Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, December 31, 2005

We are all wilting in the heat.

Forget the Peonies, the people and the dogs are wilting in the heat, too. (actually, the Peonies appear to have recovered with yesterday's hand watering. So, I am genuinely pleased about that.)

It has been a dreadful few days, and worse is forecast. Heat, relentless heat. Fortunately not much wind, (which could turn a heat wave into a potential fire-storm). So far, so good.
Yesterday, Judy drove from Canberra in the afternoon, but the house was so hot we immediately went down Macquarie Pass. I had hoped to cool off walking along a beach near Shellharbour, but Judy wanted to eat, so we drove to Wollongong, and had a perfectly nice, and very cheap meal at one of the many Asian restaurants there. By the time we returned, the house had cooled down enough for us to get some sleep.
Then at first light this morning we spread insulation in the ceiling (there was nothing there before, except the "insulating blanket" directly under the "Colorbond" roof. Covered from head to toe, and with respirators as well, we tucked the "batts" in between the ceiling joists in fine style. Judy had a good idea of using long sticks to lift the "batts" into place, and poke them right out to the corners of the ceiling.
The Wingecarribee Shire Council deserves a kick up the bum for its policy of insisting that all houses (even on rural blocks) have non-reflective colours on roofs and external walls. Non-reflecting means heat absorbing, which is energy inefficiency built into the house specifications for me, by the Council. And yet they insist I reach a notional "energy standard". But their policy means I am behind the "8 Ball" to start with. It is bad policy, masquerading as "being sensitive to the needs of the community" (it is meant to minimise reflective glare on other houses). On rural blocks, such as mine, there are no houses within a "bulls roar" of my place, which have any view of my roof. As I said, it is bad policy.
Happy New Year everybody. My resolution is to wake up tomorrow morning without stomach pains. That is what happened to me last NYE, and it turned out to be the first signs of Cancer.

I am pleased to say I am well (not very fit), but happy. Just hot, that's all.

Friday, December 30, 2005

My Peonies are wilting in the heat

The sunlight is powerful today. While the temperature is offically 33.6*C at Moss Vale (about 25 Km away), the humidity is a mere 20%, which is sucking the moisture out of the leaves of my Peonies.

I had always known that growing cold climate plants in Robertson was a bit of an experiment. But Robertson is famous for its cooling sea breezes, which are said to roll in from about 2:00 pm. Not this week they aren't. The prevailing breezes are north-westerlies, bringing in pre-heated air from the hot dry parts of the country. And these are just breezes, not those dessicating hot dry winds, which can occur.

I had been attempting to grow the Peonies without any supplementary watering, but today their leaves are just shrivelling up, before my eyes. They may have already incurred permanent damage. Bugger. I have waited too long, obviously.

I was trying to be "water-wise", in this hot dry land in which we live. I have now weakened and resorted to some hand watering. But is it too late, already? Can I continue to grow these plant here?

Prior to next summer, I shall experiment with a more cunning strategy of growing a hedge of
Kangaroo Apple (Solanum aviculare) in order to protect the Peonies from the strong sunlight (and dry winds). Failing that, the Peonies will all have to move to a "morning sun only" area, close to the rainforest. But I don't have much suitable land at present, until my shade trees (planted 18 months ago) grow taller. It is tough, balancing the conflicting demands of plants and the environment. Obviously one should grow endemic plants.

Damn, we don't have any local Peony species.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Scented air

As I write, after yet another hot day, I have a window open, and scented air is wafting past my nose. As a naturalist, I am clearly a failure in the olifactory department, as I have no idea of the source of this scent. It is not a flower perfume, I think. It smells more like the smell of leaves of some kind of plant. But what?

Several days ago, Sarah and I spent two hours looking at tiny wildflowers, mostly along the Tourist Road. This place is so rich in tiny flowering plants, after a while you hesitate to take another step, lest you crush some little plant. So many flowers, so little noticed.

Photo of Scribbly Gums in one of the environments along the Tourist Road. Different plants are found where the soil type changes. Use the change in tree types as a guide to a new micro-environment.

We found Little Tongue-orchids growing out in the slashed grasslands on Tourist Road. I have only seen them previously in the tall Eucalypt forests. Hyacinth Orchids are still going strong.

Other plants are too numerous to mention, but the Bloodroot (Haemodorum sp) is a particularly interesting plant. It has dark brown flowers, almost black. Its tall black flower stems stand out above the grasses along the roadside. Flower Spiders love these flowers - there is nearly always one hiding in the clustered flower head.

The Flying Duck Orchids were still in flower. I first saw them this year, on 26 October, so that is 2 months flowering season. They have had a good year. These Orchids seem to favour sandstone rock outcrops in the tall Eucalypt forest. Very fussy little creatures, it seems.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Summer slumbers

These hot days are taking their toll on my energy. And Anni is still dreaming of white Christmases, like a little transplanted Birch Tree.
I am tempted to go to the beach, except for the cost of petrol driving the Daimler (not mine, folks, just borrowed from Derek and Melissa). They use it as a wedding car. I would have to say it is a beautiful car to drive. Jim loves it when I drive out to his farm. He tugs his forelock when I arrive (as is appropriate for the car, anyway).
Wayne and I have been watering Jim's young trees, out at the "Southfork of the Southern Highlands", while Jim is off swanning around in "Nu Ziland". I doubt they are having a heat wave in Hamilton. Half his luck. I am sure we are all looking forward to stories from the Milford Track adventure, soon enough.

"Anonymous" commented upon the beautiful graphics in yesterday's post. I thought she was referring to the butterfly photo (from the Australian Museum). However, it appears not.
So, to redress the balance, allow me to present a "Judy in a funny hat" photo from a birthday celebration held some time ago. In fairness, I should say we were all wearing funny hats that night.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Never keep Ducks!

In reply to my story about the Wasp and the Orchid, one of my brothers sent me a salutary message of having seen a Cabbage White Butterfly caught in a spider's web (good story, so far, as they are introduced pests). This Butterfly (obviously female) was seen by a male Butterfly which flew down and mated with the trapped one (did he ask her permission, I wonder?). In so doing, it also got trapped in the web.

Brian left, as the spider approached.

Photo: G Millen. © Australian Museum.

A correspondent from New Zealand (a temporary visitor to the Land of the Long White Cloud) cast doubt upon my devotion to Peonies, as I was so fond of Ground Orchids. How unfair is that? Peonies are no longer flowering!
I replied that, analogous to some men's relations with women (but not myself, I stress), I was capable of loving more than one flower at the same time.
(What a reply I got! A salutary lesson, to do with women in rural Thailand dealing with masculine infidelity, by severing the offending member, and feeding it to the ducks which typically live under the house, apparently. A far more telling message than any homily on morality and ethics.

The moral of the story? Never keep Ducks!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Wham, Bam, thank you, Flower

Judy's family had its annual Christmas Day get-together yesterday at Philip and Kate's place in the Middle Harbour area. Good company, very nice food. Nice cool breezes were greatly appreciated by everybody. Your correspondent was the "designated driver", so we returned safely to Robertson for a cool night. A great night's sleep was had by all (even Nebiat).


Many Ground Orchids may be found growing amongst the native shrubbery growing around the house, in the sandstone soil. Philip treasures this little piece of Sydney Harbour bushland, I am pleased to report.

Several species of Ground Orchids were evident, from their different leaves, but only one, the Bonnet Orchid or
Tartan Tongue-orchid (Cryptostylis erecta) was in flower yesterday. This "Tongue Orchid" has a rounded "half-balloon-shaped" hood, quite different from the narrow tongue of the related Little Tongue-orchid. It is quite beautifully coloured and patterned, with a green base colour, and deep purple stripes and dots.

While I was attempting to photograph this Orchid, yesterday, a male Ichneumon Wasp flew in, and performed the "pseudo-copulation" act with the flower. This method of pollination of some Orchids, (especially this genus), is well recognised. This vicarious experience was a "first" for me, even though I have spent a fair bit of time looking at these Tongue-orchids before.

The wasp clung to the underside of the flower, so in the photo, he is more or less facing upwards, with his orange head and brown wings clearly visible. The orange legs are just discernable in the full sized image (click on the photo for the enlargement)

Unfortunately for me, he was the "Wham, Bam, Thank you, Flower" kind of Wasp, and he did not hang around. So I did not manage a good clear photograph, in the seconds available to me!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Rare Seasonal Orchid found in Robertson

An extremely rare Ground Orchid has been found around Robertson. It is the Bearded Santorchid (Santorchidius hirsutus). (Click on the photo to enlarge it)

This rare Seasonal Orchid may be found only in the late afternoon of 24 December, and early in the morning of 25 December. The flower lasts only a few hours, before withdrawing underground, to rest for the entire next year's season.
Rumours of its appearance in remote and widely separated locations have sparked the idea that its seeds are carried about in the pouches of Wallabies which are fond of the particular grass species with which this Orchid has a symbiotic relationship.

You can find this plant if you look amongst the long
Wallaby Grass (Austrodanthonia tenuior), under Eucalypt trees, in the sandstone country, for example along Tourist Road.


Apparently the flowers are pollinated by the tiny fingers of small children, reaching inside the flower, seeking to find sweet grains of the Orchid's pollen, which they love.


Its rapid appearance and then disappearance is explained by the saprophytic nature of this Orchid, (see discussion re the Hyacinth Orchid and the Potato Orchid). This means it does not have to stay above ground to produce food by photosynthesis, so it only needs to be above ground briefly, just until the flowers are pollinated.

Heat Wave takes its toll

The sudden burst of heat has taken its toll on the local wildflowers.


The yellow flowered Goodenias are getting tired, as are the masses of Trigger plants. They are just hanging in there. However, the yellow flowered "Stalked Cone Sticks" (Petrophile pedunculata) are just coming into flower. For those interested in distinguishing between the similar looking plants of the related genera Isopogon and Petrophile, go the this useful web-site.


Today I found several severely wilted flowers of the Large Tongue Orchid (Cryptostylis subulata). Clearly they have had trouble in the heat. They were growing on dry sandy soil, over sandstone, so it is not surprising that they were having trouble, with such poor water-holding soil.


This photo is one I took several years ago.

This plant is a cousin to the
Little Tongue Orchid of which I have written previously.


The Hyacinth Orchids, however, are holding up really well. I was surprised. Along the Tourist Road, especially in the tall Eucalypt forests in the drier parts, (not the wet end, closer to Macquarie Pass) one can see literally hundreds of these tall flowers happily waving in the breeze. It is lovely to see them doing so well.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The local plants of Christmas

Christmas Bells (Blandfordia nobilis) are strongly associated with Christmas in New South Wales, at least around Sydney and on the coast north of there. They may be seen growing alongside the roads in the Robertson area. They grow on the sandy soils over sandstone rock base, such as around the Budderoo National Park, along the Jamberoo Road, beyond Knights Hill.
Photo: "Waratah Eco Works"


Of course, these are protected plants, and doubly so when growing in a National Park.


The reason for stressing the protected status of these plants is obvious from the linked page from the Australian National Botanic Gardens page about Christmas plants, where there are illustrations of young women collecting Christmas Bells in the bush near Sydney, published in 1886. Too much of a good thing has reduced the status of these plants to an "occasional occurrence", whereas they were once common.


It is important to realise that this is precisely why we need reserves such as the Barren Grounds and Budderoo National Park. We are lucky that they are so close to us.


The NSW Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) is found in damp gullies in the sandstone country around Robertson, but I think that in the local area the "flowers" colour up just a little after Christmas. The colourful star-shaped "flowers" are in fact the sepals surrounding the mature seed capsule, but don't worry too much about that detail.


This plant, makes a highly successful garden plant, and is popular in the nursery trade.

OK, Summer is here!

Well, with hot north-westerly winds blowing, in the mid 30s (Celsius) in Robertson, I accept that Summer has indeed arrived.

Having been in Canberra for a few days it is interesting to see the summer-flowering trees there in full bloom. Particularly noticeable were the "Silky Oaks" (Grevillea robusta). Click on the underlined "links" for images of the whole plant and of the flower. Being Aussie trees, they are not real oaks. These fine trees are native to the rainforests of northern NSW and Queensland. They cover themselves with large trusses of orange flowers. The flowers are rich in nectar, and so are popular with honeyeaters. This plant is a true Grevillea, but very different from the small shrubs with which we are more familiar.

Another tree which is very obvious along the highway at present is the white flowered Melaleuca linariifolia which is known as "Snow in Summer". This is a local plant in damp areas in the sandstone country around Robertson. The name means "Flax-leaved Melaleuca", from the Egyptian Flax plant, Linum. It is not spelled "lineariifolia" as Les Robinson's: "Field Guide to the Native Plants of Sydney" shows it (it is still an indispensable reference text).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


As we gather at the peak of the solar season - the summer solstice, we ought remember our northern cousins, trapped in their winter bleakness. Anni's blog has been full of such seasonal commentary, poor dear. Even as a "transplant" to warmer, Southern Hemisphere soils, she still suffers the seasonal longings, it seems.


As a grower of Peonies, cold-climate plants from the Northern Hemisphere, I know that the growers in the Northern Hemisphere console themselves on this day with the thought that as the days start to lengthen, from tomorrow onwards, the Peonies will start to make the first signs of spring growth.

You have to believe it. Even though our summer will get hotter yet, and their winter will get much colder yet, it really is the length of hours of sunlight which determines the seasonal growth of most flowers. This is especially true of those precious jewels from the cold Northern Hemisphere (like Anni).

Monday, December 19, 2005

Summer? What summer?

Sunday was a freezer, in Robertson, and also in Canberra.

So much for these few nice days we have been having. I left Robbo in a howling wind, and got to Canberra to see trees down - all over the place. Apparently that damage was inflicted a week ago, by a previous storm. Last night it was jumper and jacket weather. Ridiculous!


Global warming is a bit of a mis-nomer, as what really is happening is that the severity of our weather is increasing, and is likely to continue to do so. Hence, more storms, more droughts, more floods. At first it appears to be a contradiction, but statistically, it is real.


Lets hope that George W Bush and John Howard can sort out "Global Warming", as soon as they have fixed up "the War on Terror".

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Orchids in the Robertson Nature Reserve

The Robertson Nature Reserve does not have many species of Orchids growing in it, nor very beautiful ones, to be honest. But they are interesting, none the less.


For an Orchid, rainforest can be a difficult environment, as light is the key factor, and the forest floor in a rainforest can be very dark indeed.

One way to succeed in low light conditions is to do what the Potato Orchid (Gastrodia sesamoides) does. It grows without leaves, or chlorophyll, or even without feeder roots. According to the standard reference texts, this plant has tubers which are "invaded" by microscopic fungi and also bacteria, which together help the plant fix nitrogen, enabling it to live. I have found a reference tonight to a CSIRO paper which casts doubt on the supposed role of any bacteria. (I shall leave that debate to the experts.)

However, like the Hyacinth Orchid which I have discussed recently, this plant is also a "saprophyte". The Potato Orchid lacks the attractive flowers of the Hyacinth Orchid.


Another way to survive, as an Orchid in a rainforest, is to grow as an "epiphytic" plant, using trees as hosts, but not being parasitic upon them. In other words, just growing high in the branches of the trees, using them as a perch. This way, you can get all the light you need. Holding moisture is then the limiting problem.


The charming
Orange Blossom Orchid (Sarcochilus falcatus) grows with its thick roots buried in the Rock Felt Fern (Pyrrosia rupestris) which grows thickly upon old Blackwood trees (Acacia melanoxylon). These mats of fern roots act like sponges holding plenty of moisture for the Orchid's roots.


Photo of the Orange Blossom Orchid at left. It gets its name from its sweet perfume.


Dagger Orchid (Dockrillia pugioniformis) (formerly Dendrobium pugioniformis) is less showy, having tiny greenish flowers. It forms straggling masses of wiry roots which just hang from the branches of Sassafras and Coachwood trees. Apparently the roots are able to absorb enough moisture for the plants to survive.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The plants of summer

I have observed already that the Little Tongue Orchid (Cryptostylis leptochila) is coming on to flower. (Click on the photo for a larger view).


In the local Eucalypt forests, on the sandstone and black soil areas of the Robertson district (not on the red basalt soil areas) one can see these little Orchids coming up everywhere.


It is a really common plant, which is not obvious, at first. You can spot it frequently, once you get your "eye in" (and learn what to look for).
Look for the upright purple-backed leaves amongst the leaf litter.


The Catchment Authority boys slash the roadside verge along Tourist Road, in the drier areas in East Kangaloon and towards Glenquarry.

This slashing keeps the shrubbery down, and prevents tree re-growth. This makes a perfect environment for the little native perennial flowers.


Hyacinth Orchids (Dipodium roseum)
(DJW Edit 2.Jan 2010 Actually after much investigation and comparison of many live specimens I can confirm now that these particular plants are Dipodium punctatum, not D. roseum, as I previously thought. DJW)

With their 60 - 90 Cm high flowering spikes of pink
flowers, they are commonly and easily seen in December and January.

Masses of smaller pink spikes of flowers visible from the car as you drive along the road, are Trigger Plants (Stylidium graminifolium).

The other really obvious flowers at present are yellow-flowered Goodenia flowers. They are are clearly visible, on 40 cm high spikes arising from basal rosettes of leaves.

So although the main prolific flowering of Ground Orchids has passed, there is still masses of colour out there in the bush.

Friday, December 16, 2005

We are the Champions of the World

A fine night of Karoake was had by the punters at the Robbo Pub on Friday evening. Please do not think this is a classy event. It isn't!

The usual suspects sang the usual selection of songs. "Girls just wanna have fun" (Cindy Lauper) was a big favourite, both with the girls on the dance floor, and the boys cheering from the bar. "Bone" raised the bar considerably, with a fine rendition of Bob Dylan's "Rolling Stone". BJ sang Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog".
(See photo of Bone & BJ from another occasion).
Martin, Angie and Nic (visitors from Germany, Darwin and Perth respectively) gave a fine rendition of an AC-DC number.

Quote of the night, however, goes to the Robertson Soccer Club boys who had been celebrating their Christmas party. They got to sing the last song, and chose Queen's "We are the Champions". In the midst of enthusiastic choruses of "We are the champions, We are the champions, We are the champions.... of the world" we heard the cry go up" World Cup: here we come".

After tonight's training session by the Robertson Soccer Club, at the Robbo Pub (the Robertson Inn), the Brazilians, the Italians, and the Germans must be quaking in their boots.

A poet from the Ming Dynasty - speaks for me.

I have built a hut

In the heart of the hills.

There I dwell

And watch with joy

The pageant of the seasons

Trooping by.


I keep no record

Of the passing years;

I only see the flowers

Bloom and die.


(Yu Shih K'ung)
(Ming Dynasty)


For those of you who know me,
that probably seems fairly apt.


The title is" The Recluse", which may seem less apt. I will leave that to others to observe and decide.


This poem is contained in a book I bought over the Internet,
"sight unseen", because of its title:

'A Garden of Peonies"

Translations of Chinese Poems - Henry H. Hart

Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA. 1938


My daughter, Zoe, found this particular poem in the book,
and brought it to my attention. For that I thank her.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Triple Care Farm - Graduation Day

Triple Care Farm (TCF) is a "wildlife refuge" of a different kind.
It is a life-training camp for street kids, run by Mission Australia. It is a fabulous wilderness location on Knights Hill, about 10 Km from Robertson.

Yesterday they had a graduation ceremony for 35 young people. It was attended by many of the Mission Australia people from Head Office, as well as patrons and sponsors of TCF, and regular volunteers who assist the Manager, Warren Holt OAM and his staff, in running TCF. The Robertson Lions Club assisted today by doing the BBQ.

It is always uplifting to see young people preparing to leave TCF, full of optimism, and importantly, feeling good about themselves. These people have been cared for and respected, during their stay at TCF and shown that they can achieve to their own potential. They are going back out into the world from which they came, but now they are ready to face its challenges. I wish them all the very best for the future.

On the way back from Knights Hill, I stopped at the Carrington Falls Nature Reserve. This Reserve is home to the endangered species: the
Carrington Falls Grevillea (Grevillea rivularis). This plant is not uncommon within the Reserve, but it is on the Endangered Species List because of its extremely restricted distribution (i.e., only found within this one Reserve). It is a large plant, but not obvious at first. It forms dense thickets overhanging the waters edge, along the Kangaroo River, above the Falls. It has unusual coloured flowers with a blend of green and purple. Unlike some Grevilleas, the flowers are not "showy". But they are very beautiful, when examined closely. Of course, it is a Protected Plant.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Orchids and the Wasps (not the birds and the bees)

The summer-flowering Ground Orchids have started to flower, as I anticipated last week.

The Small Tongue-orchid (Cryptostylis leptochila) has just opened its first flowers. The "tongue" is reflexed upwards and backwards, over the top. The other sepals and petals are reduced to stiff, thin green arms. (Photo courtesy of Anni Heino)

This shape is quite different from the closely related "Cow Orchid" shown last week.

"Pseudo-copulation" is a great word for a bizarre process of pollination used by these Orchids. The flower emits a scent which mimics the pheromone emitted by female insects. In the Cryptostylis genus, male Ichneumonid Wasps are attracted, and seemingly, mistake the flower for a female wasp. They then copulate with the flowers, and in so doing, are dabbed with the pollen of the Orchid. Hopefully they then fly off to another Orchid flower, and complete the pollination cycle for the flower. Shame about the female wasps, though.

This process is not restricted to Australian Orchids, although they have perfected the system. The Cryptostylis genus is famous as the most common example of a plant which has developed "pollination by pseudo-copulation".

Another beautiful summer-flowering orchid is the tall Hyacinth Orchid (Dipodium roseum) Photo courtesy of Anni Heino) *** (DJW Edit 2 Jan 2010 - Actually Dipodium punctatum - a fact ascertained after double checking most known groups of Hyacinth Orchids shown on this Blog - including where Anni took this photo.

It can stand nearly a metre tall, but often less, in poor soil. It has a dark brownish stem, and lovely heads of spotted pink flowers, which, in this species have strongly reflexed petals.

Tricky thing - it has no leaves. It has no chlorophyll, so it cannot make its own food (as most plants do) through the effect of sunlight on the chlorophyll in their leaves and/or stems. It gets its food by forming a relationship with micro-fungi in the soil, which break down old Eucalyptus roots in the ground. Plants which get their food this way are called "saprophytes" - use this link to an article on a related species.


Today I took young George for a flower-spotting walk near his home. In 200 metres we found 24 species of plants in flower. Mostly tiny flowers, but interesting.

George was intrigued by the lovely pink Trigger Plants, (Stylidium graminifolium) which have an elastic organ, shaped like a tiny "hammer". This strikes any insect which touches the sensitive centre of the flower. (They can be "triggered" by the inquisitive amateur botanist, with a fine twig).

For me, the find of the day was a Purplish Beard Orchid (Calochilus robertsonii). This was the first time I have seen this species.

This photo was taken under difficult, low light conditions (a thick Robertson fog), but it does show the "beard" and the characteristic shallow angle of the "hood" (the dorsal sepal). (Photo courtesy of Anni Heino)

This plant was growing on shallow black soil, over a sandstone rock shelf. I had seen the similar species: Red Beard Orchid (Calochilus paludosis) growing on poor sandstone soil, several kilometres away.
Have a look at that linked photo to see the differently structured flower, despite the similarities of both being Bearded Orchids.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Race riots - the role of the Media?

I have been unable to avoid reports from Sydney radio of supposed "Race riots" in Sydney yesterday (they were in my ears this morning before I was truly conscious).
I do not condone whatever violence did take place yesterday (and I refuse to publish links to any media sites on this subject). However, I object even more to Talk-Back Radio, especially the ABC's own flagship station, 702 in Sydney, allowing idiot talk-back callers to promote their prejudices on the open air waves.

This foggy day photo is symbolic of the Media's foggy mind, today! Dark looming ominous shadows - seem more dangerous than they really are.

We all know there are stupid people out there, but should the ABC give them the use of the broadcast media to spread their ignorant views? (Blogs are more appropriate for voicing one's personal opinion.)

I am going to boycott the ABC's news broadcasts (and chat shows) for another week. It isn't much, but it is the only way I can punish them for being so un-ethical and un-professional. I have only just restored my "patronage" after my previous personal boycott last week, regarding the Media's feeding-frenzy over the execution in Singapore. I do so hope they took notice!

If you think the Media's job is to "report" such events, just remember that they spent all last week "reporting" that people were trying (via SMS text messages) to promote a brawl on the weekend. Surprise, Surprise. It happened.

At what point does the Media cease to be an observer, and a commentator, and become a participant?

Lets have more clarity of vision, please.

Call me a naive

and sentimental fool,

if you will,

but I feel

one has to try something.

Denis - Robertson's own Fool on the Hill

"Well on his way his head in a cloud,

The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud

But nobody ever hears him,

Or the sound he appears to make, ....."

(Lyrics by Paul McCartney. Performed by "The Beatles")

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Raspberry delights

Raspberries, ripe Raspberries. Yum! (Rubus idaeus) An impromptu dessert was enjoyed today by myself and Deb. Good idea, Deb!

I had not expected to find a "feed" of Raspberries, because of the voracious appetites of the Satin Bowerbirds. (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) (Click here for image of female bird.) I guess it proves that even in Robertson, if you grow enough Raspberry plants, you will get the occasional feed for yourself. Anyway, we ate a wine glass full (each) of fresh berries (so fresh there was a tiny little Looper Caterpillar in Deb's glass. How "organic" is that?).

We ate the berries with some of my partner Judy's spectacular Ice Cream which she made for my Birthday a few weeks back. A layered Ice Cream with a coconut & chocolate centre, surrounded by coffee ice cream, all covered with Strawberry Ice Cream. Add fresh berries to that and you have a feast!

Down in that section of my wilderness garden there is a large Thornless Blackberry which has set a great crop of fruit. The fruit are still green, of course. Before they ripen I will need to net them, if I am to get any for myself.

More berries to come. Yum! The tastes of summer.

While down in that wild part of the garden, I showed Deb the collapsing flower of the Dragon Lily. (Dracunculus vulgaris) At this stage the long protuberance (spadix) had collapsed completely, but the long purple spathe was still in good condition, but flopped over like a long tongue.

Deb wanted to re-name it the "slutty plant". Seems appropriate.
She was also impressed with this plant's spotted stems, like it was wearing green and white leopard skin tights!

Robertson has a new species of Passionfruit

There is a rare native Passionfruit flowering in Robertson (Passiflora herbertiana) . This young plant has been growing for 2 years, but has only just flowered. And now its identity can be confirmed.

Close-up of flower of P. herbertiana.
As far as I know this is the first record of it growing in Robertson.

This plant's normal habitat is coastal, ranging from Queensland, south to Narooma. So it is an odd occurence for
it to turn up in the cool climate environment of Robertson.As a native species, it is to be hoped that it manages to establish itself in Robertson.

Plant of P. herbertiana growing on a Blackwood Wattle (Acacia melanoxylon) in Robertson.

There are some reports of another native species in the local area, a red flowered species, which would probably be P. cinnabarina. I have not yet seen that species. Neither of these plants is common in Robertson, and they deserve to be respected, and conserved.

feral Banana Passionfruit (P. mollisima) (click here for an image) is making a mess of the wet rainforest patches at the top end of Jamberoo Mountain Road, and on parts of Vandenbergh Road. The large pink pendant flowers are clearly visible at this season. Even I would have to admit that they are beautiful flowers, However, these plants threaten native trees by smothering them. They out-compete the trees for light, by swamping the leaves of the trees. Ultimately, they also make trees susceptible to wind damage, as the trees are carrying too much "sail", in the form of the large leaves of the Passionfruit, so in a "big blow", the trees have more wind catching material than they are designed to carry. Snap!

A weed is a weed, even with beautiful flowers - especially if it is 20 metres high.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Music Night at the CTC

Every Thursday evening, the musicians of Robertson (well, maybe not all of them, but...) descend upon the Community Technology Centre at Robertson.

"Bone", (photo at left) is the resident pianist, as well as sometime drummer and exponent of the "Blues Harp" ("mouth organ" to the rest of us). A number of other people turn up - different people from week to week. But there are a few regulars. Dave is a guitarist, and vocalist, as are both James, (photo at left) and Niall. Royce brings his drum kit, and also has developed his own Piano routine, when everybody else joins in and does their bit to make it a complete performance. Greg has developed his own act, singing "Wonderful World" in the style of Satchmo. Ritch brings his drums for a bit of hand drumming, and singing. BJ is a regular vocalist (although we missed her last night). Nobody does "My Canary has circles under his eyes" like BJ does. Aniek has been coming along a bit recently, and last night she had stint on the piano, as well as singing. Stu also brought his guitar along last night. The guy in the blue tennis hat, who occasionally sings back-up vocals, is me. Monica and Taz are regulars too. Other occasional visitors and performers are Pip, John H, John G, Steve and Celeste, and Lucy. Apologies to any people I may have missed out on.

is in charge of the orders for Pizzas, (from "Pizzas in the Mist", of course). Last night I had a Robertson Supreme, but the Meatlovers, and the BBQ Chicken are regular favourites with the crowd, as is the Potato Pizza.

Watching Bone, or Aniek or Royce playing the piano, I am constantly bewildered how their hands know where to go, which notes to hit (and NOT to hit). How do they do that? I assume there is a kinetic memory system which tells their fingers where to go. But Bone is also beating time with his feet, and often plays the Blues Harp at the same time. The world is full of amazing people. It is just that I find their talents quite bewildering. I have a hard time keeping the beat with one of those little shell-rattle things. I feel like one of those people who is challenged by walking and chewing gum at the same time.

I love going along to Thursday Music Nights at the CTC. It is open to anyone to come, listen, & join in (or just eat pizza). We are a friendly mob!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Continuous Beetles?

As I write, a swarm of Beetles
passes by my window.

The swarm fails to pass - it is so large,
but Beetles continue to pass my window.

Continuous Beetles - on the warm evening breeze.
After a warm, windy day, the sun has just set (8:20 p.m.). These small brown beetles have been showing up for a few evenings now, but tonight they are literally swarming everywhere.

Staring towards the post-sunset sky, I could not believe the masses of darting, droning, flapping figures, all flying with drooping bodies, shell-wings held high, to allow the membranous wings space in which to flap. The flight of Beetles always looks to be hard work, compared to the flight of Butterflies or Moths. But, looking out my window, it is clearly working for them!

Without a full protective shield of fly-screens, I have had to close those un-shielded windows. A sticky night lies ahead.

Forgive my lack of scientific knowledge about these Beetles - apparently there are some 1,500 species of Beetles which occur in the Sydney region. They are the success story of the Insect Kingdom - who am I to question their credentials when it comes to flight?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Weird Nature

Dracunculus vulgaris - the name positively reeks with warning signs. Just say it slowly to yourself, over and over. It gets scary. Appropriate to the Dragon Lily - its traditional name in Greece.

In real life, the plant has wonderful, almost "tropical" foliage. But it is still weird. Large palmate leaves (i.e., resembling a hand, with finger-like lobes on the leaves). The stems of the plant are green and white spotted. Then, the long flowering spathe develops - about 40 cm long (or about 18 inches) long. Most members of the Arum family - related to the white Arum lily - have a prominent bract, or modified leaf surrounding the minute true flowers on the central columnar structure. In this case the spathe is green on the outside, like an unfurled leaf, before it's dramatic unfurling occurs.

Suddenly there it is, in its full spectacular horridness! Purplish-red inside of the spathe, the wrapper surrounding the spectacular flower spike (called a "spadix").
Feel free to click on the links, and use the "back" button to return to this page. On the second and subsequent days, the spathe flops over and hangs outwards, like a long purple tongue. Mick Jagger - eat your heart out! The Dragon Lily, Snake Lily, or Voodoo Lily has arrived. And it warrants each of these names.

Despite the obvious penile appearance of the spadix, it is in fact a bisexual organ (not just male). I do not know why the spadix is so long, for all the "action" occurs low down, inside a cup-like fold of the spathe. There, low down on the spadix, are found masses of tiny flowers, male flowers just above the female flowers.

The piece-de-resistance is its odour! This "flower" emits the odour, no, the "smell" of rotting meat! This is not accidental, for its pollinators are flies and beetles, which are attracted to the carrion smell. The scent glands are probably separate organs inside the "cup" at the base of the spathe - perhaps associated with the striped markings, which may be seen in the linked photos.

Plant biologists have made detailed studies of pollination in the Aroid family. In order to prevent self-pollination, the female flowers always ripen before the male flowers, but the pollinating beetles and flies are enticed to stay inside the cup-like housing around the base of the spadix - often overnight - and then the male flowers open, and suddenly release their pollen. At this stage the scent-producing glands are "switched off". The "guest" insects are often showered with pollen, before they leave the flower, and go off in search of another "ripe" flower.

Despite its "tropical" appearance, this plant is native to Greece and the Balkans, and is perfectly at home in the highlands climate of Robertson, NSW.

There is a local Aroid, the plant known as "Settler's Flax" (
Gymnostachys anceps). As its name suggests, it has long thin leaves. It has insignificant flowers, on a long thin flower stem, up to 2 metres high. However, its berries are prominent, being a porcelain blue colour. This plant is common in the Robertson Nature Reserve.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Bah, Humbug" to jollity - let's have Peace on Earth

'Tis the Season to be jolly, it seems. I have been to 2 Christmas functions already today, and have one yet to come tonight. For an old "Bah, Humbug" spirit like myself, it is a little discomforting. With apologies to Charles Dickens, and his character Ebeneezer Scrooge, who has been done a grave disservice by American culture (or what passes for it).

Let us abandon artificial jollity, especially the commercially driven nonsense, and work for Peace.
If we are at peace - with ourselves firstly - then we can spread it to our immediate family and neighbours, and let it spread thoughout the land.
I am prepared to be happy that the wet weather has cleared. But I am not so sure about the temperature, though. I find sudden bursts of warm weather a bit disorienting. It is almost "sitting by the pool" weather, but I am not that kind of person. I would far rather be bush walking, in a cool rainforest gully, with Jim. Or just out looking at the little wildflowers.

The local Ground Orchids are having a little rest, after the main flush of flowering, but some of the summer ones are coming along - I see them budding up. The easiest of these little plants to find are the "Tongue-orchids". They have a prominent leaf, which sticks straight up out of the ground, about 15 cms (6 inches approx). The leaf is an elongated oval shape, and is distinctively purple-coloured on the reverse of the leaf. These leaves appear out of the leaf litter in the Eucalypt forests where these plants grow. Of course, you need the leaf as a guide, as the flowers are well camouflaged, being green, red, purple and black.

This particular species the Large Tongue-orchid (Cryptostylus subulata) is affectionately known as the "Cow Orchid", because, viewed from the side, it appears to have a long "cow's head", with 2 horns sticking up and back. Ok, one has to use some imagination...

As with all photos on this Blog, and on the Native Orchids page (see the links section): Click on the photo to enlarge it, then use the "back" button on your browser to return to this page.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A weekend to be thankful for

My partner Judy has been visiting Robertson for the weekend. She was invited to attend a party, but she also came determined to do a bunch of work on the house. Judy has been itching to get into the painting. She sees it as an opportunity, a challenge, leading to a great achievement.

I was doing a bit of a panic about actually starting painting -painting the inside of the house. I mean, this is a major step, which I have been dreading for nearly 2 years now. To a procrastinator of my excessiveness, this is something to be dreaded. You can see from the photo that I was not "relaxed and comfortable"! Anyway, I banished myself to the spare bedroom to begin the "safer" task of flaking off the old paint on the ceiling.

That decision allowed Judy to just get on with the painting, without my anxiety levels peaking too high. Needless to say, a start has been made on the painting. Well done, Judy.

The Party was a delayed "Thanksgiving" event. A fine dinner was enjoyed by all, followed by a series of fine performances by the members of the assembly.

The younger members performances included a performance of the amazing "Floosh's Snail Circus", presented by Jasper, a very experienced "Snail Wrangler", and the entrepreneur behind this vastly amusing performance. I was taken with the "high wire" performance, and the "pyramid" was very funny, too. Other show stoppers were the trapeze performance, the "wheel of death", and the "tower climb".
Snail photos published with encouragement from Anni's blog.

Another of the up-and-coming performers was Charlotte, perfoming a jig, with great enthusiasm and skill. I thought she was going to tie her legs in knots.
Harry, George and Charlie displayed their frenetic "air guitar" style.
The Rapunzel story was given a series of post-modernist renditions by Freya, Olivia, Bianca and Imogen. These same performers also gave a very funny performance, almost a mime, of 4 girls (perhaps at a "sleep over") trying to get some sleep.
Max performed a J.S. Bach "Bourree" with notable sensitivity, on the Electric Guitar.

The adult members of the group also gave a variety of spoken word performances, poetry readings and musical performances. Discretion prevents me from commenting further.

Judy P. claimed an exemption from a live performance, on the basis that she had performed "in the kitchen". Despite the fact that the same claim could have been made by many other people, this claim was accepted, in view of the originality of her Thanksgiving Icecream - Spiced Pumpkin Icecream, with Ginger, and Pecan Nuts, each decorated with a stylised "Turkey Tail", made from fresh toffee.

A fine time was had by one and all. Special thanks to our hosts - you know who you are!

Friday, December 02, 2005

A little bit of a Viking?

Everywhere I look - grass, more grass, taller grass, seeding grass. A veritable ocean of grass. I am drowning in it.
Today a very useful chap came and mowed the long grass and weeds around the house, and along the track down to the shed. We even pulled out a few Blackberry bushes, which risk overtaking those long suffering plants which are still in pots. Thanks are due to the guy concerned, and his sponsor. Names have been suppressed, to protect the innocent. But thanks, J, anyway.

The Briggs and Stratton motor on my Lawnmower, which had not been turned over in nearly a year, started 1st pull I swear. First pull! Not on the 3rd time, nor the 6th. No need to think about cleaning the spark plug. No, first pull! Amazing, and wonderful. So, I thought I'd give them a "plug" - a bit of free publicity.

My willing assistant and I got the Brushcutter (brand name suppressed) running, eventually. It turned over on the 5th pull, coughed, choked, died. We cleaned the air filter, and got it going, we tweaked the tuning a little, the mix was too rich, I was advised. Anyway, it is now ready for me to do battle with the really serious weeds - the Scotch Thistles, (Onopordum acanthium) which are about to spread their seeds if I don't get into them this week.
Photo: courtesy of the Washington State Noxius Weed Control Board (USA).
"History: Scotch thistle has been credited with helping Scotland fend off Viking invasion. As the Vikings moved into Scotland for a sneak attack, they yelled out in pain when they stumbled through thistle plants. Their cries alerted the Scots and allowed them to push out the Vikings. Since then, Scotch thistle has been the national emblem of Scotland." (W.S.N.W.C.B.)
When dealing with Scotch Thistles, I cry out in pain, too. Perhaps there is a touch of the Viking about me? Could be - beneath all that Irish ancestry, somewhere, maybe.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Poison a Privet a day

Robertson is enjoying a warm day, today -with clear skies, at least in the morning, a few clouds are building... Anyway, the warm air has brought out the perfume (or is it an "overpowering, pungent scent") of Privet bushes. This is hell for asthmatics and Hay Fever sufferers.

These shrubs are prominently visible now, with masses of tiny white flowers. They grow along creeks, around roadside edges, and even spread into the rainforest. They are very invasive weeds. Generally, they are weedy shrubs, but some grow into tall trees, in Robertson.

There are 2 main types, the Small-leaved Privet, (Ligustrum sinense), and the Large-leaved Privet, (L. lucidum) which tends to grow much taller. Both are introduced plants, originally used as hedging plants, but they produce huge crops of small black berries which the birds love, especially Silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) - those litttle green birds with a white ring mark around their eyes. In Robertson, they will also be eaten by Currawongs and Bowerbirds.

Anyway, as the plants are in flower now, and are easily spotted and identified, I recommend pulling out any small Privet bushes growing on your property (and I have not yet achieved this myself, I confess). Large plants can be cut down, and the cut painted with concentrated "RoundUp", as soon as the cut is made. Apparently it is important to paint it straight away. Really large plants are successfully killed by drilling a series of small holes (1/4 inch or 6mm) with a cordless drill, and pouring small amounts of RoundUp into the hole, if you have either a small container with a fine tip, or a little trigger pump spray, set onto "jet" (not wide spray), and just trickle some into the holes. Always were rubber gloves when dealing with herbicides.

By killing Privets now, you are saving another year's crop of seeds, and masses of potential new weeds.

A minute ago, it was raining heavily. Now it has cleared off again. That's Robertson for you.