could eventually lead to intoxication – a possible explanation why during Birak there would be large gatherings of Nyoongar people participating in mangite drinking parties. On a walk through …
The season of Birak has started. Sometimes it’s called the first summer, characterised by easing rains, warm easterly winds and increasingly hot weather. The dry conditions transform the surrounding landscape – most wildflowers slowly wilt while certain trees as Banksia, Balga and Mudja are in full bloom. One of the smaller flowers showing its beautiful colours at the moment is the Rose-tipped Mulla Mulla or Pom Pom (Ptilotus manglesii) – easily found on the pea-gravelled paths of nearby Beelu National Park this fluffy flower is certainly one of my smaller highlights this time of the year.
Out of all plants the Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) is probably Australia’s most significant bush tucker. It was widely recognised as a source of food and medicine by Aborigines while the aromatic wood was used in their smoking ceremonies. Given the fact that it has adapted extremely well to the arid conditions of the country’s interior the Quandong has often been referred to as ‘Jewel of the Desert’ or ‘Desert Peach’ – one of the plant’s remarkable features is that it is semi-parasitic, with its roots cheekily attached to neighbouring plants for moisture and nutrition in order to survive. The ripe red fruit was a staple food for Aborigines and would be consumed raw or dried for later use – dried Quandongs can be perfectly reconstituted in water years later! The inside of the succulent fruit contains an edible oil-rich kernel with many uses such as skin moisturiser, ointment or ornamental bead. The best place to look for them is underneath the trees – but as emus are particularly fond of the sour tasting fruit the undigested …