Sydney wildflowers – a walk amongst locals in spring

I love spring. It is my favourite season. An explosion of life, colours, smells and light. Every year it is a relief to finally feel spring in the air!

In Sydney, things are a little different. Most plants are evergreen and we get spoilt with many warm winter days. Yet spring doesn’t really happen until the blooming festival of wildflowers in the local forests herald its arrival.

∼ Er ist’s ∼

Frühling läßt sein blaues Band
Wieder flattern durch die Lüfte;
Süße, wohlbekannte Düfte
Streifen ahnungsvoll das Land.
Veilchen träumen schon,
Wollen balde kommen.
– Horch, von fern ein leiser Harfenton!
Frühling, ja du bist’s!
Dich hab ich vernommen!

Eduard Mörike (1804 – 1875)

The sweet, familiar scents of spring! In the days when waratahs and other wildflowers were abundant in Sydney’s forests, the spring aromas wafted to sea in such dense clouds that sailors reported smelling the wildflowers many miles away, so I heard from a National Parks Ranger.

In our times of a disappearing natural world, fewer wildflowers remain. Yet, fortunately, those who are left can be found not far from Sydney’s suburbs. On a little stroll around the Perimeter Walk near Terry Hills there were yolky Dillwynia yellows, cool Dampiera blues, and many different wattles out basking in the afternoon sun. A symphony of smells, a tapestry of colour! I hope you enjoy the photos – I certainly enjoyed taking them.

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Dillwynia spec. – yummy yellow and a beautiful red zigzag crown

If I had taken my Les Robinson Field Guide to the Native Plants of Sydney I would have known to better pay attention to the LEAVES of Dillwynias. Their shape and arrangement can give the final species clue. It’s hard to tell from this picture how exactly the leaves are arranged. It was quite a tall shrub, at least 1.5 meters; and (as you can see) abundant with yummy Eggs and Bacon flowers!

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Red spider flower – Grevillea speciosa

The red spider flower – one of my favourites. Yes, I have plenty of favourites ;-). I’d like for a crafty jeweler to make brilliant red replica earrings , please!

grevillea-buxifolia-ssp-buxifolia

Grey spider flower – Grevillea buxifolia ssp. buxifolia

So pretty, yet so hairy! A true local, the grey spider flower’s native range is restricted to sandstone soils in the Sydney region.

grevillea-linearifolia
White spider flower – Grevillea linearifolia

As all good things, Grevilleas came in threes.

Also in threes, but (even) more difficult to classify than the different Grevilleas were the wattles.

wattle-cropped
Acacia ulicifolia – aka Prickly Moses (I think)

Les Robinson describes those Acacia species with with leathery dry leaves (or rather “phyllodes” as they are morphologically speaking not true leaves) as “easy to classify”. Well, I disagree! To me, there are still too many look-alikes .

yellow-acacia
So many tiny flowers on this cylindrical inflorescence!
wattle-sky
The skies were yellow with wattle flowers

As promised, a cool blue Dampiera:

dampiera
Dampiera stricta

So blue! No wonder the dainty flowers caught William Dampier’s attention when visiting Australia’s west coast in the 17th century. Dampiera species are more abundant along Australia’s western coast, but there are three species listed in Les Robinson to occur in Sydney as well.

Finally, some pics from two members of the Rutaceae. They contain some beautifully showy wildflowers:

eriostemon
Eriostemon australasius with visiting bee
eriostemon-close-up
 Eriostemon australasius close-up
boronia
Now this is pink! A beautiful Boronia with flowers galore! 

The plant guide – “bible” as I have heard it often being referred to – I used to prepare this post is Les Robinsons’s Field guide to the native plants of Sydney in its revised 3rd edition published by Kangaroo Press.

I also used this illustrated PDF guide http://www.marklucock.com/Wildflower_pdf_document_V1.pdf  and this website http://www.waratahsoftware.com.au/wpr-flora-lanecove.shtml

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White is for freshly stripped bark

The suburbs have turned into a catwalk of trees showing off their new costumes. It’s a transformation made for summer: Shedding the old tight winter bark to reveal a fresh new skin. Stripped free from their old overcoat, tree trunks shine like porcelain polished in anticipation of important dinner guests.

A pair of North Shore Eucalypts
Showing off the new skin – a pair of North Shore Eucalypts (E. saligna possibly?)

The old bark crunches in protest, curling and twisting on hot pavements. It cuts into soft soles. Some skin remains resilient and holds on to creases and crevices.

A little patch of skin holds onto this magnificent Eucalypt
A little patch of skin holds onto this magnificent Eucalypt

Like a make-up artist softly blurring harsh surfaces some trunks are touched up with a patina of powder.

Eucalyptus branch finely dusted
Eucalyptus branch finely dusted

Twist your heads, look up! Suburban sidewalks are turned into catwalks, forests into fields of fashion. Thrown down grey barks for a white celebration of summer.

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!

Cups of colour

This morning on my training ride I was reminded of (yet another) new group of beautiful trees I only recently discovered: the Kurrajongs. Well, they are hard to miss when in full bloom and I certainly remember seeing them two years ago, when arriving in Australia.

Brachychiton bidwillii at the Mount Annan Botanical Gardens
Brachychiton bidwillii at the Mount Annan Botanical Gardens

It might be heightened awareness or so I like to believe, but this year they stood out even more. Whilst the bloom of the unmissable Illawara flame trees has come to its end, other Brachychitons are still going.

Like the one this morning. A tall tree, amongst the ash green canopy of Ball’s Head Reserve, a pastel pink crown barren of leaves.

There is no time to stop and look at plants during a training ride.

Brachychiton discolor flower cups
Brachychiton discolor flower cup

From the absence of leaves, its habit and the cups of flowers scattered on the ground I take it to be a Brachychiton discolor.

A beautiful specimen of this tree grows in the Sydney Botanical Garden not far from the Tropical Centre.

Brachychiton discolor flower cup detail
Brachychiton discolor flower cup detail

Less striking in colour than B. acerifolium or B. bidwillii the flower cups are of an elegant pastel pink.

The shape is most remarkable: pretty, firm bells that look as if cast into shape with a rough finish and remnants of plaster dried on the outside.

Wikipedia claims there are separate male and female flowers. The dozens of flowers I examined however looked exactly the same…are they on separate trees, or flowering at different time?

The Great Confusion: Australian Plants

It has been over a year now that I made the big move to Terra Australis Incognita. Unfortunately, I feel no wiser since, in particular with respect to many of the native plants.

Having learnt to weed out Tradescantia and Ehrharta in bushcare sessions at the local reserve, the staggering wealth of native plants (apparently more in the Sydney region alone and in the UK altogether (source: info plate in Botanical Garden Sydney) still remains rather concealed to me. Confused by all the gum trees, wattles and grasses, my knowledge of the greenery around me is pitiable.

Fortunately, there’s an app course for it. Provided by the Lane Cove Council (for example, sure other councils would offer similar ones) it comes in form of a 4-hour workshop. Lead by experienced bushcarers and accompanied by excellent course material, both common native plants and notorious weeds, probably even more common in the end, are covered in botanical detail.

It is by no means a gardening workshop, even though a few tips and tricks on how to grow natives (or kill the weeds) are included.

From theory and singular plant specimen to practice and the bush. Meaning not just one plant exhibiting identification characteristics beautifully, but all of them – good and bad, or easily confused ones – at once.

That’s where it got tough again. And where successfully identifying a Commelina cyanea from a Tradescantia fluminensis feels like an achievement.

Commelina cyanea (image by MargaretsFamily on flickr)
Commelina cyanea (image by MargaretsFamily on flickr)
Tradescantia fluminensis (image by Mollivan Jon on flickr)
Tradescantia fluminensis (image by Mollivan Jon on flickr)

The native plant and week identification course is a great start or refresher and provides a lot of help (workbooks and brochures) and encouragement to go out again and open one’s eyes to the beautiful Australian flora.

For upcoming workshops, check the Lane Cove Council website or the North Sydney Council Bushcare Calendar.