Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, January 31, 2011

Corunastylis pumila - yet another tiny Orchid.

What is it with tiny Orchids?

Many small Orchids grow as part of a large mat of many plants, on rocks. I am thinking of the Bulbophyllum genus in particular.

But this tiny Corunastylis pumila grows as a separate (individual) free-standing plant. 

It is barely two inches (actually 56mm) tall. 
There is always a risk of parallax error in photos like this, 
unless I have got right down flat on the ground. 
I didn't quite get down that far. 
You can forgive some minor room for error, I trust. 
It is a very small plant. 
Needless to say, it is hard to see, and even harder to photograph well. 
With my camera I have no "preview screen" 
so I have to get down and look through the eye piece.
(Note for Kirsten: Fortunately there were no Bull Ants around).
(Note for Colin - No Leeches, either.)
Corunastylis pumila - at 56 mm it warrant the name "pumila".

About as small as last week's related plant - Corunastylis densa. There were about 25 of these plants growing in a moist moss bed over shallow sandy soil out near the quarry at Carrington Falls. That sounds like a lot of Orchids. Spread out over the area of an average suburban house block, let me tell you - there is  a lot of space between these plants.

Corunastylis pumila. David Jones's book shows an all  green form.

David Jones's book shows only the all green form of this Orchid. But Colin and Mischa Rowan have photos of plants looking exactly like this. Alan Stephenson told me the green form is actually the "type form" (from which the plant was described), but that the more common form is the one I have come across.

You can see clearly that the tip of the labellum sweeps upwards.
It is like a mini-ski jump ramp (ironic, given its minute size).
The tip of the leaf stem is visible.
Corunastylis pumila - the form with the red mark at the top of the flower.
The flower on the lower right is facing the camera directly.
The yellowish section is the top of the labellum.
On either side are the petals - each with a tiny white gland on the tip.
The labellum is the barely visible "boat-shaped" green organ. 
It is held very close to the stem.
You can see the shape of the flower more clearly in the next image.
The lower flower is facing the camera directly. Click to enlarge,
Look at the flower on the left.
The red section is the top of the flower,
Then the lateral sepal is the largest organ, (shielding the column)
Next down is the petal, and below that
is the labellum. 
The plant looks like it has "tucked its chin in" (as it were).
Corunastylis pumila - side view.

Note in the image above that the leaf goes higher than the flower spike.
That is contrary to Jones' description.
He says the leaf ends below the flowers.
Just shows the plants do not always read the instruction manual!

In the next image, you can see inside the flower,
as a result of me pushing the flowers back on an angle
(very gently I might say).
The column is visible, with the pollinia showing, (now).
Corunastylis pumila - Pollinia visible inside the flower.
Click to enlarge the image.

Time for me to let off steam:

After a frustrating day the day before,
having travelled as far afield as Thirlmere Lakes,
looking for Orchids and finding only two plants of one species,
it was gratifying to find lots of Orchids.
And this just near Carrington Falls, a few kilometres from Robertson.
Fishermen have a saying for this about novices always
trying to cast to the far side of the river,
when the fish are just under the river bank beneath your feet.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

An Art Deco Moth?

This elegant moth came past my Front Porch light last night. This species of Moth is not rare, but I value them enormously, for their "elegant design". (I know, I am getting into trouble with that line of argument. I am loyal "evolutionist", NOT a supporter of "Intelligent Design".)

But let me go on further. It seems like an "Art Deco" moth to me.

Perhaps the Art Deco designers, especially transportation designers (who became obsessed with "streamlining") took their inspiration from Nature?

What better model to follow than the wonderfully streamlined Hawk Moth? So, it could simply be an example of Art echoing Nature. That makes more sense to me than "Intelligent Design" protagonists claiming that Nature acts according to our simplistic human understandings (of the enormously complex evolutionary processes). 
So there! 
Nature 1: Intelligent Design theorists 0.
Coprosma Hawk Moth - an inspiration for streamline design?
To me these Moths seem like something a car designer from the 1940s might have dreamed up, especially with its remarkably streamlined wings and body. (Check out the images on this "Streamlined Car" site

Consider also more superficial design aspects (the aesthetics) of this Moth. Consider the "eyebrow markings" and antennae, and the white legs. To me, these remind me of the "white wall tyres" and chrome finish so heavily favoured by Cadillac car designers in the "forties and fifties".
Coprosma Hawk Moth - an model for White-walled tyres and Chrome bumper-bars?
So lets get down to a bit of Moth biology.

This Moth is called Hippotion scrofa (Boisduval,*** 1832), It is known as the "Coprosma Hawk Moth".  There is an excellent photo by Donald Hobern on the Wikipedia site, plus a Museum Specimen displaying the forewings and hind wings in the traditional manner of pinned specimens.

Note the relatively plain forewings (just a hint of a dark patch). But there is a wonderfully rich red ochre colour, with a black trailing edge line, on the lower (hind) wings. The hind wings on Hawk Moths are much smaller than the forewings.
Coprosma Hawk Moth - Hippotion scrofa
According to the sources, the larvae (caterpillars) of this moth seems to feed on Dahlias, Fuchsias, and Epilobium, as well as the Looking Glass Bush (or Mirror Bush, Coprosma repens). That last plant is an introduced New Zealand plant which I remember well from my childhood in Melbourne, and which is a coastal plant, not found up here in the Southern Highlands. So, we can rule it out as a local food source for the caterpillars of this species. This Moth has a wide distribution, right across Australia and in Fiji and New Caledonia (according to Don Herbison-Evan's Moths website). Given that it was named in 1832, and is so widely distributed in Australia, one can only assume that it is a native species, and therefore must feed on a much wider range of plants than the garden varieties nominated. The genus Epilobium (Willow-herb), although universal in distribution is well represented in Australia.

*** I often note the influence of the early French explorers (La Perouse and d'Entrecasteaux and their scientists (e.g., Labillardière). In this case, the link is from Boisduval who named this Moth, from collections made either on the "Astrolabe" (under La Perouse) or the "Cocquille" (under Duperrey). Boisduval's original collection of Hawk Moths (the Sphingidae), including the "Type Specimen" of this species (presumably), is in the famous Carnegie Museum of Natural History, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Corunastylis sagittifera at Medway.

I have seen these plants previously, but their identity has been disputed somewhat. I had previously identified this species as "C. oligantha (probably)". These plants look a lot like some other Corunastylis species e.g., C. oligantha (the true species) from Mongarlowe (east from Braidwood); C. sp. aff oligantha - from Vincentia; and C. cornuta (from the ACT).

The problem with these Corunastylis species is that they look so alike - at least in photographs. No doubt if laid out side by side on a laboratory bench one could be satisfied that there are differences between them. Maybe.

Anyway, after consultation with Colin and Mischa Rowan, I have decided to stick with the name Corunastylis sagittifera - until someone can prove to me that they are NOT that species. C. sagittifera is reported to be found usually in the Blue Mountains (higher portions). These plants come from Medway, just west of Berrima, but it is an area which has many plants typical of Blue Mountains flora. Geographically, the "Lower Blue Mountains" is contiguous with the "Upper Blue Mountains". The soil in this area is a yellow clay, over sandstone - very similar to where I have also seen this plant, in a small section of Tourist Road, Kangaloon (also with Lower Blue Mountains flora). So I am satisfied that this record is legitimate (botanically).

These plants are significantly taller than the tiny little C. densa I showed two weeks ago.  Here is my hand, with my fingers touching the ground, and my thumb stuck out at right angles, just higher than the flower stem. That makes the stem 17 cm tall (seven inches) now that I have just measured my hand.

Corunastylis sagittifera flower spike.
Here are the flowers close-up.
You can see from the top flower why this plant is known as 
the "Horned Midge Orchid".
Corunastylis sagittifera
Another flower of the same species. Previously I have seen many of these plants in this site, but there has been a "burn-off" conducted here, and this year there are few Orchids visible. I am confident that they will re-appear in future seasons, as the plants would have been dormant when the burn-off was conducted.

This is a cropped image - from the photo above.
The image shows the dorsal sepal bent back against the stem.
The petal is lightly coloured, with some red stripes. 
It is pointing directly downwards.
The dark red, hairy organ is the "labellum".
It is flexible, being hinged. It flutters in the breeze.
The light green lateral sepals are the "horns". 
In this image, they are horizontal.
Click on the image to enlarge it, to see the details.
Cropped image of Corunastylis sagittifera.
This is an old image, from 2008. 
It shows the dorsal sepal of this same species of plant.
 The dorsal sepal has no significant hairs on its margins.
That fact separates this species from many other Corunastylis species.
The reddish hairs are, I believe part of the "column wings".
As such they are structurally separate from the Dorsal Sepal, but within it.
the red striped organs are the petals. One each side of the flower.
Taking photos at this level of detail, is hard work. Sorting through them all to get the best images to try to be able to show the diagnostic features of the species is even more time consuming. I hope you think it is worth while.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Painted Button-quail chick found in Kangaloon

Image alert - photos of a dead bird are shown today.
If you do not wish to see these images, please come back tomorrow.

As sometime happens I find a dead bird which is sufficiently rare or unusual that I decide to publish some photos of it. There is nothing offensive or gross in these images. I am publishing them out of scientific interest, and to establish a breeding record for this species, in Kangaloon. 

***** ***** *****

This bird is a juvenile of a Painted Button-quail (Turnix varius). That constitutes a breeding record for Kangaloon, (Tourist Road, outside the gate of the SCA Fire Trail 2A). The habitat is mixed Scribbly Gum and Stringybark Forest, with native grass and Pea Plants (Bitter Pea especially) and mixed Proteaceous scrub undergrowth. Sandstone soil substrate.

This is how the bird looked when it was found.
The body feathers near the legs are very "downy"
which confirms the juvenile status of this bird.

For a size comparison, it is roughly the 
size of a "Chicken" (of the domestic hen)
at about one week old.
Typical of ground-nesting birds,
this chick had very well developed legs and feet.
Dead chick of Painted Button-quail
The three toes of this bird are very strong, and although it is just a few weeks old, the toe nails of this chick are showing some signs of wear. The toe nails are very thick, and heavy. they are quite different from the needle-like nails of most perching birds, or especially the birds of prey - hawks and owls. These toes are built for walking, not for grasping either a perch, or for capturing prey.
It is reported that the young of the Painted Button-quail can fly within two weeks of hatching, so I assume this bird was capable of flying.
The feet (3 toes only) are diagnostic of Button-quails
The hind toe of Button-quails is reduced to a remnant callus. 
This is clearly visible in this image. 
Click to enlarge image.
Here you can see the callus which is the remnant hind toe.
As the local small black ants were swarming over this corpse already, I returned it to the same spot, to complete the recycling process which Nature had initiated.

Incidentally, as the head and body was more or less intact, I conclude that the bird was not killed by a fox, which would be the chief threat to a ground-nesting bird like this Button-quail.

Wikipedia has some interesting notes about Button-quails. They are not closely related to true quails. In fact, DNA analysis now indicates that they are an aberrant form of shore-birds (waders) which have adapted to a life in dry country. 

There is an article in the Wires (Northern Rivers) website which discusses their unusual sex role reversal from the norm, namely the females are more brightly coloured than males, and they "hold and defend their territory" and after laying eggs, the male takes charge of raising the young.

You may watch a video by Tom Tarrant of a Painted Button-quail feeding as it walks along quickly, in a native garden in Queensland. Watch how quickly it walks away at the end of this brief video. 

Good legs and feet, as you can see from my photos.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Botany Bay Diamond Weevil

Today I found a mating pair of the Botany Bay Diamond Weevil. Chrysolopus spectabilis.

UPDATE: I have been remiss in not checking my fellow Nature Bloggers enough. Duncan, at Ben Cruachan posted about this very same weevil on 22 January. Obviously our seasons are "in synch" at present.
In the distance, this is what I first saw.

Up close, this is what I saw. The colours are amazing.

A mating pair of Botany Bay Diamond Weevils

I took a front-on shot. 

You can see the interesting antennae on the male. 

They protrude from the "rostrum" which is the extended mouth structure,

(which looks to us like a nose - but it isn't.)

Note the antennae bent at right angles, That is normal.

The Chew Family website "Brisbane Insects and Spiders" tells me that: "This weevil is famous in Australia natural history because it was the first scientifically described Australian insect species." That's a claim to fame.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Christmas Bells on the Knight's Hill corner

Some time ago I saw a few Christmas Bells (Blandfordia nobilis) in flower, in a wet patch of heathland, out on the Barren Grounds. I didn't get any photos of them, unfortunately. (It was a late afternoon, impromptu walk.)

Several days ago I was heading out to the Budderoo Plateau, and I stopped briefly at the Knight's Hill turn-off (from the Jamberoo Mountain Road). This little clearing has been unmercifully shaved by the road-workers when clearing the intersection to make it more suitable for bus transport going to the Illawarra Fly (up on top of Knight's Hill). However, this small patch of fully exposed (no shade), cleared sandstone soil still manages to support a few interesting plants and insects. These classic native plant flowers are growing right beside the road, on a high-traffic corner, but I wonder how many (how few) people ever look?

The stand-out plants are these Christmas Bells.
Christmas Bells

Note the poor sandstone soil here.
Another Christmas Bells plant, with some heath plants
Obviously, this next plant flowered some time ago, for its seed capsules are starting to mature. I find it interesting that the flowers are pendant, but after pollination, the ovary starts to develop, and straightens up, and eventually rises to a fully vertical position. Also, the entire flower stem seems to grow after the flowers are pollinated.
Seed capsules developing on Christmas Bells
There is an obvious seed dispersal advantage in this dual strategy of the stem growing taller, and the seed capsule standing upright. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wasp Orchid - Chiloglottis reflexa - comes into flower

This group of "Short-clubbed Wasp Orchids" (Chiloglottis reflexa) is flowering right on the edge of one of the local roads in Kangaloon. Alan Stephenson spotted them when we were out admiring a large clump of Hyacinth Orchids, nearby. 

Look for the paired leaves on the ground. 
There are two open flowers and two buds visible.
They are small plants and even smaller flowers, 
as made evident by the scale of Alan's camera lens.
(Click to see the flowers)
Wasp Orchids - in situ - in leaf litter
 Here are two of these flowers together.
As plants which grow in colonies, it is quite common to get
two or more flowers together in a single image.
Chiloglottis reflexa - a pair of these tiny flowers
The "insectiform callus" (gland in the shape of an insect) covers most of the labellum of the flower. 
In other species the shape or position of the callus is different.
(Click to enlarge image)
Chiloglottis reflexa

These plants get their name "Wasp Orchids" from the "callus" - the glands on the labellum which resemble the body of a female wasp. They are part of a large group of Orchids which employ what is termed "sexual deception", to induce male wasps to attempt copulation with the flower, in order to achieve their own pollination (the Orchids that is). It used be referred to as "pseudo-copulation", but that term has gone out of favour in this more politically correct age. The technical people who have studied this phenomenon say it is both a visual trick and a scent based mimicry of the pheromones of female wasps.
The reflexed "Lateral Sepals" are clearly visible beneath the labellum.

A detailed look shows two points of note.
  1. There is a pair of Aphids (adult and nymph) on the stem of the Orchid.
  2. More unusually, the petal on the near side of the flower is showing some aberrant growth of calli (glands) which is normally restricted to the labellum only. The petal is reflexed down against the stem in its mature position (once the flower has opened). But in the development of the flower, the petal is adjacent to the labellum (which botanically is simply a modified petal). So the fact that some of the glandular development has crossed over to the lateral petal is not entirely surprising. But it is the first time I have seen this occur.
 Aberrant "callus" growth on the reflexed petal - that is unusual. Two Aphids.
This over-exposed photo (accidental I assure you) serves almost as an X-ray to highlight the shape of the head of the insectiform callus. Different members of this and related genera have different shaped "heads" or "necks" to these glands. So, although the image is weird, it is actually quite useful. In this case the head is clearly heart-shaped when seen from the front of the flower.

(Click to enlarge)
Accidental over-exposed image, but it shows well the shape of the "head" of the callus
That heart-shaped head of the insectiform callus is clearly visible in right hand image in the botanical illustration, from PlantNET.
Illustration from PlantNET - for Chiloglottis reflexa.
This is the first of the summer/autumn flowered Chiloglottis which I have seen this season. Something to look out for, obviously. They are most easily seen by looking for the mid-green, flat leaves, in opposite pairs (growing away from eachother) on the ground. Once you see one, there are usually more around, as they tend to grow in colonies. These plants were growing in loose grey sandy soil, over sandstone, within a Eucalypt forest.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Golden Ray Lilies in their full splendour.

These Golden Ray Lilies (Lilium auratum) are wonderful. Their sweet perfume is quite powerful in the fresh garden air. It could possibly be overpowering if picked and brought inside. But I love to have these sweetly perfumed flowers, outside my front door, especially at night.
Lilium auratum - the Golden Ray Lily of Japan

 Here is the clump of Lilies (including the Pink Stargazer I showed last week) as seen from my front porch. I believe that perfumed flowers ought be planted where you cannot help but be surrounded by their sweet scent.
A clump of Lilies outside my front door
I spoke about the anthers of Liliums last week. Here I had a fresh flower (at 8:30AM) just opening, and I realised I could monitor the opening (dehiscing) of the pollen grains on the anthers.
Lilium anthers just opening (dehiscing) to release pollen
The fresh anthers are flat, as the flower opens. Then they themselves open to make their pollen grains available to insects (to achieve their purpose of pollinating a flower).

Top Anther is seen to be still flat;  Lower anther just popping open, along its side joint.
Here is the same flower seen at3:11PM on the same afternoon.
Anthers now fully matured.
Knowing how the dark orange stamens can stain clothing and fabric, florists usually snip off the anthers, to prevent clients complaining about the stains from the pollen.

On the third day of opening, the clump of Liliums looks much more impressive. The largest plant is carrying six opened flowers, and has a number yet to open. The pink Lilium in the background is the Pink Stargazer.
Lilium clump on 3rd day of flowering
 I mentioned the sweet perfume of this Lilium. It attracts lots of tiny insect (midge-like creatures). Of course, it also attracts some larger insects, such as this "Common Garden Katydid". (Caedicia simplex)

My Katydid appears to be a juvenile (a "nymph") as it has not yet developed wings. But what a fine set of antennae it has. (Click to enlarge image)
Common Garden Katydid on Lilium bud.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Black Cockies take time out at my place.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are a regular bird around Robertson. Scarcely a day goes by when I do not hear them, or see them (except in mid-spring when they are nesting in the huge Gum Trees which they need for their nests). At that time, they are down in the tall Eucalypt forests around Belmore Falls - just 5 kilometres away. But I do not see them for that period.

As soon as they youngsters are able to fly, the parents bring them back up the hill to Robertson where there is abundant food for them. The fact that they love Pine Trees, and seedling pine trees become 20 metre high weeds is another story.
Today the Black Cockatoos came into my yard.

By saying they came into my yard I mean they came right in amongst my Blackwood trees, instead of just flying over - from one Pine Tree to another.

These birds always seem to me as if they are born (hatched - but that's not the right expression) - "born with a spanner in their face". They chew on things because they can. In fact they seem compelled to chew on things.

Click on this image to see the enormous beak in action.
Black Cockatoo chewing on dead wood of tree (click to enlarge)

Two Black Cockies flying over
A family of these birds can make an awful racket. I have come to like their weird howling call (listen here) - as it is so preposterous, so incongruous. But when the young birds are around they make a combination of seemingly incessant low croaking or moaning calls. But when they are begging for food, or being fed by regurgitation, by the adults, they make a fast repetitive noise (eh,eh,eh,eh,eh).

It is a noise only a parent Black Cockatoo can love.

 At last a half-way decent overhead shot.
Fortunately, Zoe was with me, and called out 
that they were flying over my head.
Click to enlarge this image.

Male Black Cockatoo - with red skin around the eye (click to enlarge).
The red eye is a surprise (that one can see it so clearly). It indicates a male bird.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A tiny purple Midge Orchid - Corunastylis densa

Yesterday, Chris Ross kindly took me around some of my local favourite spots, looking for any new season Orchids. The Prasophyllum flava were still in flower (but fading fast).
However, down on Tourist Road we went checking for any early flowering Corunastylis (Midge Orchids). There was no sign of the tall C. apostasioides which are known to grow in that area. 
But Chris did spot a tiny little purple-flowered Corunastylis.
Corunastylis densa - as it appears on the bare ground
I kid you not, it was barely more than an inch and a half high (30mm). I assume it will grow a bit higher as it matures.
Corunastylis densa
Anyway, I checked Colin's Retired Aussies site, and selected his images of C. densa as the best match for my flowers. I emailed Colin for his opinion and he came straight back and confirmed C. densa.
It's a C. densa - the little yellow dots are a dead giveaway.
The Petal glands are only on this orchid.
Where did you find it?
We found some out on the Mt Wilson Rd.
Corunastylis densa - a first for me.
I have seen (in other years) other purple Corunastylis here, but much taller, and with hairy labellum, unlike this one. This one is a first for me, and for this area I suspect. Unfortunately, PlantNET does not recognise C. densa.
I have now dug out my copy of David Jones's Orchid Book, and Corunastylis densa is listed from "Point Lookout" (which is near Ebor, in New England district), to Tinderry Mtns (north-east from Cooma). The photo is credited to Ron Tunstall, taken at Woronora Dam, so that covers the Illawarra Plateau, I guess.
Jones puts it in his Group 5 (only 3 species) - within Corunastylis - all of which have these little glands. Click on the next image to enlarge it.

C. densa - note the little yellow dots (glands) (Click to enlarge)
The recognition notes say: "lateral sepals and petals with small white apical gland". The other two species with these glands are restricted to Vic (Tas???) for C. nudiscapa; and s-e Qld for C. conferta. (Special note for Mick - this latter species (similar to mine) - is one Orchid which occurs in your area - Fraser Island to Runaway Bay - in heathland on stabilised dunes on white sand). That species flowers February to May. 
So, given the distribution limits of C. densa and the other related species, that confirms Colin's point about the little yellow dots being a dead give-away. In other words, with those little glands, and occurring here, it can only be C. densa.
Thanks to Chris Ross and Colin Rowan.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Yellow Leek Orchid - slow to flower this season

Yesterday, when commenting upon how "regular" in flowering time are the Liliums I grow, I made a rash promise to discuss the late flowering of some species of orchids. Already I have had my Orchid colleague, Colin Rowan teasing me about that promise. Well, for what it is worth, here it is.

I am going to discuss the Prasophyllum flavum - the Yellow Leek Orchid. As PlantNET says, it flowers from October to January.

Small plant of Prasophyllum flavum
I have seen this Orchid flower, in Penrose, here the Highlands, in the first week of November, over several years. Consequently I took that to be the "normal" flowering time at this altitude. 
Prasophyllum flavum - Yellow Leek Orchid
Several weeks ago I found a number of these plants flowering beside Tourist Road, in Kangaloon, along with Hyacinth Orchids, which are a normal summer-flowering species. This was the first time I have seen this species in that area - a fact I put down the the good rain we have had this year.
Prasophyllum flavum - the Yellow Leek Orchid
Then two weeks ago my friend Kirsten found the first of a number of Yellow Leek Orchids when we were looking for other plants along Belmore Falls Road. This area is a wet Eucalypt forest, with dense Proteaceous shrubbery as understorey growth. I was surprised to find these Orchids here, as I have often looked in this area, but never seen these Leek Orchids here, before. 

A tall flowering stem of Prasophyllum flavum
So, is this bold season of flowering of this Yellow Leek Orchid in the Robertson area related to the weather? And are these plants ones which would either not have flowered in drier years, or is it just that they have flowered so freely this year that they have become much more obvious than in previous years?

I cannot offer definitive answers, but I do know that there are closely related plants in the local area (other Prasophyllum species), which flower "like clockwork" in late October and the first two weeks of November. Why is this species suddenly flowering now? It is very tempting to say it is related to the rainfall. 

The best I can do is make the suggestion, and offer to monitor these plants over coming years.