Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Persoonias puzzle the "Geebungophiles"

I went down along the Tourist Road this afternoon, to check for any less familiar Ground Orchids, but didn't find any. There were just a few stragglers of the Hyacinth Orchids still flowering.

However, the Persoonias are flowering now. They have tiny yellow flowers, but they are, for some reason, some of my favourite plants.

They are an odd bunch, within the Proteaceae Family. They have small, yellow flowers which are almost tubular in shape, which then open back with 4 symmetrical curled outer segments, leaving an inner tube which also curls back in 4 segments, leaving a "prominent style" protruding up the middle of the flower.

That "style" leads to the ovary. Like many of the Proteaceae, the "style" persists as a dried point protruding from the fruit or seed capsule. In the case of Persoonias, their fruit are small oval "drupes" - a fleshy fruit with a small hard stone inside it. Each has a small "point" which is the dried remains of that "style".

These fruits have a place in Australian literature, as they were called "Geebungs" by the early settlers (presumably derived from an Aboriginal word). They were, inadvertently, the source of the name of the "Geebung Polo Club", immortalised by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson.

In the sandstone country below Kangaloon, and Glen Quarry, one finds a number of species of Persoonia. The most obvious is P. levis, which has large flat leaves and a bright green colouration. Its colour makes it stand out amongst the grey-green colours of the Eucalypt forest. The next most obvious species is P. linearis, a tall shrub with soft, narrow leaves. It often has a weeping habit. Then, along the side of Tourist Road, where the original scrub has been slashed to create a fire break, one commonly finds re-growth of an interestingly "hairy" species, P. laurina, which has rusty-brown hairs all over it. Its new growth is tinged this rusty colour. Its leaves are soft, flat and oval shaped. A more unusual species is P. lanceolata
which has elongated oval leaves. *(Edit) There is also a closely related species, with a distinct bluish tinge to them. That is in fact Persoonia glaucescens a Federally Listed Vulnerable Species. At first glance it could be mistaken for a small Eucalypt.

The next two are oddities. Persoonias are either great hybridisers, or else, the Botanists cannot really make up their minds about them. Some Persoonias have a distinctive rolled-under edge to their leaves. One such species is P. hirsuta. (Ed: See Erratum comment below - this reference should be to P. mollis DJW 28.2.06) It is said to be "variable". That is an understatement. One I saw today looked like a scaled down version of P. linearis, with narrow leaves, but with the tell-tale rolled edge to the leaf. Around Carrington Falls (10 Km south-east of Robertson) the local P. hirsuta (?)
form there, (Ed: in fact, P. mollis. DJW 28.2.06) has oval or rounded leaves, half as long and twice as wide as this plant I was looking at today. Who is to know exactly what they are? I am far from confident of my identification of either of these forms of Persoonia.

Finally, there is a common prostrate Persoonia in the Kangaloon area. It forms bright green mats of foliage often more than a metre wide. Its leaf shape is almost diamond shaped, about 5 mm long, 3 mm wide. It does not meet the general descriptions of P. oxycoccoides, but that plant is the closest fit I can find. It is also described as "variable" in leaf form.

The fruit of the Persoonias are edible, but not very nice (to my taste). They have a sticky textured gummy flesh, with a hard stone, like a cherry pip, inside them. However, Gang Gang Cockatoos absolutely love these fruit. These birds will often sit quietly in a large Persoonia shrub, and will allow you to approach them, quietly, until they decide it is time to fly away, making their characteristic harsh creaking sound.


Denis Wilson said...

Slight correction. I referred to the local form of "P. lanceolata" as having a blue-grey foliage. I have subsequently noticed that Blombery & Maloney, in "The Proteaceae of the Sydney region", cite recent published studies by P.H. Weston and accord species status to "P. glaucescens". They record it as occurring on the Illawarra Plateau, from Picton to Berrima.

Denis Wilson said...

Erratum: I have just received back from the Austraian National Botanic Gardens a few specimens of Persoonias which I submitted for identification by the botanists there.

The plant which I referred to above as P. hirsuta is not that species. It is, in fact Persoonia mollis.
DJW 28.2.06