No other plant is more closely linked to Australia than the Banksia (Proteaceae). As the different species flower almost sequential in the south-western part of the continent they are most reliable suppliers of nectar and therefore a vital part of nature’s food chain. Unlike many Banksia the Honeypot Dryandara (Banksia nivea) or Bulgalla is a grounddweller, and the striking flowers make bees, honeyeaters and even Pygmy Possums stop for its sweet treasures.
As soon as the cold, wet and stormy winter weather gives way to an increasing number of clear and warm days, we know the so-called season of conception or Djilba has arrived. This transitional stage that started a few weeks back is always accompanied by the emergence of wildflowers; rather hesitant at first with some yellow acacias, soon followed by more spectacular displays in the most striking colours of red, blue and purple. Although there is an abundance of wildflowers with different colours and shapes to be discovered, orchids spark one’s imagination most. With around 25,000 species orchids form one of the three largest groups of flowering plants in the world; in Western Australia alone more then 400 species – 413 to be precise – have been identified so far. Scientific recording started as soon as the HMS Discovery anchored in King George Sound in 1791, and the ship’s naturalist Archibald Menzies collected the first three species. For the local Noongar people orchids provided an important food source, as the starchy roots were roasted in hot ashes …
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.
“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. …
We’re into May already and well into the season of Djeran, with cool nights, dewy mornings and pleasant daytime temperatures. The colours around us slowly start to shift from predominantly browns to greens, and that feel will remain until at least the end of September. These conditions make spending time in the bush rather pleasant, and therefore I have been out regularly in the last month. Last week’s highlight was this inquisitive and frantically foraging Bandicoot or Quenda. With its brownish color it was fairly neutral against the leaf litter, so I desaturated the picture to remove color and increased the blacks for a contrasting fur and snout.
The Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) might be Australia’s most widespread native pigeon, it might also one be the country’s most beautiful. This stocky bird is rather cautious and seldom allows a close approach, but its deep and penetrating “oom-like” call always gives away its location – and with some tact and patience those birds guarantee excellent photos when the greens and browns beautifully blend with the shadows of dusk.
When in the Australian bush, most people have visions of marsupials and reptiles in their mind. Understandable, however, the feathered inhabitants of our reserves and parks often get overlooked, and this is a pity regarding the fact that their number and diversity are far greater than those of mammals and reptiles combined; and with around 150 different species there is an impressive number to tick off! The biggest and noisiest birds are fairly easy to spot and identify, however, the majority of birds are small, move around rapidly and are hard to see and recognise. This certainly goes for the splendid fairy-wren; not so much for the blue males in full breeding plumage, but for the plainer, brown-coloured females and non-breeding males. Add the fact that five different species live alongside each other in our local bushland and you’ll get an idea about how complicated identification can be. When several species are around in an area, useful clues can be given by the colour and plumage of accompanying males or the repertoire of songs. However, out …
Most people who escape to the wild hail from urban settings, eluding traffic jams, office jobs and all trivial temptations generally on offer in a city. I’m afraid we have done it the other way around, as last January we moved ‘downhill’ into the Perth Metropolitan area. Although still relatively close to the immense natural beauty this vast state has to offer, the constant immersion in Australian bush and wildlife has ended now we swapped our beloved ‘Tree Hut’ for an ordinary suburban dwelling. No more morning or evening walks in the adjacent National Park, or regular visits from residential King Skinks or Brush-Tail Possums, but leisurely strolls in nearby Kings Park or along the foreshore of the Swan estuary – still pleasant, yet a vague reminder of the ‘true’ nature that once surrounded us. As a result I now feel as a visitor to the places that once felt as a part of me. Nevertheless, my everyday surroundings might have changed, the wildlife that used to be so nearby is still there! And how …
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!
As in John Paul Young’s classic song, the bright cobalt blue of this male Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus spendens) indicates that ‘love is in every sight and sound’ at this stage of summer. Many birds are in full breeding plumage now, but none of them is so striking as the one that has been voted Australia’s Favourite Bird in Birdlife Australia. The males have their groove on and are frantically drawing the attention of the dull-brown coloured females, and although pairs bond for life and are seemingly monogamous their sexual appetite is in overdrive – those birds don’t shy back from adventures with multiple partners while they sometimes even raise the young from those affairs. Soap opera in the wild!
Summer has really started with temperatures soaring to a record high of 44.4°C a few days ago. The bad news about those extreme conditions is that bush fires are an almost common feature this time of the year – and we already had some eerily close. Apart from their beneficial effect on the germination of native plants, uncontrolled fires can be devastating for men, property and wildlife. While taking some pictures of blooming Christmas Trees a few weeks ago I noticed a raptor cruising the high skies while using the early afternoon thermal currents. Excited as a young kid I started to look for its perch, and to my big surprise I managed to locate the nest about 300 metres from where I first noticed the bird! According to the distinctive high-pitched call there was no doubt I had found the hide-out of a family of Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus), a medium-sized raptor found throughout Australia and New Guinea. Mum and dad perched on the high branches of a tall Marri tree, but my discovery held …
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!