Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Leafhopper knocking on my front door.

This strange little insect turned up on my front screen door, several days ago. I have not ever seen one of these insects before - well, not with a set of fully fledged flying wings - especially not with these steely-blue translucent wings. I was able to "recognise" the shape of the head of this insect, for as a former gardener in Canberra I had to deal with many Leaf Hoppers - mostly flightless nymphs of the Passion-fruit Leaf Hopper.From the head shape and the "bug" eyes, it reminded me of a Cicada and Leaf Hoppers. Both are members of the Hemiptera Order - "Bugs".

I did a search on my favourite Insects site, the Chew Family's "Insects of Brisbane". I quickly found a page with similar insects, the "Yellow and Black Leafhopper". This confirmed my original impression that I was on the right track - Leafhoppers - Subfamily Cicadellinae, Family Cicadellidae. Obviously the group is named after the Cicadas.

That site gave me a link to a further site, from the NSW Dept of Primary Industries. They have a key for distinguishing related families - Leaf Hopper or Spittle Bug?

This is part of the Website: Key to the Leafhoppers and Treehoppers of Australia and neighbouring areas - by Murray J. Fletcher, Orange Agricultural Institute.

The closest I could find to my insect is this species Ishidaella tumida, another orange-bodied Leaf Hopper, quite similar to mine.
The following notes on Leaf Hoppers and Cicadas are adapted from the Chew Family website pages on the "Order Hemiptera - Bugs, Aphids and Cicadas."

"The insects in Order Hemiptera are extremely diverse in size, shape and colour. They include the Bugs, Aphids, Cicadas, leafhoppers and scale insects."

If you find the combination of Cicadas with Aphids and Scale insects to be a bit puzzling, remember that they have one common characteristic: their sucking mouths (stylets). Because of the position of this insect higher than my head, and as I was unsure what I was dealing with, I was reluctant to handle it, so unfortunately I do not have an image which shows the sucking mouth parts.

All of the insect in this Sub-Order suck juice from plants, insects or other animals. (I'd rather not think of blood sucking bugs - but there is a group of related insect (in the group known as True Bugs) which are called "Assassin Bugs". I wrote about one of these previously. Many of them are small, but one is up to 30 mm long. Fortunately for us, dear reader, they concentrate on insects, termites and spiders, though reportedly they can give
a painful prick on prying fingers.

Members in the
Order Hemiptera undergo "incomplete metamorphosis" and their young, the nymphs, look much the same as their adults except smaller and wingless. In this regard they have a totally different life-cycle from Butterflies and their caterpillars. Remember my comment above on how the shape of the head of this insect was familiar to me as a former gardener in Canberra? One could never say that of a caterpillar's head resembling a butterfly's head.

This Suborder Auchenorrhyncha - includes cicadas, treehoppers and leafhoppers. Hoppers have hard forewings which held roof-like over the membranous hind wings on the back.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Grass Tree

This is an uncommon Grass Tree in the Robertson area.
I believe it to be Xanthorrhoea australis.
Look to the tall spike
Then look down to the ground,
You will find a clump of rush-like leaves
This particular plant is seemingly a relatively young plant (with no trunk formed below the leaves).There are many species of Grass Trees, some of which have no trunk at all, but mostly they have small or medium flower spikes. But this plant has a terrific flower spike - well over 4 metres in height.
The flowers have finished, unfortunately, but the seed capsules are still visible. The floral section of the flower spike starts above my head height, so that gives you some idea of the overall height of this floral structure.I shall have to make a closer examination of the leaves of this plant in order to be absolutely sure of the identification, but the height of the wooden scape and the floral section - or more specifically, the ration of the length of each) is right for this species. Some have very long wooden spikes and relatively small flowering sections, and others vice-versa.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Plum and Cherry Blossoms - late winter

Of the various ornamental Prunus trees which I grow, the first to flower is Prunus x blireiana. It is a cultivar form of an ornamental flowering plum. It does not set seed (at all - as far as I know). It is grown for the wonderful display of pink, double blossoms.It is reported to be a hybrid between the "Flowering Plum" (Cherry Plum) Prunus cerasifera Var atropurpurea and the very-early-flowering beauty Prunus mume (Flowering Almond) which I showed you some 7 weeks ago (growing in a friend's garden). I rightly named that post as the "Harbinger of Spring".
This flower has a delightful soft pink colour -
especially when the flowers are fresh - as this one is.
Here is a mature flower - paler in the petals
but the anthers (and the pollen) have gone dark.
A few metres along the pathway is the lovely "Taiwan Cherry" Prunus campanulatus. I was searching for an appropriate way to describe the colour of the flowers of this plant and I found in that website above - the description "neon pink".
At a distance from the tree the colour appears red - plain and simple.

But there are many things happening here. The base of the bud and the bracts (the surrounding shield-like covers which protect the bud before it has opened) are a bright red. The petals, however, as they open, have a distinct tinge of blue about them. This pigment changes their appearance beyond red - into the vague range of colour where our normal words do not go. It is not "purple". It is not "hot pink", so I shall settle on the words of that other author "neon pink".

The latin specific name "campanulatus" means "bell like".
As the flower matures, the stamens go dark. It shares that trend with the related plant above. This image has a lot of lens flare as I was trying to capture the dark eye of the flower, which is actually green.
There is another singularly beautiful feature of this plant - that is the way the flowers are held on the pendant sprays, beneath the two red bracts (which protect the entire flowering structure over winter).Further below these bracts, on the flowering stem, there are a set of finely fringed "leaves" (no doubt there is a technical term for them, but lets call them "leaves") which also shield the stem of three buds as the flowers develop. Once the flowers are fully developed these leaves revert to their basic function of harvesting sunlight for the energy of the plant.I just love the fact that this plant has these very fine "leaves" within the flowering structure. Very pretty, and unusual.

This Taiwan Cherry is a popular plant as a street tree in Bowral, but I love it for its early display of colour - and a dark red colour at that. It has been very reliable for me. my plant is nearing 5 metres tall, after being planted as a 1.5 metre "sapling" a mere 5 years ago. It seems resistant to insect attack, too, unlike the Japanese Flowering Cherry.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Leucopogon flowering on Mt. Murray

Tonight I drove my friend Celeste back to her house, after a successful screening of two movies at the Robertson CTC.

On the way back, we talked about the amazing flowering of scented plants around Robertson at present.
  1. First of all is the Sassafras, which is the dominant tree in our local rainforests. At night these trees appear silvery, or even snowy, depending upon how heavily they are in flower. It has been an amazing flowering season for the Sassafras trees this year. Their sweet floral scent hangs on the warm evening air.
  2. Next, we talked about the Tree Violet, about which I wrote last night. That plant has a delicious scent of violets.
  3. And then there are the Blackwood Wattles, which is our next most dominant tree. Their flowers are only pale yellow, but they are large rounded trees, and carry huge numbers of flowers. They have a light sweet perfume.
  4. And as we drove up the long hill, approaching Celeste's house, she told me about a Native Heath plant which is growing in the forest beside her road. We stopped to collect a specimen, which I have photographed tonight. This plant has a sweet scent, reminscent of vanilla. A lovely light perfume. This plant is Leucopogon lanceolatus - the Lance-leaved Beard-heath.
The 40mm long leaves have prominent veins
which run the length of the leaves.
The flowers are held in sprays which protrude beyond the leaves.
Here are some more of the flower sprays.
This image shows why the plant genus has the name Leuco-pogon
White (or silver); and Bearded.
In botanical language, the corolla lobes are "densely bearded"
I have written about a related species previously.
And here it is in closer detail.
This is a lateral view of the flower
It shows its bell-like shape.
A medium shrub (up to 2 metres) which grows commonly on the sandstone cliffs and forests of the Illawarra Escarpment, but is not found in Robertson proper. But at Mt Murray, a mere 4 Km away to the east, and just above the escarpment, it is growing in the Sassafras forests on red basalt soil. Normally it is restricted to sandstone soils.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tree Violets perfume the air in Robertson

Can you imagine a village scented by Violets?
Well that is happening at present in Robbo.

In fairness, the abundant Sassafras trees are still rampantly in flower. But the Tree Violets have a sweeter scent, and if you stand anywhere near a bush (in flower) then you just become enveloped in their sweet perfume.

A three metre high "Tree Violet" bush
on the edge of the Robertson Nature Reserve.
Click to enlarge the image.
Two weeks ago, my Blogging colleague, Duncan, commented that the Tree Violets in his area of Gippsland were heavily in bud. Hopefully they are now in flower there too. On past records, flowering of many plants in Duncan's area is actually slightly in advance of Robertson - suggesting that altitude has a greater influence than latitude. Although we are further north (which ought make us warmer), we are higher, and that makes us cooler. On that theory, our flowers come into bloom slightly later than the same species in Duncan's area of Gippsland. Duncan regularly reports Orchids flowering there before the same species is in flower here.

In the rainforest patches around Robertson, the Tree Violets (Melicytus dentatus - formerly Hymenanthera dentata) grow to at least 3 metres tall. In the Robertson Nature Reserve, there are some old plants which exceed 7 metres. They are small trees, with trunks in excess of 12 inches (25 cm ) diameter. This is much larger than reported in the FloraNET entry (above) for the species. Presumably this is as a result of our rich soil and high rainfall.
Interpretative sign in Robertson Nature Reserve
Their flowers are prolific. Although the flowers are tiny, they produce this sweet perfume - similar to their familiar European cousins, the "Sweet Violet" (Viola odorata).

To my untrained eye, these flowers bear no resemblance to their famous relative, but the Botanists assure us that they are related. But, on the evidence of my nose, today, I will not disagree.

The flowers are small, pendant bell-shaped items, hanging in profusion beneath the twiggy, spiny stems. The botanists describe the typical flowers thus:
  • The description of the flowers of this species says: "Flowers axillary, solitary or in pairs; peduncles recurved, 2–5 mm long. Sepals 2–3 mm long. Petals ovate, 3–5 mm long, recurved at tips, pale yellow"
  • Flowers of the Melicytus genus are described in this way: "Inflorescences auxillary or borne below the leaves, often few-flowered, clustered. Flowers functionally unisexual, actinomorphic; pedicels with a pair of minute bracts. Calyx lobes subequal. Petals equal. Stamens free or united, rudimentary in female flowers; filaments short; anthers free, ovoid, with a dorsal, scale-like nectary and connective usually produced into a membraneous appendage. Ovary rudimentary in male flowers; placentas 2–5, each with several ovules; style with sessile stigmas."
  • Flowers of the Violaceae family are described thus: "Sepals 5, imbricate, persistent. Petals 5, imbricate, free, the lowest often largest and spurred. Stamens 5, hypogynous, alternate with petals; filaments very short; anthers free or fused around ovary, the connective usually produced into an appendage. Ovary superior, 1-locular, usually with 3 parietal placentas; style simple, stigma terminal."
If those descriptions make much sense to you, you are doing better than me.
5 petals I can see.
5 sepals I can see on the later images of the buds (see below).
5 stamens I take on trust as they are hidden inside the tiny flower.
Petals are 3 to 5 mm long.
The flowers are less than 5mm wide (0.5 cm)
It is about the size of a match head in total.
The 5 sepals are the brown protective sheaths at the base of the flower.
Do you remember that when these spiny twigs are dead and broken off the plant, they are selected by Bowerbirds to build their display Bowers?Here is a close up of the spines. This shows that many of the spines are actually a point on the branchlets.
Here is a shot of the leaves.
You can see the slightly "toothed" (or wavy) edges of the leaves
from which the plant takes its specific name - "dentatus".
Tiny buds are still developing
so these plants will flower for about one month.
Although I love the scent of these tiny flowers, these plants are much loathed by gardeners and landholders in Robertson, because the birds eat their berries and the plants pop up all over the place, in shaded positions. The bushes are very spiky, and difficult to control in a garden or around the edges of a rural property. They thrive in heavy shade, under other trees.

The interpretative sign (at the top of this posting) refers to these plants as a "prickly haven" - a reference to the spined branches offering protection to small birds, especially those seeking to build their nest out of the reach of large predators, such as Currawongs.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tall Greenhood Orchid - A study of flowers and leaves

Yesterday I went down to one of my favourite haunts along the Belmore Falls Road, to check out the Tall Greenhoods (Bunochilus longifolius) which grow there in abundance. It has been a dry winter in Robertson, and these plants which normally flower much earlier (here) have been somewhat delayed in their flowering. In the Southern Highlands, this species is seen in flower from May onwards, through to September, but these plants are just flowering now, in this location - a normally wet creek bed, within a Melaleuca thicket. It is a densely shaded environment, hence the nearly bare ground. This location is surrounded by ferns, but just here, the ground is open, with deep leaf litter - which is for these Orchids.
Frontal view of the flower - with Labellum "set" (open)
This species may be conveniently compared and contrasted
with the closely related plant Bunochilus umbrinus
recently shown by "Flabmeister" over at "The House of Fran-mart"
Flower as seen from below - with Labellum "set"
The column structure is just visible inside the "hood".
Note also the flanges inside the lower part of the "hood" (galea).
Whaen the Labellum is triggered by an insect (or by movement)
these flanges help seal the lower part of the hood.
Profile view - labellum "set" (open)
Note the yellow block of the pollinia in the front of the "hood".
That is visible through the translucent hood.
The labellum of these plants is movement sensitive.
In this case it has been triggered, and has snapped closed.
You can see the brown, smooth underside of the labellum.
You can also see the position of the pollinia high inside the "hood"
above the column structure at the very front end of the hood.
The lateral sepals are hanging below the flower (deflexed).
A composite image to show the labellum open ("set")
and then closed once triggered.
These images are all of the same flower.
This plant gains its scientific name from the long leaves (of the flowering plants). The flower scape is quite tall - much taller than most Greenhoods - the reason for its "common name".
  • The PlantNET site says: "Scape 15–40 cm high, with 5–8 linear to lanceolate spreading stem leaves 3–9 cm long, 3–5 mm wide."

The stem leaves tend to grow out to opposite sides of the stem (not located in a loose spiral around the stem, as in some Greenhoods).
By contrast, some non-flowering (immature) plants have rounded rosette leaves. These are small leaves - the whole plant only the size of a 10 cent coin. The graininess of the leaves (see the light reflections) is typical of Greenhoods, and helps distinguish these tiny plants from other small non-Orchid plants. The leaf litter is formed mostly by Melaleuca squarrosa leaves forming a dense mulch on the ground. This image, is about 2.5 times larger than life (about 6 times if clicked to view at full size).Some immature plants have rounded leaves (plants A and B in this image). Others start to develop the long, narrow leaves, but without a flowering stem (plants C, D and E in this image). None of these plants will flower this season.This is not an attempt at an "art shot". Here is an as-yet-unopened bud. It is back lit with a shaft of sunlight streaming through an opening in the canopy of the Melaleuca shrubs. The bright light reveals the internal structure of the flower - the column, which holds the pollinia, clearly visible through the translucent "hood".

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Satin Bowerbird and Bower

My friend George has a friendly Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) which has conveniently built a Bower in George's front yard. It presumably regards George as living in its own Back Yard. Here a link to a story of one which lives in my backyard, and likes apples.

Anyway, the bird was sitting high in a tree, having a bit of a scratch, when I turned up for a visit with George this morning. (If you click to enlarge the image, you can see that the bird is standing on its left leg, and the right leg is just visible over its right wing, below its neck.) There was a Brown Cuckoo-dove (a native berry-eating Dove, a rainforest specialist) sitting just a little higher in the same tree.

Here is a close-up of the Bower, decorated mostly with blue objects. The whole structure and the toys are used for an elaborate courtship display for which these birds are famous. It shows the oval shaped display area and the typical slightly closed over structure of the walls of the Bower.
A close examination of the Bower shows that the walls are built using the spiny stems of the Tree Violet (Melicytus dentatus) (My Blogging colleague Duncan who gets Tree Violets in his area of Gippsland will no doubt be distressed that the taxonomists have changed the name from the old name of Hymenanthera dentata!) Click to enlarge the image and examine the left hand wall structure closely. There are fine spines (visible as spines at right angles to the line of the twigs) on many of these twigs, especially on the thick wall on the left. They are the spiny stems of the Tree Violet (stems now dry). There are also several spiny stems clearly visible over the open middle of the bower. They are also from the Tree Violet.
Note the "toys" which the Bowerbird uses to decorate his Bower, with which to impress the females. There are blue straws, a blue plastic clothes peg, a blue milk bottle top, and the white patch to the left is a dried piece of onion skin.
Close up of the collection of Bowerbird "toys".
Including a brown snail shell, onion skin, as well as blue plastic objects.
In this image you can observe that the flat surrounding area outside the Bower is heavily layered with shafts of straw which the bird has collected from nearby garden mulch, and several silvery leaves of various rainforest plants, and more blue plastic objects and the Bowerbird's most beloved blue tail-feathers from Crimson Rosellas.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First ducklings of the year in Robbo.

On a warm balmy winters day (it surely felt like Spring) I was lucky to find the first clutch of the Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata) ducklings, today. No doubt it was by chance that today was a warm balmy day for these little guys to be paddling around with their parents. After all, even if they had hatched last week (quite probably) the parents had mated some time before. They have an incubation period of approximately 28 days, plus the large clutch size (there are 10 ducklings in this clutch) means some 38 to 40 days between first egg being laid and the fledging of the chicks.

The male Wood Duck has a dark brown head, and fine silvery body.
The female has a paler brown head, white eye marking,
and heavy flecks on the abdomen and flanks.
So their seasonal timing is great, but the particular weather today is surely fortuitous. But we could all enjoy the good weather together.

As is typical of Wood Duck pairs, the mother duck leads the ducklings away from danger, while the father is keeping himself between the ducklings and danger (me and my camera).
I know this "macho" behaviour is a cliche, and I risk lapsing into an anthropomorphic interpretation of animal behaviour, but I always find this behaviour totally endearing.
The male is standing guard.
He is on the right, and closer to danger than the ducklings.
Interestingly, the last time I saw a Wood Duck family, it was the male which led the way for the family, rather than standing between the ducklings and danger. That sighting was on 8 September 2007, nearly 3 weeks later in the season than today's sighting. Both were on pools beside the Moss Vale Road. Today's sighting was below Burrawang. The previous one, just beyond Sheepwash Road. So they were only 2 kilometres apart.

And here is a sure sign of a late winter day - a Wattle tree in full bloom.

"Green Wattle" - Acacia decurrens - in my yard - image taken this morning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rocks and rockpools at Bermagui

Here are some more photos from my visit to Bermagui, two weeks ago.

Firstly, here is a view of Mt Dromedary ("Gulaga" - to the local Aboriginal people) as seen from the boat harbour at Bermagui.
Mt Dromedary is a huge granite outcrop, and so it is the remains of huge igneous forces. Although its top is now about 1000 metres, it is estimated that it once stood 3 Km high. The formation of Mt Dromedary has left geological "reminders" along the coast from here to Narooma, some 60 Kms to the north. There are historic gold mines in the Tilba area, and even in a large vein of Quartz rock, close to Bermagui, near Camel Rock (the Montreal Goldfields".

From the boat harbour at Bermagui, one can climb down the point above the mouth of the estuary to the rock shelf below, just above the ocean. Around this point, the rocks are mostly soft mud-stone rocks, but there are some veins of quartz. You may recall that last week I showed some of the heavily metamorphosed rocks from the beach, near Camel Rock. Presumably this reflects the huge eruptions associated with the formation of Mt. Dromedary.

This patch of mud-stone rock has been lifted up. The vertical veins are left over from patterns of sedimentation, when the rock was laid down, in a horizontal position.Because it is relatively soft rock, it is eroding. It has left an intriguing small hole through which one can look to the sky.
or one can look back through the rocks below the cliff.
In the same area, I found this interesting large, smooth lozenge-shaped rock. It is sedimentary in origin, but has been subjected to pressure, with a thin vein of igneous rock injected through it, under intense heat and pressure.
By contrast, here is an interesting lozenge-shaped rock, with delightful pink stripes and soft tonings. It is clearly formed in a very different manner from the soft, smooth rock above.This was from the beach near Camel Rock.
Here are some shots from various rock pools.
A green Sea Anemone.
Some red Sea Anemones in different stages of "opening"
of their flexible tentacles.
These Sea Anemones are on a vertical side of a small rock pool.

UPDATE: I am endebted to Tsun-Thai Chai for identifying the red Sea Anemone as a "Waratah Sea Anemone" and the beaded algae as "Neptune's Necklace" (Hormosira banksii). By sheer coincidence, the first image I found of that Beaded Algae species is illustrated here, by another colleague of mine, James, of "Dermal Denticles". Small world!

Here is a dark Sea Urchin with its hard spines.
There is an interesting article on how to treat an injury
incurred by falling onto a Sea Urchin's spines.
Best to avoid, I think.
In the world of rock pools, this is what passes for "lunch".
A school of tiny fish swimming in a rock pool.
One hopes that they escape at the next high tide.