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!

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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 .

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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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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!

Magnolia grandiflora LEAVES!

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

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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:

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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?

A desktop with a purpose

It’s the little things that can make a lasting difference.

I find one of these little things is having a customized desktop background displayed that reminds you of the good things, the happy moments. In between all the clickings and clackings it gives me a moment of my own space, of peace and quiet.

Naturally, most of the pictures on my desktop are from the outdoors, of plants mainly, and a few landscapes. Looking at them brings me back to the place where I took the picture. That’s important – not that it is a great picture (even though I am proud of my good shots), but for the picture to work I have to associate a place and experience with it.

But enough words. Allow me to share a particularly vibrant image with you: that of a bright yellow plant flowering in the courtyard of the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Bon voyage (wherever your thoughts may take you)!

Bright and yellow at the National Museum of Cambodia
Bright and yellow at the National Museum of Cambodia

 

Entering Terra Australis

It’s been a while – this must be one of the most frequently written sentences on blogs.

The reasons in my case being several: relocation to the other end of the world, down under that is, new job (again not related to biology or plants), and a major confusion about the surrounding flora.

Beautiful and bizarre as they may be, not seeing Asteracea come out in autumn and leaves fall in winter has been extremely confusing.

Indeed, winter here (Sydney) means that most of the plants have not shed their foliage. Only a few park- and street-planted trees showed the familiar fall colors. But for the rest: green and lush as ever – and what’s more: some of them even flowering!

In ignorance of names, here are a few of the pictures taken now two weekends ago on the scenic coastal walk from Spit Bridge to Manly.

Photo Friday – how wonderful!

There’s the institutional FollowFriday the jolly FunFriday and only today I found out about PhotoFriday. It goes without saying that PhotoFriday here is all about plants, and because it rhymes about flowers.

Today’s picture was taken on Wednesday in the Chelsea Physic Garden. The Monocots construction site has now given way to the Jamaican beds (more on this later). And in the middle of that there is this truly wonderful Mirabilis:

Mirabilis jalapa 'Buttermilk'
Mirabilis jalapa 'Buttermilk'

So far so good. Only that the picture above had to change! Because it was utterly wrong and complete nonsense to display a hibiscus variety – even nameless, bought at some Covent Garden flower shop – in lieu of the true Mirabilis.
MEA CULPA! Shame on me and please forgive me, dear reader, for this glitch.

More than simply pretty to look at M. jalapa seems to show useful – “peculiar” as Peng and co-authors describe it – tolerance to petroleum (and other) soil contaminations. It may therefore be a wonderful candidate for phytoremediation.

Spring is in the air!

White blossoms in early spring evening light
White blossoms in early spring evening light

Every spring when the air starts smelling of new leaves and life, and lungs and heart open to the new spring smell, I remember my friend Sonja cycling next to me over the Theodor-Heuss-Brücke in Heidelberg reciting the one and only spring poem with a clear and strong voice:

 

Er ist’s

    von Eduard Mörike

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!

Magnolia flowers against blue spring sky
Magnolia flowers against blue spring sky

Untranslatable as it is, this translation by Walter A. Aue gives you the right idea:

It’s Him!

Spring displays His ribbon blue
fluttering through air’s expanses,
sweet aromas over fences
touch with hope the lands anew.
Violet still dreams,
dreams of soon appearing.
Hark! the sounds of distant harps, it seems!
Yes, my Spring, it’s You!
You I have been hearing!

 

Spring captivates all your senses: hearing, smelling, seeing, tasting, feeling – yes, the air even feels different.
And by far not always fragile as the first flowers appear, but startling and strong.
Spring – my favourite season!

Forsythia in morning glow
Forsythia in morning glow

Clematis – an early spring surprise

It may be mid-March by now, but temperature-wise it still feels like frosty February. While some of the usual early flowering plants can be spotted: cyclamen, hellebores, snow drops and the first daffodils – not much else is flowering yet.

To my surprise, also some clematis are already in flower. Excuse my ignorance, but I have (so far) associated clematis with late summer showy sheets of flowers. But there really are clematis varieties for every months of the year.

Peeking over the garden fence is our neighbour’s clematis, a Clematis cirrhosa Wisley Cream with cream-coloured noddy flower bells (which btw caused quite a challenge taking a sharp picture of).

Clematis cirrhosa (courtesy of our neighbour)
Clematis cirrhosa (courtesy of our neighbour)

It may well be that this clematis is in fact neither a Wisley Cream variety nor a cirrhosa in the first place. I shall find out more. But whatever Clematis it is, it has climbed up onto a 2 meter high tree and produced a considerate “pile” of twigs and flowers on top of it.

Clematis cirrhosa tower
Clematis cirrhosa tower

These little clematis bells are pretty, even more so in spring, but there are by far more showy and beautiful varieties. This clematis lover’s blog will introduce you to some truly spectacular varieties.

In terms of its climbing mechanism the clematis belongs to the lianas. Lianas are woody climbers that have special climbing organs called tendrils. Tendrils can be derived from modified shoots, leaves, or auxiliary branches and twine around whatever structure they touch for support and attachment.

Tendrils can be found in many plant families and are not a taxonomic characteristic. Apart from clematis (Ranunculaceae), also peas, passion flowers, wine and pitcher plants have tendrils.

By the way, one of the earliest and most comprehensive studies of tendrils was published by Charles Darwin in 1865. His monograph “On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants” can be read online and downloaded for free within the context of the Project Gutenberg.