Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cryptostylis subulata - "Large Tongue Orchid" in flower now.

It is very hard to say I have a "favourite Orchid", but Cryptostylis subulata goes very close to being that.

It was one of the first local Orchids I found and identified when I first moved to Robertson, so, it has precedence, if nothing more. Mind you, it is closely followed by the Flying Duck Orchid, which was the first Orchid I ever featured on this Blog. And there was a nice one there just yesterday. So that other species still rates pretty highly as far as I am concerned.

The first thing I ever learnt about this Orchid was its "wrong name" - Cow Orchid. Like all good "bad names" it tended to stick, because the idea of the long protruding "muzzle" and the two "horns" sticking back from the supposed cow head was a compelling mental image for me.
Cryptostylis subulata - Large Tongue Orchid - looking a bit like a cow's head
Having ruined this Orchid's name for you, I shall now try to recover my botanical purity, and give you some of the finer details of this strange Orchid, its growth habits and its pollination requirements and its deception techniques.

Firstly the leaf of this Orchid remains visible most of the year (unlike many Orchids). This gives one a sporting chance of finding it, and remembering where to go looking for it again, in flowering season. (From now till March in the Southern Highlands - earlier in the coastal areas). 

The leaf is quite tall - as much as 30 cm in some cases. And importantly, it has a clear green back (of the leaf), not burgundy-red like its local cousin, Cryptostylis leptochila. The leaf of this species is elongated, whereas Cr. leptochila tends to be ovate in shape.

Ok - so that is what to look for during the off-season.
Green back to the leaf of Cryptostylis subulata

When the plants are in flower, this is what you hope to find.
Cryptostylis subulata with four flowers (one out of frame)
Here is the flower up close.
(refer back to the previous image, 
to check the angle at which the flowers hang).
For photographic purposes, it works best to tilt the stem
during the shoot (or tilt the camera).
Note the stem is on the lower left, and is leaning diagonally.
In fact the stem is normally vertical, (but not always).
Cryptostylis subulata - the Large Tongue Orchid seen from a low angle.
And here is a hint to its "special features"
This flower has been knocked over by an animal, presumably.
I swear I did not push it over, in this case, just to "get the shot".
You can just see the dark strip of glands underneath the flower.
Those glands produce a special scent.
Underneath view of Cryptostylis subulata shows scent glands.
Those glands are the key to its reputation
as a "deceptive" plant.
It produces scents which mimic the pheromones
of a female wasp.
That "trick" dupes the male wasp 
into attempting to mate with the Orchid.
This process used be referred to as "pseudo-copulation"
but that term seems to be going out of favour.

about the complex relationship 
between this Orchid and a wasp on her Blog
when one of these Orchids came up in her backyard, in Sydney.

Here are three links to images which show the wasp attempting
to mate with the flower 
(just in case you do not believe the story.).
 Here is my best attempt at photographing the glands 
underneath the flower.
(That is a reference to the fact that I am still
in "recovery" from a Hip Replacement Operation
and my mobility is extremely limited).

Unlike the related Cryptostylis lepochila
this flower hangs down, 
which means the sexual organs of this flower 
(the white bit just visible)
are at the "top"*** of the flower
That means the wasp has to approach
the flower upside down too.
Black glands underneath the flower of Cryptostylis subulata.
 The white part of the flower 
at the 'top right of the image"
is where the Orchid's sexual organs
(the Column and the pollinia) are located.

Margaret Morgan's colleagues at Macquarie University 
have even captured the whole deal on a short video (1 min, 10 seconds).
The first example is with another Tongue Orchid species, 
Cryptostylis erecta.
But in the middle (about 25 seconds into the clip), 
there is one brief sequence involving this species too.
You will notice that the Wasp 
has to hang upside down - on this species -
for reasons I have already explained.
But it is good to see the "process" in real time imagery.

 *** In Botanical terminology, the part of the flower closest to the stem is the "base", regardless of the angle at which the flower is pointing. But for this purpose, I am referring to the part of the flower which is highest as the "top".

See you all next year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Orchid seed as fine as dust.

Today I was showing my friends Owen and Cathryn, and Helen some of the early summer Orchids of Kangaloon. We were accompanied by Cathryn's brother, David and his wife Merle, visitors from Canberra. We had a good fun time  looking for Orchids and other bits and pieces.

There is much of interest about in Kangaloon, (and not just Orchids, you will be pleased to hear). Some of the Orchids are just starting to flower, and some are still hanging around (from Springtime).

Seeds of Thelymitra (Sun Orchids) are as fine as dust
They are wind blown when the capsule is ready to shed.
In this case we experimented by flicking the ripe seed pod.
My photographic assistant counted down 3, 2,1, go.
I took the shot, with a flash, to illuminate the seeds.
Click to enlarge - to see the Orchid seeds better.

I found this Hairy Caterpillar (probably a "Wooly Bear" Caterpillar)
feeding on the leaves of a Hardenbergia violacea (False Sarsparilla)

Head-on view of the "Wooly Bear" caterpillar

Side-on view. Long hairs can cause skin irritation. Two red mites.
We found this Jewel Beetle feeding on 
a low-growing Leptospermum plant
on the edge of Butler's Swamp.
These Beetles love Leptospermum flowers.
As Beetles go this is quite large, flat, and very peaceful.
About 40mm long.
Stigmodera macularia Jewel Beetle
 I like this front on view..
Nice large eyes.
Its eyes look a bit "Possum-like", to me.
From the side.
Jewel Beetle - from the side. Stigmodera macularia
  • Corunastylis densa (a tiny Midge Orchid), cherry-red in colour - first found in Kangaloon, 16 January 2011.
Corunastylis densa (Kirsten Vine photo)
Cryptostylis leptochila - red velvety labellum with scent glands visible
The way the labellum curves back at the top is typical of this species.
Cryptostylis leptochila - side on view. Labellum reflexed at top.
  • Hyacinth Orchids - Dipodium punctata and/or roseum (Kirkland Road) - just starting (Shown yesterday)
  • Hyacinth Orchids - Dipodium roseum (definite) at Meryla Pass Rd (on plateau at top end of Griffin's Fire Trail, near Bundanoon Creek - accessed via Fitzroy Falls Rd (Nowra Rd). (Shown yesterday).
  • Microtis unifolia, tall Onion Orchids growing amongst Daviesia (Bitter Pea) shrubbery.
Microtis unifolia "Common Onion Orchid"
  • Caleana major (Flying Duck Orchid) (some still in flower at Butlers Swamp - dry part, near car park - not in the swampy bit).
  • It is one of my favourite Orchids. A good one, like this, always makes me giggle.
  •  Gastrodium sp. (Kirkland Road colony) have just a few flowers remaining. Huge seed setting has occurred.
Huge number of seeds set in this colony of Potato Orchids.
Close-up of swollen capsules on Gastrodium sp.
  • Prasophyllum flavum (one fresh flower) on Tourist Road, in dense cover, growing amongst the Hop Bitter Pea (Daviesia latifolia). I also found 4 more yesterday near Hindmarsh Lookout, (near Belmore Falls).

Prasophyllum flavum (Yellow Leek Orchid) 


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Summer Orchids starting up - in Kangaloon.

The Orchid enthusiasts of the South Coast have been reporting Hyacinth Orchids and various Tongue Orchids to be on flower from several weeks now.
They are slower to start up here in the Southern Highlands.

a dark form of Hyacinth Orchid, possibly Dipodium punctatum

A paler Hyacinth Orchid - probably Dipodium roseum
Small Tongue Orchid - Cryptostylis leptochila

Close-up of column of Cryptostylis leptochila

Kirsten going for close-up shots

Lena asking "are you guys finished yet?"

Dragonfly - black and gold. Photo not good enough for ID purposes
 With my hip still in recovery stage, 
I am not going to get "down and dirty" just yet,
to photograph these tiny flowers up close.
The link below takes you to a post from last January,
when I was able to get close-up readily enough.
Tiny cherry-red Midge Orchid Corunastylis densa
Interestingly, the Corunastylis tribe (Midge Orchids) are generally late summer and autumn flowerers.
But I have this theory that that the "late flowering" Orchids need to flower earlier up here in the Highlands, in order to get their seeds ripe before the cold and/or wet season takes control.
On the Shoalhaven coast, these plants (as a group) generally flower much later than here - some as late as mid April.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Verreaux's Tree Frog

I found this little guy on the kitchen floor in Steve and Celeste's kitchen.
Because Frogs have moist skin, they are not good at living in houses. This little guy had caught up a bit of dust and some wind-blown seeds, which were trailing along behind it, making it barely able to move.

As soon as I realised the nature of its predicament, I grabbed a glass of water, and dumped it in there.

Verreaux's Tree Frog - in a glass, and seen from above.

It took a moment of two to recover then immediately tried to climb out.
Some level of success, therefore, in my plan.
Also that told me it was a Tree Frog (as they have much better pads than swimming frogs).

I covered the glass so I could hobble away to grab my camera, and turn down the flash so it would not get blinded.

There are two Frog sites which cover this species of Frog.
I have used these two sites to conclude that my Frog is the Whistling Tree Frog, Verreaux's Tree Frog
(Litoria verreauxii)

Note the small pads on the toes,

Note the reddish pink colour inside the legs (not yellow)
Verreaux's Tree Frog making its way back home

The call made by this frog is quite familiar to me, even though I have never seen this species before.
You can listen to it by clicking on the link at this page.
Click on the hear it now link on that page.
The calls are copyrighted, so I am directing you to that site.
It is very quick to open, and just lasts about 7 seconds to play through.

Friday, December 23, 2011

'Tis the season .... of whatever.

To all my readers. I hope you have a good festive season - the one of your choice:
Take your pick:
 All these festivals on or around the Winter Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere - which is the home of the dominant world cultures) is no co-incidence. 
They all are linked to the re-birth of the Sun, the lengthening of the days, the sun bringing life to the earth and the plants and animals, of course. 
We Southern Hemisphericals are a bit "out of it" of course, for our seasons are reversed, but our cultural traditions mostly come from the Old World seasons.
By the way, if you are a Malabar Christian, from Kerala in India, you have probably celebrated St. Thomas' Day on December 21. Good for you.
If you are from Mexico or Guatemala, you might have wanted to celebrate the "Flying Men Dance".
With five blokes up a wooden pole 100 feet high, 
this is far and away the most spectacular 
of the "Celebrations of New Life" I have come across. 
Flying Men on Pole dance. Source: Spyridoula Della Photography
You can see more interesting photos 
as these guys wind themselves down the pole, 
but those photos are copyrighted. 
You can find them here yourself, for free.
And if all those celebrations are not enough for you, you can then go into the Twelve Days of Christmas, which also have some familiar paganic echoes.

In the words of the famous Irish comedian, Dave Allen, "Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you".
By the way, I wish to thank my good friend George for the conversation today which has sparked this seasonal Posting.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Robertson Burrawang Cricket Club - new Practice Nets completed.

I have received this message from the President of the Robertson Burrawang Cricket Club, Aaron De Jager.
Practice Nets in use.
  • Hi All,
  • Robertson Burrawang Cricket Club are very proud to have opened their new Practice Nets in Hampden Park, Robertson in the last couple of weeks.
  • After receiving a grant from the NSW Government Community Building Partnership in early 2011, work commenced in May 2011. The contracted works and materials were carried out or supplied by Dynamic Sports Facilities, with completion of the project in early December 2011.
  • With many hours of voluntary labour by members of our Cricket Club to add the finishing touches, we now have a brilliant training facility for our players which will be the envy of other cricket clubs in the Southern Highlands. This new facility replaces the old single training net the club had been using for over 30 years.

Note the double track of Practice Nets and pitches.

  • The Club would like to thank Peter Byrne and Wingecarribee Shire Council for their help and support, the NSW Government, the Hampden Park Commitee, Daryl Merchant and Dynamic Sports Facilities for the works, Lucas General Contractors for new metal stumps and the many members of the Robertson Burrawang Cricket Club for their time, labour and patience (grass doesn't grow very fast in Robertson in Winter & Spring!).
  • Thanks again,

  •  Aaron De Jager

Denis writes:

I stress that my personal involvement was minimal, merely as a member of the Hampden Park Management Committee for a few years. I stepped down from that position during the last year.

But it is really gratifying to see a local group of volunteers take on a task, and follow it right through, and then finish it off with a flourish, by thanking every body involved.

I have written back to Aaron in the following terms:
 Hi Aaron
  • It makes my Old Bureaucratic Heart glow to see someone in Robertson doing the job properly, by thanking all the parties involved in that project.

    Congratulations to you and the Cricket Club and all your volunteers and contacts.

    Nice to see someone not only pick up the offer of assistance, but then manage the project properly, then acquit the funds, and finish it off nicely by writing a comprehensive thank you note to everybody involved.

    My personal involvement was minimal, (through the HP Committee and I stepped down from that early in the year).

    But I am really glad to see that as well as the physical completion of the task, you have finished the project off nicely, by thanking everybody.

    Well done.

  • Denis Wilson

    Robertson Burrawang Cricket Club's new Practice Nets
Let us hope that indeed the new practice nets will prove to be: "the envy of other cricket clubs in the Southern Highlands".

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas wishes and Happy New Year

Wishing everybody a very Happy Christmas and the very best for the coming New Year.

I write this on 21 December 2011, in the full knowledge that, in the minds of some people, this will be the last year of existence, based upon an interpretation of the ancient Mayan Calendar. Personally I do not credit such stories.
Neither does Wikipedia: Maya_calendar>

  •  Misinterpretation of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is the basis for a New Age belief that a cataclysm will take place on December 21, 2012.
  • December 21, 2012 is simply the day that the calendar will go to the next b'ak'tun.
  • Sandra Noble, executive director of the Mesoamerican research organization FAMSI, notes that "for the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle". She considers the portrayal of December 2012 as a doomsday or cosmic-shift event to be "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in." The 2009 science fiction apocalyptic disaster film 2012 is based on this belief.
I take heart instead from the efforts of this male Superb Fairy Wren, who along with his female partner, and another young male bird, are busy planning for the future, by feeding three youngsters in a nest, at Cloud Farm, up above Macquarie Pass.

At peak feeding times, they (collectively) feed the chicks, every 2 minutes. Not much time for worrying about an ancient "Doomsday" scenario.

Have a good New Year.

But as with every Year, I believe we should all live this next year as if it will be our last. 
Carpe Diem
  • "Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future", and the ode says that the future is unforeseen, and that instead one should scale back one's hopes to a brief future, and drink one's wine.
  • You might prefer the "related but distinct is the expression memento mori Memento_mori> ("remember that you are mortal") which carries some of the same connotation as carpe diem. For Horace, mindfulness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment. "Remember that you are mortal, so seize the day."

As of course, every day, of every year might be our last chance to make a difference - regardless of the nonsense talked about Mayan Calendars.

Instead I prefer to take my lead from this little Guy - the cock bird, or male Superb Fairy Wren.
For me, he is the epitome of my view of both Christmas and New Year: 

  • New life, and facing the future with vast energy
    - working hard, 
    - but doing his best to look "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (just like me)!

Best wishes to all readers and all lovers of Nature, 
whether in Robertson, or elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Some native plants of Mt Murray

Here are two of the most typical "cool temperate rainforest" plants which grow on Mt Murray.
I have written previously about the flower details of the Sassafras
and also about the occasional heavy flowering of these trees.
Heavy flowering then leads to prolific seed distribution by the Sassafras trees.
fresh leaves of  "Sassafras" (Doryphora sassafras)

Older leaves of Sassafras go very leathery. Toothed margins.

seed capsules of  "Sassafras" (Doryphora sassafras)

As per the previous links, kindly check out my earlier posts about the flowers and seeds of the Sassafras trees of Robertson.

Lilly Pilly in full flower. (Acmena smithii)

Massed buds and some open flowers of Lilly Pilly (Acmena smithii).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

More photos from Cloud Farm

While still recovering, at Cloud Farm I witnessed yet another stunning sunrise effect
of early morning light on the flanks of Knights Hill.
Taken at 5:51 AM on Saturday morning.
Sunrise lighting the Illawarra Escarpment below Knights Hill
I went and checked the progress of the nestlings
of the Superb Fairy Wrens.
At least 3 nestlings all bunched up
with wing feathers developing. 
Superb Fairy Wren nestlings - in nest.

While I was out and about, taking photographs, an Australian Land Leech 
presumably Gnatbobdellida libbata))
managed to attach itself to me.
As usual, I was not aware it was attached until it dropped off.
I heard it hit the floor - with a thump.
I was sufficiently impressed with its size that I took several images, before I released it.
Leech - bloated after feeding on my wrist. Felt-tip pen cap for scale
Presumably it felt that I had needed some "medicinal bleeding" to aid in my recovery.
I actually don't agree, but it was only "doing what comes naturally", 
so I could hardly hold a grudge against it, could I?
Leech making its escape, over bricks

Friday, December 16, 2011


My friends Steve and Celeste are caring, healing people.
Prior to my recent Hip Replacement operation, they invited me to come to stay with them at Cloud Farm, on the edge of the escarpment, east of Robertson, to help me in my recovery. I accepted their gracious offer with alacrity. Today you will see why.
Cloud Farm - the residence

Knights Hill seen from Cloud Farm
Zoomed view of Knights Hill - from Cloud Farm

My favourite aspect of the view - the "brows" of the escarpment.
Detailed view of the cliffs on the escarpment

Hydrangeas and my favourite statue, of Aegeus looking out to sea, awaiting his son's return.

Female Superb Fairy Wren leaving nest bush

Male Superb Fairy Wren, looking gorgeous!

Male SFW approaching nest

A brilliant tall blue Salvia

Solanum tuberosum flowers (Potato)

morning light over Knights Hill

Echoes of William Blake's "Ancient of Days"
Hibbertia scandens
Hibbertia scandens