Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Much Ado about “Bundy On Tap”

I have received the following report on the public meeting at Bundanoon from Virginia Falk who had been asked to offer the "Welcome to Country" at the Bundanoon on Tap meeting.

If I might be permitted a word of explanation to her commentary below, it is quite apparent that Virginia was asked to provide a purely symbolic "Welcome to Country", thus ignoring the fact that she is well qualified (in every sense) to speak authoritatively on the importance of water to the entire community.

Trouble is, Bundanoon did not want to hear anything from her other than a few "nice" words of welcome.
Following that Meeting, Virginia sent me the following report which I am honoured to publish.

Denis Wilson
Robertson NSW
Much Ado about “Bundy On Tap”

Our little village of Bundanoon created a media frenzy when community were to decide whether to ban water bottles or not. Contrary to the impression created by some media journalists, who were not present at the meeting, community residents attended with open-minds and were orderly during their attendance. However, many Bundanoon residents left the meeting in an angry mood.

Protests on environmental issues tend to carry some remnant of the unkempt hair, daggy t-shirt and shorts image, where "Greenie" activists study political science or philosophy. Wrong impressions were created by the Media. The Bundanoon Green Movement fell across various social categories, from business owners, retirees and young families and Indigenous. Hardly the rabid stereotype of Greenie, chaining themselves to bulldozers in Eucalypt forests or kayaking ‘con placard’ down the Franklin. So what was the monumental fuss?

Several committee representatives met with me prior to the Bundy On Tap community meeting, the invitation was put to me to address the Indigenous issues to water on the environment that haunted the Indigenous Environmental Movement. After four years of doctoral research on this topic there were more points to address than time frames allowed.

The Green message was restricted to banning of water bottles.

Debate was not wanted on the untenable level of water extraction; the social colonial witch-hunt on swamps over generations; or the lack of research commitment to a la “Peter Andrews hydrology” of restoring endemic Indigenous environments through alternative methodology. Words such as Climate Change were few.

The Government “Silo” approach to Indigenous policy on the effects of environmental sustainability is always focussed on grant-cycle riparian planting, redundant environmental tertiary certificates that have no pathways for Indigenous peoples and where terminated Indigenous government projects and organisations often ‘top-up’ consolidated government revenue. Every Indigenous Australian that has gathered to government conferences in hope of career networking or grandstanding personal opinion, the conference ‘junkies come away with Indigenous logos upon pencils, embossed t-shirts and numerous meaningless fact sheets.

This dark view of an Indigenous world is not a “Harry Potter-like” screenplay of good versus evil, it is by the slick use of captivating animation and the use of fantasy genre to deliver complex narration in memento of ‘useless things’. Bottled water themes when singled out from complex environmental subject matter are fantastic ventures into Enviro-space that deny an Indigenous existence in Australian Conservation and Climate Change fora. Attempting to forge the purist Green message while disabling Indigenous academic and community participation in research, debate and knowledge transference - is meaningless waffle. This is what came out from Bundanoon's experiment.

The official tally on the Bundy on Tap vote was 354 for a ban on bottled water, with 2 against, one of which was a representative of a city Water business. During the “Do Something” PowerPoint presentation, the representative progressed the down-side of plastic containers. Attempts by community members to inform the “peoples” debate were “cut-off” in midstream.

I was the only speaker who was timed by a gong after several minutes. Funny how this experience was more in keeping with a stint on a local talent show than in evidence-based discussion. The Shepherd’s Hook would have been less painful and less embarrassing.

Through the evening the presentation emphasised the pollution factor to plastic bottles, not the entire still and sparkling water business practice that should expose Australia’s well-documented over-extraction of groundwater and the significance of water holes, springs and the existence of Indigenous heritage sites to these water systems.
In recent water research, I was commissioned by government to develop an Indigenous water policy in Western Australia. The request for a “reserved water allocation” met with political stone-walling. The status quo for consumptive water being politically lobbied by a range of water interest groups is the Australian model. Indigenous ‘first occupant’ status is considered tantamount to sedition. Un-Australian?

After a media frenzy of putting “Bundanoon Village” on cyber-space for posterity, the media aftermath felt like the Melbourne and Sydney Water Summits, where water conferences are run by industry and government. The Indigenous environmental concerns were under the radar, uninvited and received no media coverage.
Radio and television interviews for “Bundy banned water bottles” were saturated by reporting in ‘stock Greenie’ questions and answers. The silence on Indigenous water issues was apparent. This social mistreatment for discrete numeric minorities is core business in Australia. There is a rhetoric argument in lines such as, “The Lucky Country” or “if we lived in an emerging market economy without human rights you would be in prison now for your opinion”. I would rather be bored by reruns of polluting plastic bottles.

Social commentary talk shows in Australia are full of Indigenous media personalities that operate out of their generalist area and media hosts still employ well-worn “Aborigines vs Us” material that is facile and ineffective. On 20 July 2009, on a non-commercial channel this question and answer “Stanner” format was deployed from a journalist enquiring on the “political sufferings” of Indigenous peoples and the guest did not flinch to the stereotype question format. That is, Australian ‘sofa-sitters’ solving the “Aboriginal Problem”, as quoted by Stanner in his essay. This inane chatter raises the same fate for Indigenous environmental concerns in Australia.

For other Indigenous peoples who share a common conscience and contribute to the collective knowledge in water and its use, the ‘conference t-shirt’ appeals now more than superficial programming. Perhaps even the commercial channels would be turned from a series titled, “Two men, a tinny and a slab of bottled water”.

During the Garma “Indigenous Water Conference” 2008 the Indigenous attendees were in consensus that ‘water is sacred’. Following these intense discussions on how Indigenous peoples will be engaged in their respective communities in water management and decision-making, inclusive on the interface of environmental policy, the government attendees and university representatives and Western Scientists were ‘stumm’. Like the Bundy Bottled Water event, the message was about creating more opportunities for non-Indigenous parties to direct and inform the water research debate, through more Commonwealth paid ‘cut and paste’ style reporting. Over the past week just count how many informed, Indigenous researchers on water issues were interviewed by the media. Times up. There is no need to count.

When the Human Rights Commission requested a contribution to the current Native Title Report 2008 I was enthusiastic that this would broaden the environmental concerns of Indigenous Australian’s to the rest of the Australian community. Not so. The current HREOC report has substance and progressive material than previous years, where a chapter on Indigenous water has not even raised a media eye-brow. The chapter on water in the recent “Indigenous Australians and the Law” (2nd edition) and other contributions in this book informs the state of Indigenous Affairs by many Indigenous authors. However, this didn’t create the media frenzy that “banning bottled water” did across the Global stage. Last weeks broadsheets ran the Intervention and similar expose, not water rights. Again the mix of abuse, petrol sniffing and income quarantine conflates the underlying issues that don’t sell news.

Climbing Uluru did attract the “One Australia” melting pot fanatics and the genuine protesters to address the racial insensitivity to Indigenous cultural landscapes that were ancestrally formed not “discovered”, as some naturalist theorists and contributors affirm. Genesis and other world beliefs are sacred, why are Indigenous beliefs “myths”. Any takers?

The entire “bottled water debate” has missed the proverbial boat to England. Where water is defined as a ‘natural resource’, any policy will fail. For instance, where land and water have now been separated under Commonwealth and State legislation in Australia to affect a market enterprise and property interest, the Indigenous and informed Environmental lobbyist has been cut loose. The commodification of water devalues the communal significance of water. Australian has now legislated private rights to water as the norm. Funny how Australia believes it has sufficient human rights protection. The right to water is an international article at law. Read through Australia’s legislation, it’s absent.

I remember a number of years ago, driving around NSW and making enquiries on the level of interest from Real Estates to the Commonwealth ‘new’ unbundled water rights. Local people would say that they had calls from ‘out-of-towners’ wanting to buy their water licences for sums of money that was unprecedented to modest rural owners. Today, the water price has risen well above the ‘cockies’ ability to buy back into the market. For Indigenous landowners wanting water, the words, the "horse has bolted and left the stadium" are ringing true. Indigenous peoples in Australian have an allocation after everyone else gets their newly packaged ‘bottled water’.

The Indigenous Land Corporation, as told to me, has held onto water licences that have not been restored to Indigenous landholders. The Indigenous ‘bushies’ should have staged a ban on water in their rural and remote communities and infused this debate with the ‘real’ policy issues. Perhaps “Do Something” could hire out some reps to create a new media frenzy “coming to a town near you”. No fellow Australians, “gammon”. Meaning ‘just kidding’.

Water is not just a natural resource, a commodity or a consumer product. It is sacred. We just haven’t been allowed to debate the facts and figures. That’s democracy.

Virginia Falk
Bundanoon, NSW.

LLM LLB Grad.Dip.Legal Prac. BA(Hons) BVocEd

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More on Sassafras Tree flowering

At the risk of driving readers crazy, I am posting several more images of Sassafras. These are of a particularly fine specimen of Sassafras in full flower.

This tree is clearly visible as one drives up the bends near the top of Belmore Falls Road (coming north, up the hill into Robertson). This was taken from the road, looking across at the tree, some 80 metres away, or more. As soon as I saw it, I parked the car to grab a couple of quick images, while the tree was in its prime.If you recall how small these white flowers are (fingertip size) - the question is, how many flowers is this tree carrying at once - the create such an impression? There will be no answer offered, of course. Just something on which we can all ponder.Can you imagine the perfume coming from such a heavily flowering tree?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Eyelash Fungi on Wallaby (?) Dung

Recently my Blogging colleague "Boobook" (whose Blog is called "Bushranger") published some photos of "Eyelash Fungi" she found on some Kangaroo dung. I mentioned in my comment upon her post on her Blog that I had seen a similar species on wet, rotten wood in the Robertson Nature Reserve (Scutellinia scutellata). I have tonight sent her a clarification that they are likely a different (but related) species from the ones I had found (previously). I was able to clarify that because of today's "find" - a new species for me. JL will understand that reference.

Today I found these tiny specimens on two neatly placed (side by side) pieces of animal dung. The scats (dung) were approximately 50 mm (2 inches) long and 30 mm (1.5 inches) long respectively. These scats were lying on Eucalypt leaves which had blown into this patch of Melaleuca forest. The leaves might be Viola hederacea.I am not an expert on "scats". Some people are. But these seem to me to be likely to be Wallaby (or Potoroo) droppings. They are definitely not from Wombats (different shape). I wondered about fox scats, but usually those are thinner and have bits of bone or fur in them. They also tend to have pointed ends (the fur content refusing to break easily). These scats were not like those Fox scats in that linked image. So, I shall settle for describing today's specimens as the dung of an unknown (small) herbivore.

It is worth mentioning that the area where I was is in a dense Melaleuca thicket, surrounded by even denser mats of intertwined Coral Fern, which is very difficult for large animals (including me) to get through. But the coral fern patches have many low track through them, and many signs of Wombats. These low tracks (almost tunnels) would suit Swamp Wallabies as well, but make access difficult for Kangaroos.

In the interest of science (and for Mick who likes things to help her assess the "scale" of small things when I show Macro photos) I took this image with the tip of my thumb visible. These fungi are tiny, by most standards. I know a vast number of fungi are genuinely microscopic (yeasts and such like, which are generally invisible to the human eye). But in the world of "macro-fungi" these specimens are about as small as one normally sees (or notices). Place your left thumb on the screen where my thumbnail is, and you will realise that this image is about 3 times life size. Remembering that, you will realise that today's fungi were only about 2 mm wide. The largest ones perhaps were 3 mm in diameter.
The first thing I tried to ascertain was the exact shape of these fungi. Were they little orange "balls"? No! I have previously seen minute, rounded yellowish fungi on minute stalks. (Click to see the details of the shape of these ball fungi in larger size). You will see that these fungi are different from today's flat-topped fungi.That is someone holding a 10 power hand lens to examine these minute ball fungi. These are possibly related to the Nectria species illustrated by Heino Lepp from the National Herbarium website here.

Today's Fungi turned out to be nearly flat topped. Some look slightly convex, but mostly they look concave in shape (depressed in the middle). I started to see (from the camera screen, when I "reviewed" the images in the field) that these were "Eyelash Fungi".

Once I realised that, I quickly grabbed my trusty 10 power hand lens, and confirmed that observation. I knew I had to get very close images indeed.

In the next image you can begin to see the "eyelash" feature from which they gain their common name. If you click this next image to enlarge it to its full size, you can actually see many immature Fungi just emerging from the dung pellet (on the left of the image). Already their fibrous "eyelashes" are visible. It makes me want to go back on Monday or Tuesday, to see if the whole scat has become covered in these orange fungi.
Winding out the Camera lens to near its maximum, gives me close to a 10 power magnification. My beloved Macro lens setup (a 60mm Macro lens with 1.6 Teleconverter) can go in closer, but then the flash "overshoots" the object. I need to get myself a proper high mounted flash, not the standard little "pop-up" flash on my Nikon. It is very dark in this Melaleuca thicket - nearly 80% shade, and anyway, with the Macro set-up I have, flash is generally necessary, if one wishes to see real detail on the computer screen.
This is as close as I can get (with the flash operational). It is about 10 times magnification. The minute fibres (they look like hairs, but of course are not) around the edge of the Fungus are clearly visible at this level of magnification.

So, while today's Fungi appear much the same size as the one illustrated below, that is a factor of a different lens. That is why it is useful that the thumbnails give you some guide to real sizes.

This image below is of the previous "Eyelash Fungi" I had seen in the Robertson Nature Reserve in April 2007. This one was growing on wood, not on animal dung. This image shows another person holding a small stick with the Eyelash Fungus growing on it. My memory is that this was about 1 cm across, but in truth it is probably about 6 or 7 mm across (judging by the fingernail scale). Also it is on a different substrate (wood, not dung) as discussed already. Incidentally, that image above was taken with a standard lens, and has approximately 3 power magnification, whereas the today's closest image is a Macro shot, with about 10 power magnification. So, in conclusion that "Eyelash Fungus" on the piece of wood is about 3 times as large as my Eyelash Fungi found today, on the dung.

I can not find any accessible Australian references to a smaller species of Scutellinia fungi. But I can find an international reference to one smaller species of Scutellinia. I have no idea if this species has been recorded in Australia, but the reference says: Also known as "Scutellinia erinaceus," Scutellinia setosa is even smaller than Scutellinia scutellata, with a maximum width of 3 mm. That fits with my observations, today, and Boobook's specimens of 24 July.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Crisp mornings bring perfumed air.

It has been a week of contrasting weather patterns (rain; cold, strong winds; warm balmy weather; more rain; more winds; and this morning crystal clear skies with no breeze at all). So, I was pleasantly surprised when, this morning, I woke to a crystal clear sky, a light frost, and a sweet perfume hanging in the air.

I am talking about natural aromas, here, not Chanel No 5!

The local Sassafras trees are in full flower (as you have seen recently). They have a sweet, light perfume. Not particularly distinctively scented - unlike their leaves, which remind me of Mandarin rind when peeled. But that scent is only noticeable when the leaves are crushed - it does not travel - unlike the trees' sweet floral perfume.

Some of my Wattles are starting to bloom, as well. These are not endemic species, but garden plants, such as Acacia decurrens, which is the earlier flowerer of my two species of ferny leafed, tall wattles.
Acacia decurrens flowers are sweetly scented.
The other similar tall ferny-leafed Wattle which I grow, A. mearnsii flowers in late October, in Robertson.
Close-up of Acacia decurrens flowers.

When I came in for my regular shift at the local Community Technology Centre (where I just answer the phone and help people get onto the Net - nothing too technical, I can assure you) I was greeted with the sweet scent of the creamy Jonquils known (for some reason) as "Straws".
Their official name is Narcissus tazetta var italicus - so "Straws" is easier. These have a sweet perfume which can be a bit over-powering inside a house. But when outside, with the perfume wafting around on the fresh air, the scent is truly delicious - to my nose. This is all the more satisfying, as I planted these flowers, several years ago, when the CTC was newly built.
The "cup" of the Jonquil is how it earns its Latin name "tazetta",
meaning "Little Cup".
Another CTC volunteer at the time, "Boney" helped me rescue these plants, and many others from an old garden in Robertson where the house was due to be demolished. If his partner BJ is reading this in Western Australia, Hi from Robbo! You're in that linked picture too.

Although the Jonquils were really obvious, I realised while photographing them that there was another, even sweeter perfume on the air. It comes from the beautifully named Lonicera fragrantissima. I am sure all my readers can work out what that means. The first name means it is a Honeysuckle. But if you need a clue the "issima" ending on a plant name acts as a superlative - so it means "most" or "very". So, "fragrantissima" - its not hard is it? So, if you are familiar with the sweet smell of a honeysuckle vine scrambling over your neighbour's fence - then imagine how sweet this one is.
Honey Bee in the Honeysuckle flower
It is a Honeysuckle, but not one of those invasive straggling vines. This is a dense shrub. I love this plant for the reason of what it does on days like today. For the rest of the year I have to stop people from wanting to chop it down - for it looks dull and has stiff stems and hard leathery leaves. A most unattractive shrub, visually.

But today I took all the visitors to the CTC outside to stand in the sun and be bathed in the sweet aroma emanating from this plant. I know we are far from Spring, but today, the plants seem not to know that.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Illawarra Escarpment - looking south to Wollongong

At the end of my day trip to Bundeena, we had wanted to drive south, through the Royal National Park. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so because of roadworks. That necessitated a trip back out to the Princes Highway, at Loftus, north of Engadine. We then headed south to Waterfall, and took the McKell Avenue turn off, and re-entered the Royal, on that road which would take us down a long winding gully to Lady Wakehurst Drive.
Click here to see the map of yesterday's trip. When we met Lady Wakehurst Drive, we turned south, through to Otford, and then Stanwell Tops.
We stopped to capture the view as best I could,
in the late afternoon light.
You can see the same basic view on a clear day - here.
Regular readers will note that this is the opposite view of the Illawarra Coastline and Escarpment, from that taken a few days ago, at Lees Road Lookout, near Knights Hill.

Stanwell Tops is famous for its cliffs overlooking the Illawarra coast.
Here is another Google Map showing the viewing point
and it marks the vista of the photo above.

Click to enlarge, to read the notes on marked points.
Stanwell Tops is famous for Lawrence Hargrave's early experiment with flight - below a train of four box kites on 12 November 1894. Hargrave was suspended on a line below the lowest Box Kite, and he was tethered to the ground by a line held by an assistant. He rose 16 feet in the air.

Hargrave's design of the Box Kite eventually led the way for the Wright Brothers experiments in flight, in their biplane (a powered box kite, if you think of it in those terms), the Wright Flyer 1 (or Kitti Hawk).

Bald Hill at Stanwell Tops is also famous for Hang Gliding. It is a simple equation of the geographical feature of the proximity of the cliffs to the ocean. This means the place combines reliable sea breezes and uplifts owing to the cliffs and mountains behind them. It is perfect for non-powered flight - such as in Hang Gliders and Paragliding.

Nearly every point along this road seems to commemorate Lawrence Hargrave, in some way or other.
This is Zoe standing beside the Lawrence Hargrave Memorial
on Bald hill, Stanwell Tops. Photo taken in 2007.
Now this patch of the Illawarra Coast has another feature to boast about - the Sea Cliff Bridge.
Here is the Illawarra Coastline and Escarpment, as seen from Otford.
Looking south.
"The Sea Cliff Bridge, opened in 2005, restored the connection between Clifton and Coalcliff, broken by frequent rock falls onto this section of the Lawrence Hargrave Drive. The bridge lies parallel to the former "coal cliffs" and offers scenic views of the cliffs, the sea, and surrounding coastline."
Here is a clearer shot, taken in 2007, from Bald Hill.
Here is a snapshot taken out the window, just on dark.
It shows the cliff line, as seen from the bridge.
You can see the cliffs from the free-standing bridge which is built on pylons which runs parallel to the coast. It was designed to overcome repeated blockages from landslips of the original road (the Lawrence Hargrave Drive)
Clearly the RTA is very proud of this bridge.
They have many images of the bridge under construction and completed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A holiday in 6 hours

Today I took a day off - as I felt I needed a holiday. It was just what I needed.

Kids playing on the beach in front of Bundeena House.
Such a different climate and habitat from Robertson.
Since moving to Robertson I have wanted to go to the Royal National Park, just south of Sydney (and north of Wollongong). It is not very far away, just a 75 minute drive away. But as I discovered today, it is a whole world apart.

A family fishing beside the jetty at Bundeena
- enjoying the unseasonally warm weather (24.7 C).
"The Royal", as it is known, is a remarkable area a sandstone plateau on the edge of Sydney, which remarkably was protected by decree as a National Park on 26 April 1879. It was the first National Park to be declared in Australia - and the second in the world, (after America's "Yellowstone National Park").
Google Map, with my notes. Click to enlarge.
It is a huge Park, (154 Sq. Kms) with roads leading in to it from Heathcote, Waterfall and also from Stanwell Tops (the southern end of the Park).

I had first seen the village of Bundeena from a point south of Cronulla several years ago when I went out to Kurnell, to see where Captain Cook (and Joseph Banks) first set foot on Australian soil. That led to the naming of Botany Bay, and the native plant "Banksia", (and the New Holland Honeyeater, which to this day, hang out in the large Banksia serrata ("Old Man Banksia") bushes where they landed).

Anyway, today I decided at about lunchtime to give myself the day off and drive to Bundeena, and to have a look at the Royal National Park. Events conspired against the "exploration" plan, as the main road through the Park was closed for roadworks. But we could get through to Bundeena (I went with Peter, who had been hacking Blackberries for me, until I invited him to take the day off too).

We went straight to the Jetty, where I took a photo of the Port Hacking "heads" - with the Pacific Ocean beyond.
Refer to the vista lines marked on the map, above.
Cronulla (part of suburban Sydney) is also seen across the bay.
Children playing beside a lovely Bronze statue
"Spring" by the late Judit Shead.
On the drive in to Bundeena I spotted many heathland plants in flower. On the way back out, we stopped several times to take a few photos, but the weather was changing and we could not stay long. I will show some more plants over the next few days. But there were several surprises for me.

A wonderfully tall Gymea Lily
flowering beside the road into the Park from Waterfall.
These plants are common near the large red dot
(on the map above) on the road into the Royal from Waterfall.
These plants normally flower later in the season.
I recall that they were in flower at the time of the
Sydney Olympics, in mid to late September 2000.And this plant is known as "Christmas Bells" (Blandfordia nobilis)
That tells you all you need to know about its unseasonal flowering.
This was growing beside the Bundeena Road.
Technical Notes:
Full-screen Royal National Park
The Royal National Park is a national park in New South Wales, Australia, 29 km south of Sydney. Founded by Sir John Robertson***, Acting Premier of New South Wales, and formally proclaimed on 26 April 1879, it is the world's second oldest purposed national park, the first usage of the term "national park" after Yellowstone in the United States. Its original name was The National Park, but it was renamed in 1955 after Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia passed through on the way to Wollongong during her 1954 tour . (It could be argued that the Royal is the oldest gazetted national park because Yellowstone's original gazetting was "recreation area.") The Royal was added to the list of the National Heritage in December, 2006.

*** This is the same guy after whom my village is named. He is regarded by left-wing Australian historians as almost a socialist, for he introduced the "Crown Lands Acts 1861" which allowed ordinary citizens (as distinct from the "squattocracy") to take up land-holdings. That legislation led to the clearing of the "Yarrawa Brush" and the settlement of this district, which was subsequently re-named in his honour.

Vegetation notes on the Royal National Park (from the NPWS website).

Sassafras flowers - a detailed presentation

Sassafras flowers are blossoming all over Robertson at present. I mentioned them coming into flower, last week. I am still not able to bring you the sensation of their sweet perfume, unfortunately.At the time I wanted to go into some detail of the strange structure of the flower, but I could not find out enough information to enable me to explain them to you. Tonight I think I am ready to try.
Kindly bear with me, dear reader. I have never before seen any flower with the structure which you are about to see.

Sassafras flowers develop in threes.
One single flower in the centre,
and two buds which will develop as the first flower fades.
Here is a single flower - cropped.
It is about the size of a small thimble
just large enough to take my little finger.
Note the circle of thin stamens.
Each stamen has a pair of prominent white swellings at the base.
As I shall explain later, those swellings are the anthers,
but the pollen within them is not yet ripe - not ready to be dispersed.
Another flower - picked, and ready for dissection.
Here is how the flower (inflorescence) is described by botanists. This is sourced from "Forest Trees of Australia". Click to enlarge image so you can read the text.
The dissection commences. I have removed several petals ("perianth lobes") so you can see into the flower, from the side view. Note the fine needle-like structures which are the stamens of the flower.
Click to enlarge the image. Note the fine downy hairs on the petal surface and on the outside of the swollen base of the flower (ovary capsule). It is this part of the flower which swells into the seed capsule, and from my memory of the previous seeding explosion 3 years ago, those seed capsules are noticeably hairy as they develop. In fact their hairiness is significant, for the seeds are wind dispersed, and anything which helps catch the wind is important to successful seed dispersal.

This is the same image, having been worked over somewhat in Photoshop.
The point is to simplify and thus reveal the important features of the structure of the flower.
What you have left are two of the 6 stamens, each with the two prominent anthers, which are developing to maturity - preparing to shed pollen (dehiscing). There is a structure holding the anthers out to the side to the flower - at right angles (more or less) to the tall, upright pointed stamen. That structure is made more clear in a botanical illustration and a photo below. The pollen grains are held in the anthers. that is normal. But its location at the bottom of the stamen is far from "normal" amongst most "modern" plants. In fact, the botanists regard Sassafras as a primitive plant, (amongst dicotyledonous plants) largely based upon an analysis of the flower structure. That is, it is not regarded as "primitive" compared to ferns, etc. But compared to other flowering plants, it is so regarded.

This location of the anthers (and therefore the pollen) is very different from most plants with which we gardeners are familiar. For example Lilies, or my favourites, Peonies, which hold their pollen high within the flower, to maximize pollen collection by bees.
A pink trumpet Lilium
with pollen very prominently presented on the anthers.Here is one of my favourites, a Tree Peony.
Note the ring of anthers with heavy pollen.
Clearly the Sassafras plants have evolved a very different form of pollination. I recall reading that they are supposedly pollinated by Mosquitoes (perhaps small midges or gnats which I have noticed around in the last few days.) The pollen grains are close to the base of the flower, not at the tip of the stamen, which is the more familiar position.

Here is the "eye" of the flower, cropped close.
(Click to enlarge the image).
Note the ring of 6 stamens forming the outside ring of the central part of the flower. Some are pointing up towards the camera, so they disappear, somewhat. But you can clearly see the 6 bases of the stamens, each with two white bubbles of pollen on the anthers.
There are two dark spots on the base of each stamen.
Inside that ring of stamens are a series of small structures, which are the the "6 alternating shorter staminodes" referred to in the botanical text above. Staminodes are modified stamens, often infertile (having no pollen).
These structures are visible against the green base of the flower.
Right in the centre of the flower are the thin white, pointed carpels (the female parts of the flower).

Here is a botanical drawing of the structure of the stamen and anthers of the Sassafras.
And here is an image of a single stamen and the paired anthers at the base - the result of my "dissection". The green section is the remains of the base of the flower - acting as a handle for my fingers to hold the stamen - allowing its details to be clearly seen.
You can clearly see the pollen ready to be dispersed (a process known as "dehiscence"). If you glance back up the page to the third image, you see a photo of a very fresh flower. Examine the anthers in that flower, at that stage of development. They are hard and white and clearly are not mature - at that stage. The pollen had not yet started to dehisce in that image. Unlike the pollen in this image.

In due course, I shall show some seed capsules and then the actual seeds when they disperse.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Illawarra Escarpment and Wollongong coast

I often refer to Robertson being close to the coast, sitting above the Illawarra region. This what I mean. Click to enlarge the image, and you will see Lake Illawarra, the Blue Scope Steel (formerly BHP) steelworks and Wollongong.

I am indebted to my fellow Aussie Nature Blogger, Mick (from Sandy Straits and Beyond) for reminding me about the Weather. It was the weather which was special, yesterday. Crystal clear sky and a westerly wind to push any of Wollongong's pollution out to sea. After all the view is potentially there every day, but few days are as clear as yesterday.

The three peaks are the hill tops which dominate the Wollongong skyline (Mt Keira, Mt Kembla and Bulli). They are not high points, it is just that they are very abrupt. They are the edge of the Illawarra Escarpment, and come very close to the coast. As a result, there is a very nice patch of sub-tropical rainforest along that coast, just below the escarpment.These photos are taken from the Lees Road lookout, off the Jamberoo Mountain Road. The lookout is approximately 5 Km east of Robertson. OK, so it is not IN Robertson, it is just the best view one can get, locally. But you get the point. Here is a Google Map with the vista angles drawn in. Click to see the detailed location.Robertson is one ridge further up from the sandstone escarpment (where these shots were taken). You will recall that we are on a basalt cap above the sandstone.
View over the Maquarie Rivulet valley.
From the valley floor, Robertson is 15 Km along, to the left.
The Macquarie Pass is located to the left of the above image. The lush green valley below runs from Albion Park (out of sight on the right) through this valley, then suddenly climbs the escarpment, some 8 Kms to my left - at the end of this valley.
Dairy farms dominate the floor of the
narrow, lush Maquarie Rivulet Valley.
Here is a view (somewhat foreshortened, I admit, because of the longish zoom lens) which shows one of the local sandstone clifflines, near Knights Hill, with the coast in clear view beyond.
Finally, here is a zoomed image (taken with a 300 mm lens) of Port Kembla, the steelworks and 6 ships waiting off shore to receive their loads of coal or grain. Part of Lake Illawarra is visible in the middle distance. There is a new gas-fired power station at Haywards Bay in the lower foreground. The Illawarra is a very energy intensive region, especially when you realise that there are huge coal resources underneath the Escarpment.Wollongong lives and breathes on energy. It may also die because of industry and Governmental refusal to adapt to new energy-conscious polity.

There is a tiny Wave Power prototype facility proposed for Port Kembla. A good start, but not much more than a token gesture.

What about a chain of Wind Turbines sitting out to sea? That's work, wouldn't it?