Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

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.

7 comments:

Gouldiae said...

Mornin' Denis,
Beaut report, thorough as usual. They are a good bird bush. Several of them were lining the track we took the kids on for the biodiversity nature walk during the Bug Blitz exercise. They were in flower, probably just, and often had a Brown Thornbill or two in attendance.
Gouldiae.

mick said...

The perfume sounds delightful. Pity about their habit of popping up in the garden where they are not wanted. They also sound like great habitat for small birds - a definite plus!

Duncan said...

Good one Denis, I've planted lots and have one in the garden. I know that spring is here when I smell that gorgeous perfume.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Mick, Gouldiae and Duncan.
Duncan also sent me a private message with some more info on Tree Violets:
He says, (inter alia):
"I think that yours may be a bit in front of ours down here. I've never seen one as big as your 7 metre specimens, the biggest trunk I've seen would only be about 6 inches thick.
.
We've planted a lot in the
reserve I manage and I've got a couple of trays of tube stock ready for planting at the moment. .
.
A good hardy shrub loved by the birds and one of my favourites due to the perfume you describe so well."
Good to know Duncan is busy planting them out.
The birds do love them.
.
Their berries are purple, and when they fruit, the birds eat them and poo the seeds out everywhere - hence their habit of growing so thickly underneath other trees. I took a photo once of the purple bird poo - on a grave at the local cemetery.
I'll see if I can find that image. I have never posted it - people might have thought I was weird.- Should I say "more weird"?
Cheers
Denis

Miss Eagle said...

Funny. I thought violets were...er, violet?!

B&B
B

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Miss Eagle.
.
I know what you mean.
It would be interesting to know which came first - the name of the flower, or the name of the colour.
.
True Violet flowers have a very different shape to these (as well as other differences).
That's why I put in all that botanical stuff - to let others who can read those abstruse words - make up their own minds.
But it is clear that the plant is in the Violaceae family.
.
By the way, there are many native Violets - true Violets - in Australia. Many are blue and white, and have a structure not dissimilar to the Garden Violets.
One is a popular garden plant - Viola hederaceae - the Ivy-leaved Violet. A lovely little ground-cover.
.
Cheers
Denis

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