Autumn flowers of Muogamarra Nature Reserve

It is not often that one gets the opportunity to visit what has to be one of the most beautiful and historically significant nature reserves in the Sydney area: Muogamarra. Because of its significance and fragility it is closed to the public for most of the year, except for six weeks in spring and a few ranger-lead walks throughout the year. One of which I had the privilege to attend last Saturday (18 April).

Despite forecasts of scattered showers the morning sky boasted a nearly cloudless autumn blue. Approximately 15 fellow walkers had come up to the Reserve to follow National Parks volunteer Peter on a walk through the history of the site.

Admittedly, I had booked the walk mainly to get a glimpse of the Reserve’s autumn flora and immerse myself into the surroundings of a place whose natural beauty had blown me away on a previous visit. Others had their own agenda, too. Several Ingress players used the occasion to unlock otherwise inaccessible treasures and badges. Their GPS pings mixed with bird calls as we walked via historic huts and relict rock carvings to J D Tipper’s lookout.

I was fortunate to find a few very knowledgeable plant people amongst the other walkers. Soon were were discussing family features, plant identification tips & tricks, potentially introduced species (e.g. the Gymea Lily), and pointing out wildflowers and fungi (lots of them out after the recent rains!) along the way.

Time to share some of the successfully identified gems (thanks to Les Robinson’s field guide or pure knowledge of other walkers) we spotted:

Philotheca salsolifolia

Philotheca salsolifolia “You shouldn’t be flowering!” exclaimed the ranger upon spotting this Philotheca salsolifolia in front of a scribbly gum tree. Their usual flowering time is later in the year (July/August).

Allocasuarina distyla

Allocasuarina distyla with colour-matching bug.

Acacia oxycedrus

Acacia oxycedrus. The spiky leaves were not enough of a deterrent for a leaf-curling spider to set up its web.

The woody pear, Xylomelum pyriforme

The woody pear, Xylomelum pyriforme, is one of my favourite native plants. Not just for its awesome fruit, but also the pretty glossy leaves with their radiant yellow veins.

Scaevola ramosissima

Scaevola ramosissima. Ramosissima means “much branched” and obviously refers to the leaves. With their fine hairs they reminded me of sundews. But that’s just me – the two have little in common.

Petrophile pulchella

Petrophile pulchella. I feel I owe the genus Petrophile an apology – up until this walk I had referred to them as Isopogon. Yet they are distinguished by their egg-shaped rather than round cones.

Leptospermum squarrosum

        Leptospermum squarrosum – detail of a 2m tall shrub with plenty of pink flowers and round fruit.

Angophora bispida

Angophora bispida. Some of the empty old gumnuts were visited by wasps, maybe to set up a nest? Unfortunately I didn’t manage to capture it on camera.

Hakea gibbosa

Hakea gibbosa. Whole plant view. Les Robinson describes it as a “grotesque, prickly shrub” whose “new stem and leaves are densely covered with loose, white hairs, giving the plant a frosty look”. I could certainly see it standing in front of the tree and I think the upper part of the plant also shows is in this picture.

Hakea gibbosa fruit detail

Hakea gibbosa. Fruit detail. Gibbosa means “having a short, blunt spur or beak”. Yep.

Mushroom

Last, but not least, an unidentified mushroom. With its delicate robe it upstaged all wildflowers. Yet nobody could identify it. Does anybody know what kind of mushroom it is?

The above is but a small selection of plants and fungi we saw on the walk. It was a short walk of approximately 6 kilometers, but with frequent stops and chats it took almost four hours. Yet time passes quickly in such a rich environment. Personally, I can’t wait to be back at Muogamarra come springtime!

Spider spectacular!

It was a jam-packed weekend of activities in the Garden: The tomato festival invited to visit stalls, tomato tastings, plant & produce sales on the Band Lawn, plenty of kids explored Disney’s Fairy Trail, and for the romantically minded there was a massive red heart painted on the lawn in front of the tropical pyramid inviting lovers to showcase their best Valentine’ Day snaps on https://twitter.com/hashtag/GrassyHeart?src=hash

In the hustle and bustle the information booth served as an island of shade, a corner of quietness almost, only a few steps away from the main path and red train line.

Plus, it had its very own attractions: Not just one, two beautiful (and rather big – well, medium size for Australian standards) spiders were showing off there webs in the bed right in front of the booth, spun between palm and ponytail plant, in perfect height for viewing and photographing.

One was a golden orb weaving spider. One of the smaller specimens I have seen in the garden. Nonetheless, she was surrounded by several little spiders, males presumably who are trying to get lucky – and not eaten.

Not counting the long legs, orb weaving spiders can grow several centimeter big, with large (dependent on species grey or differently coloured) bodies. And yet they maintain a lightness as they elegantly sit in their webs. It seems they barely touch it, only holding on to it with the very tips of their legs.

It is certainly golden orb weaver season – their 3D web mastery is on display everywhere in the garden! Their webs are set up in bushes and trees, often overhead.

The webs glisten in the sun – make sure to look at the webs, especially the stronger (outside) threads from different angles until you can see its golden shine. You might even want to feel the strength and elasticity of the thread by carefully pulling on it. But be careful, the last time I slightly plucked on one of the outer threads the (understandably angry) spider came running towards me. Apparently they are unknown to bite, but better not to provoke her…

Web Repair

What a beautiful photo! View the original on Flicker: https://flic.kr/p/8UZJQN

The second spider on display at the information booth was a St. Andrew’s Cross spider. The web lacks the structural complexity of the golden web orb weaver’s but makes up for it by its distinct zigzag markings.

St Andrews Cross
Another great pic shared on Flickr – check it out on https://flic.kr/p/2gTyiZ

Like the spider in the picture above, the one at the booth has only one zigzag feature. I can’t wait to see whether more “ladders” will be added over time.

The two spiders at the information booth are hard to miss. In fact they seemed to attract almost more attention than the booth itself! People stopped to take photos or to ask what kind of spiders they were. Some tourists hoped they’d be the famously dangerous funnel web spiders and they could finally have a closer look (after being warned Sydney would be teaming of them, yet (luckily) they tend to stay below the surface).

There are of course other many other types of spiders in the garden.

Garden spiders, though mostly absent during the day have set up their large webs. And the clivias lining the borders of the Palm Grove beds are known hang-out spots for net-casting spiders. Unlike spiders with big webs net-casting spiders make small (tiny!) webs i.e. “nets” that they hold between their front legs. Neither the nets nor the actual spiders who resemble a dried wood chip or a little twig are easy to spot, but it’s worth looking for these intriguing little animals.

Net-casting spider

 This photo is taken at the other side of the world, in Costa Rica, but the little fellow looks very similar to the ones you can spot in the Garden in Sydney. Look at the original photo here: https://flic.kr/p/bnc2pd 

Not only did I have the pleasure to look at the spiders and people taking interest in those spiders from the information booth, I was also lucky to discover a copy of the Green Guide: Spiders of Australia. An enjoyable and nicely illustrated booklet that fits in your pocket as you set out to explore the spiderful world. Enjoy!

Thoughts worth sharing – Peter Cundall

Since coming to Australia four years ago I have watched a few Gardening Australia episodes and even spotted some of the presenters in the Sydney Botanic Garden. Unfortunately, I missed Peter Cundall presenting the iconic program and have only read about him instead of seeing him in action on TV.

This comment of his was posted by 702 ABC Sydney today on Facebook and brought a big smile to my face:

Peter Cundall - a thought worth sharing

A thought worth sharing me thinks :-)  I hope you enjoy it.

#ThoughtsWorthSharing

Diary of a brush turkey

It was about three weeks ago when the brush turkey first appeared outside of our apartment block. He tentatively scratched the ground picking up a grub here and there, his low-hanging yellow wattle swollen with new house owner pride. The next day he was back to create and properly move into “number 31” of our block. His yellow wattle busily swayed from side to side as he set to scraping up grass, leaves, mulch and twigs from the lawns and bordering beds into what soon became a very decent nesting mound, towering higher than our community garden’s compost pile (which by the way took us much longer to erect!). During the initial days of building he never seemed to leave the nest for longer than a few minutes. When busy in a corner further away he regularly interrupted his scraping to sprint to the nest – to check everything was ok? – and quickly to return to further scraping, and the same over and over again. His Strava stats would have been impressive.

His nest is an impressive site of roughly three by one meter located in the shade of two old paperbark trees. What may sound like a secluded setting away from the traffic and curious onlookers is right next to the footpath, separated only by a fence.

The initial (small) pile

The initial (small) pile

After the initial mound was established he slowed down his work – which was in favour of the nearby clivias whose roots took a bit of a beating. He also went to another bed that is separated by a footpath only to empty its soil onto the footpath. Good he has us working for him and cleaning up his mess. Brush turkeys are protected animals so hefty fines apply if we’d harm him. Also, they are apparently very difficult to persuade to give up their mounds or move their nest elsewhere once they have started building it – so best to just live with and manage him.

Judging by his big wattle he is an older bird and seems to know exactly what he is doing. So managing him means we leave him to it and in the interest of the other 30 units manage the mess he occasionally leaves behind. The best time without unnecessarily disturbing him is in the early evenings once he has left the mound to roost up in a tree. We are yet to find his roosting tree(s) as he can’t be seen anywhere in the ones in the immediate vicinity. Occasionally during the day he flies up into the tree right above the nest, but it’s not where he spends the night.

His mound of course has not gone unnoticed and rumors of it attracting rats and snakes have already started circulating. Surely he’d be the last to want rats and snakes around to threaten the eggs. It seems his enemies might be more of human than animal nature as he guards the mound and makes sure it has the right temperature as its material is decomposing to incubate the eggs.

The impact of his mound maintenance and continuous scraping for new material on the surrounding beds cannot be denied and there is some damage: Clivia roots lie uncovered, a few of the tender young plants were uprooted and quite a bit of soil and leaf litter moved – it’s a big nest after all. However, as we’re not growing any prize vegetables all uncovered plants seem to be replaceable – at minimal costs, too, as the local council provides some native ground covers for free. At present the brush turkey’s fate is undecided as the strata committee is yet to decide what to do (or not). Is it a bad omen that my sign “Please don’t disturb the brush turkey nest” was thrown away?

The established brush turkey nest

The established brush turkey nest

Wish him luck that he may nest in peace. Especially because he has been visited by females and there are most certainly eggs in the mound!

The ladies generally turn up early in the morning. I have seen him “lead” a female to the mound. Other mornings he just stands on top of the nest waiting for them to turn up. There are usually one or two ladies who visit, one morning there were even three! Only one female at a time seems to be allowed to join him on the mound. What exactly happens then remains a mystery as it is exactly when I need to leave for work (bad timing indeed). The other day though I caught him and a female on the mound.

She was busy taking it apart, digging so deep that steam emerged from the deeper layers. ‘Surely she must be so close to actually laying an egg’ I thought and got the iPhone out…

I stood patiently and filmed for what seemed an eternity. It might have been me intruding on this moment but she appeared to be more interested in digging than laying an egg – a behaviour he didn’t seem to appreciate either. We since refer to her as the “the crazy female” (but maybe that’s just the way the ladies behave ;-) ?). Or maybe the other female parading the fence got her chance after all?

What happens in the mornings between Mr. & Mrs. Brush Turkey clearly remains family business, but let’s hope they were successful and we will soon have brush turkey chicks emerging from the nest.

Attempts of DIY gardening

It has been a few months now that I’ve tried myself at DIY gardening. In a very controlled manner of a 1 x 2 meter plot at the local community garden. Despite the small size there has been a lot of room for learning, some successes and many failures. What I lack in general knowledge of gardening I make up with spurts of activity (often at the wrong time with the wrong intentions it seems) and experimental aka freestyle gardening.

Some examples…

Trusting that the tomatoes that self-seed in our plot will be tasty ones
To the right of this (rather wild) plot are our equally wild tomatoes. They outgrew anything else in no time, promisingly showed off various green tomatoes. Each plant seemed to have a different shape: from mini cocktail tomatoes to big fleshy Roma-like tomatoes we had the whole lot united by one feature: that of no taste! Really, honestly, openly, they were organic and they were wild, but they tasted like nothing. Worse, some of them just rotted away, hosted wormies (maggots of some sort I guess?), in brief could not be eaten. End of our tomato harvest dreams.

Next year: no tomatoes

Wild tomatoes

Tomatoes gone wild

 

Throwing out chilli seeds at the wrong time
Really, I should have known better. Encourages by tales of lucky gardeners and the easy to grow stigma of chillies I set out to grow some myself in summer – possibly not the right time of year either. The result? Only few seedlings, all of them struggling…and the few that did emerge at all were then attacked by some chilli-leaf loving bug!

My sad chillies

My sad chillies

 

Mint really (over)grows in all conditions
There is a rule in the garden that you’re not allowed to grow mint in beds as it tends to overgrow everything else. Naughtily I thought I could just have a few twigs of fresh mint in my plot. I was given a mint (unspecified) for free, so how could I resist? The experiment worked, the mint has successfully outgrown the Nasturtium (!) and is spreading happily. Unfortunately, the mint I have doesn’t have the greatest flavour and the leaves are a bit hairy.

What I believe my (free) mint really is

What I believe my (free) mint really is

Time to demint at the next occasion, i.e. once I have decided what to plant instead.

 

Time for a plan!
No doubt this is my biggest learning. There is only so much harvest one lucky person can have from wild tomatoes, free mints, and sad chillies without leaves. So coming to the gardening game at the height of summer and without a clue (very much like the first settlers), as a first-year gardener I feel greener & keener than ever to make that plot work for me fulfilling all the promises of fresh herbs, lush lettuces and sweet berries. For this to happen I am preparing myself with a battery of books and sought advice from fellow (and successful) gardeners. May the seeds of carefully selected &  timely sown plants carry the sweet fruits of my ambition! In other words: wish me luck, I need it.

Magnolia grandiflora LEAVES!

It goes without saying that I love Magnolia grandiflora flowers – who doesn’t?

Image

And of course botanically it’s all about the flower. Despite it all, the discovery of the day (for me) today were the autumn (well spring) colours of fallen Magnolia grandiflora leaves. Unable to decide which ones to pick up and which ones to leave behind, I collected a whole bunch and played around arranging them. Take a look:

Image

Image

Image

Image

That “rare find” feeling

Today I am sitting at my desk wearing high heels. This is noteworthy, I usually only wear flats. For the simple reason that I cannot walk in high heels, not even the few meters from the car to the bar. So I need to wear them sitting down.

What’s special about the pair I’m wearing is that they are Gucci pumps, usually well out of my range but within budget thanks to a lucky find at Vinnies. Vinnies is my favourite shop because of those unexpected lucky and rare finds. Hunting for them is a big part of the pleasure shopping there. And on the rare occasions that you do make a good find, you love it even more.

I guess plant hunters must feel similar when they throw away the machete to kneel down and examine a rare species that’s not a common weed or abundant everywhere else. In fact, I already feel a little bit of a thrill when I come across a rare species in the garden. It’s a privileged “wow” feeling of looking at a plant that grows right in front of me while I know that it grows hardly anywhere else. It’s sad, too. Most of the rare plants are at the same time threatened in the wild. There is an entire “Rare and Threatened Plants Garden” in the Sydney Botanical Gardens highlighting this issue.

Rare plants can be spotted everywhere in the Botanical Gardens though. The other day I came across the palm Pritchardia maideniana
planted not far from the Tropical Centre.

Rare Palm

It is a species that was formally described in 1913 from two mature plants here in the Garden. To this date, however, nobody has found it in the wild. It’s a garden-only plant! Whilst there are still corners of this earth to be discovered and species to be described, chances of it being found in the wild are slim.

In the meantime Pritchardia maideniana has been propagated and shared with other Botanical Gardens. This is comforting. At the same time it underlines the importance of Botanical Gardens in conservation. It also leaves a feeling of pride to be part of an organisation that enables rare plants to live, grow and even spread.