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!

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.

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?