Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bushfire Recovery

Drove up to Kinglake a couple of weeks ago, via the Hurstbridge Road.  I took a few shots at points where you can pull over, and then remembered that in April 2009, two months after the fires, I had taken some shots from similar vantage points.

The before and afters are what you would expect -  blackened bushland that regenerates after a natural disturbance which although in that case was tragic for the people who were caught up in it, is necessary for recruitment and regeneration in some bushland communities.

The photos show the bush just after the fires and now, and perfectly illustrate this process.

I wonder though with climate change, if we are in for extended drought again, will we keep getting such natural recovery?

Just after the fires:

And now:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Snake Orchids

Why would you burden a beautiful little flower that graces some of Victoria’s natural areas with sunshiney, lemony, spring-greeting flowers late in September or early in October, with the name “Snake Orchid”? 
This is what has happened to Diuris chryseopsis, also known by the much nicer name of “Golden Moths”. 

 I’ve wondered why the "Snake Orchid" appellation for years, and it only came to me this year, when I saw my first Golden Moths for the season, two days after I saw my first snake for the season.  

The rather pejorative name must be because Snake Orchids and snakes emerge at the same time.  Probably the very same week.   And I'm guessing  that whoever called them Snake Orchids – probably someone in a community of early settlers - realized that their arrival coincided with the emergence from winter hibernation of snakes in the same habitats.

Snake Orchids, or Golden Moths, are found in grassy woodland or open forest habitats, and are relatively common where intact understorey vegetation remains.  As, of course, are snakes.

The common name “Golden moths” does what common names often do – gives us something descriptive to call it. Its flower does have a moth-like delicacy and fragility (although in reality its quite a tough little plant).     Its Diuris-character “ears” look more like wings than ears.

“Snake orchid” is sort of a functional common name.   The orchid probably does nothing for snakes, but their arrival in the bush together tells us something.  You may never see a snake, but the appearance of the gorgeous pale lemon Golden Moths tells you that snakes are out and about too! The same factors, probably the slightly longer days and bit of warmth in the sun, probably trigger the emergence of both.

Diuris chryseopsis is widely distributed through Victoria and Tasmania.  It was until relatively recently called Diuris lanceolata, but was separated out from another Snake Orchid, an orchid endemic to a small part of Tasmania.   This endemic Tasmanian is Diuris lanceolata, common name Large Golden Moths, and is rare and endangered.    Diuris chryseopsis is not.

Confused?   So was I some years ago, especially when I was asked to undertake some survey work on a site where a previous report had stated that the site contained the rare and endangered Diuris lanceolata.   This, I realized was entirely inaccurate, but an understandable mistake, as some slightly older texts list Diuris chryseopsis as Diuris lanceolata.

 The facts are:

  •        Diuris lanceolata occurs only in a small corner of North-west Tasmania and flowers in summer.   It is listed both under the Commonwealth EPBC Act (1999), as Endangered, and under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act (1995) as endangered.
  •        Diuris chryseopsis occurs across Victoria and Tasmania, was once known as Diuris lanceolata but was separated out from it and assigned the new specific name of chryseopsis sometime during the 1990’s.   It is common and widespread, and flowers in spring – from September to November.   It has no threatened status.

Details can be found in the Tasmanian Government Threatened Species Listing Statement (found here$FILE/Diuris%20lanceolata%20listing%20statement.pdf)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pimelia – a Beginner’s Guide

Welcome to my vegetation blog!   I plan to cover all sorts of different bits and pieces that might be of interest to anyone who wants to know more detail about the bush in Victoria, and will add to the blog with a new article every week or so.......

This initial post is the first of what will be a short series on the genus Pimelia and will give some information about the following species of Pimelia:

Pimelia glauca Smooth Rice-flower
Pimelia humilis Common Rice-flower
Pimelia curviflora Curved Rice-flower

Pimelia humilis - note the large floral bracts.

When you are looking at these cute cute plants, there is one thing you need to have your head around, and that is floral bracts.   Most pimelias are distinctive for the presence of these floral bracts, and sometimes you need to look closely at the floral bracts to see whether you are indeed looking at a pimelia, or to decide which one it is.  

You can Google floral bracts, or you can check the glossary of any good flora, but basically they are leaf-like structures that subtend (hold on to the stem right beneath) the inflorescence (assume if you’re reading this you know what an inflorescence is, but just in case, it means the whole group of flowers found together in each flower cluster).   The bracts are right up there under the inflorescence and a close look will reveal that they are different from the leaves on the stem.   In the case of Pimelia there are often four of them, but sometimes a few more, depending on the species.    The bracts sometimes hold some important diagnostic features for the species – for example when sorting out pimelias glauca and humilis.

The other things about pimelias in general is that they: 
  • are always a shrub whether very short (up to half a meter) and small, or more substantial
  • always have four flower petals
  • are always white, cream or yellow
  • usually have leaves arranged in opposite pairs on the stem(some exceptions).
One of the best things about pimelias is that there is a species of this plant for almost every habitat here in Victoria.   So whether you are down at the beach or up in the mountains, you can find one.   

I especially love plants that do this.     I love that they have sorted themselves out to make sure they got a spot anywhere they found themselves, back in the days when they were evolving.
And they are so pretty – if you are reading this post for info for planting up a local native plant garden, read on!   Yes you should include a Pimelia, but make sure it will fit the habitat you’re giving it.

So here we go, and I’ll start with the only two pimelias that you are likely to have trouble differentiating.

Pimelia glauca   (Smooth Rice Flower)

Pimelia glauca at Sunbury, Victo
It took me some time to realise that I was confusing Pimelia glauca with Pimelia humilis, and probably misnaming the former as the latter.    This was probably because they both inhabit grasslands, and it was grasslands, most likely, where I first became aware of Pimelia.   And it was also because to the unfamiliar eye they seem very similar.

Having realized this confusion, I checked it out, and the differences are:
Pimelia glauca sticks to open habitats, particularly grasslands.   (I understand it is also to be found on sand-dunes on the coast).   I've only ever seen it in very open Basalt Plains grasslands on the northern fringes of Melbourne.   Even within open patches of forests and woodlands, if there is a pimelia, it will be humilis, never, it seems, glauca.
Flowering time
P glauca has a big flowering flush for a short time in October and then it is more or less all over, with occasional flowers, if you're lucky, through til late December.
P glauca is small, up to around half a meter, but very showy, very broad with lots of branches.   Also it tends to occur in groups, as do many of our native shrubs.
P glauca has lots of it.   Multi-branched, lots of flowers, lots of plants having a party together.  You really notice it when its in flower.  Presence is the spotting characteristic that tells you as you walk up to it, that it’s probably going to be glauca and not humilis.    Pimelia glauca is solid, it is lots, it is in your face, it is quite a striking plant, or usually, a big, showy group of plants.
More technically for a closer look:   stems are not hairy, are often stick-like (woody) brown or yellowish; hairs occur on only the inner two of the four floral bracts.

Pimelia Humilis (Common Rice-flower)
Habitat  More or less anywhere!   (that's why its called "Common")   Forests, heaths, will see it all over the place.
Flowering time
Unlike its cousin P glauca, Pimelia humilis is happy to keep on flowering through the warmer months and longer days, starting in September, and going through until the end of January.
Small again - up to 50 cm tall, but usually shorter, very much down among the ground flora.

Pimelia humilis is just that – humble.    You might not even notice it at first.    In its humility it seems to choose company with a lot more pizzaz, like bright gold everlastings and vivid blue pincushions, massed Bulbines and chocolate lilies.  The occasional Pimelia humilis nestled modestly in amongst the grass is easy to overlook.   So glauca is a show-off and humilis is dainty.  Modest. Humble.    Usually.   I know one site where the Pimelia humilis stands up tall and sassy and bright white and that is a forest site rather than a woodland – where everything is taller and here little humilis decided it was be bold or be perished.

Pimelia curviflora (Curved Rice Flower).

Closer view of Pimelia curviflora
Pimelia curviflora has a range of habitats along the grassy understorey spectrum.  It finds a spot for itself, and therefore a function (more on function in a later post) in grasslands and in grassy woodlands and open, grassy and dry forests (a major forest type here in Victoria).    

P. curviflora is slightly built
P curviflora is another very small pimelia - growing up to about 30 cm.   And its build is slight, as shown in the bottom photo.  Easy to walk past without noticing, it is another in the dainty category.   For a plant that is so easy to miss, it's distinctive amongst pimelias in that it sometimes lacks the usual floral bracts, its leaves are alternate, not opposite like those of most of its cousins, and its flower petals are shaped very differently from those of many pimelias.

They seem to occur in sparse groups with perhaps two or three other plants close by. 

There seems to be some problem with naming sub-species.   Flora of Melbourne originally had Pimelia curviflora var sericea, but later editions have in the appendix an entry for Pimelia curviflora and a comment that the National Herbarium recognises no varieties or subspecies.

More Pimelias in a future post.