Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, December 17, 2007

An unusual plant leads me to Louisa Atkinson.

Louisa Atkinson,(first name Caroline) was born in 1834, at Oldbury, a well-known historic property in Sutton Forest. She is acknowledged as a pioneer botanist, and author, (and trail-blazer). It would be anachronistic to proclaim her to be a feminist, but none-the-less, it seems the title would suit her.

She discovered a number of new plant species in the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands regions of New South Wales. She collected the first specimens of many species of plants, and these were sent to Reverend William Woolls, (a famous early colonial botanist) or to Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, the first Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, who named a number of species after her.

This plant Xanthosia atkinsoniana,
was named in Louisa's honour by Baron von Mueller.

I found this specimen growing in Medway, a small village on the sandstone plateau, about 5 Km south-west from Berrima. It is appropriate to note that Medway is located a mere 8 Km north-west from Oldbury, where Louisa Atkinson first learnt to explore the Australian bush, which she knew and loved so well.

Pink buds of Xanthosia atkinsoniana,
and white mature flowers.
When I eventually identified this unfamiliar plant (unfamiliar to me, at least) I was thrilled to realise that it was growing where Louisa might well have first stumbled upon it, some 150 years before me. For me it was like reaching out to touch a little piece of botanical history.

This is botanical illustration for Xanthosia atkinsoniana from PlantNet (from the website of the "Royal Botanic Gardens Trust" in Sydney).

Botanically, this plant is interesting, for its flower structure is characteristic of the Celery and Parsley group of plants (Apiaceae family). The umbel structure of the inflorescence are typical of this family. This plant has flattened bracts beneath the flowers, and leaves which are very similar to the most famous Australian member of this family, the Flannel Flower (Actinotus helianthi).

The flattened seed structure, which is divided laterally into two parts, is clearly illustrated. You can see in the single flower (below) the bulbous structure from which that dried seed will take its final shape. It was this diagnostic shape of the individual flower which led to my positive identification of this plant.Once I had a name for it, a quick Google Image search produced a definitive image, from the wonderful plant index and gallery for the Bega Valley (NSW). That image is so clear, that I was totally confident of my identification of my specimen. Thanks are due to Jackie Miles and Max Campbell for that wonderful plant photo gallery.

Gaye from the Hunter (and other readers) might well find this easy-to-use plant and fungi index to be useful for identifications, as I am sure I will, in future, now that I have found it. Some plants have localised distribution, but I am sure there will be many plants found in the Bega Valley which will also be found in the Southern Highlands, and the Hunter Valley. Such was the case with this Xanthosia species.

Epacris calvertiana var versicolor
, another local plant (from the Belmore Falls and Barren Grounds areas), is also named after Louisa (after her married name).


Gaye from the Hunter said...

hello Denis,

an interesting post indeed.

I have not seen the likes of this plant locally, but I will now be aware that it could exist.

Thank you.


Beth said...

Hi Denis

Louisa Atkinson must have collected heaps of plants for William Wools and Ferdinand Von Mueller as she is mentioned hundreds of times in publications regarding the range of plants. I have a book called the pioneer writer about her and it is a wonderful read as she was the first Aust born female novelist. Lucy might like to read about her also. I have done a short cut to the desk top of the bega plant id wouldn't it be good to have something like it for Wingecarribee. Maybe you and REPS could get a grant to do a bit???
See you soon