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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Considering the Lilies: part 2

Last time I started an exploration of the wonderful world of lilies, including their complicated definition, which I finally settled upon, for the purposes of this blog, as plants which have in the past been included in the family Liliaceae - and there are very many of them! Not only has the giant pseudo-family been broken into 24 separate families, but this wealth of species is spread across two entire orders - it would be as though ducks and herons had recently been mixed in together, or carnivores with horses and rhinos. Last time we looked at some lilies which remain in the order Liliales; today I want to start looking at the larger order Asparagales.

First however, a couple of omissions from last time to rectify! I talked about some Australian members of the Liliales, but omitted a couple of rather lovely overseas members of the families discussed. Bear with me - they really are worth it.

Probably the best-known and most widespread member of the family Colchicaceae is the glorious Flame Lily (among many other names), also called, with some justifiable hyperbole, Gloriosa superba. It is found in much of Africa and Asia, and is the national flower of Zimbabwe. It is reputed in different places to cure almost every ill known to humankind, though it is highly toxic from top to bottom and is used as an arrow poison in West Africa.

Gloriosa superba near Masindi, Uganda.
Another family that we explored was the South American Alstromoeriaceae; again I left out a particularly lovely one that I ought not to have done! Luzuriaga has a classic Gondwanan distribution, the few species being found in Patagonia and New Zealand. L. polyphylla (Quilineja or Coral in Spanish - I'm not aware of an English name) is a beautiful climbing herb from the dripping wet temperate rainforests of the Lakes Region of northern Chilean Patagonia.
Quilineja seems to glow softly in the dark wet forests it inhabits.
Alerce Andino NP, near Puerto Montt, Chile.
So, to the order Asparagales. There are, as I've said, many families involved and today I'd like us to look at representatives of some of the smaller families.

Amaryllidaceae is probably best known for its cultivated members - daffodils and snowdrops for instance. However there are many beautiful ones to be found in the wild too of course. A couple of species occur in inland Australia, where they grow and flower, sometimes prolifically, as flood plains dry out. 
Darling Lily Crinum flaccidum, Lake Broadwater NP, Queensland.
They have a strong sweet scent in the evenings, suggesting they're pollinated by night-flying moths.
In Africa eight species of blood lilies, Scadoxus spp., are found widely. They are highly toxic with both leaves and bulbs containing potentially deadly alkoloids.
Scadoxus sp. (I think S. multiflorus - any clues anyone?), Mt Cameroon.
Asteliaceae is a largely Pacific family, most members of which are in the genus Astelia; New Zealand is its heartland, but there is one species in the far south of Patagonia, others scattered through the Pacific, and a couple in Australia.
Astelia alpina (above and below), Mount Field NP, Tasmania.
Known as Pineapple Grass though it is neither of course, but the name is appropriate!
It can dominate alpine understoreys in the south-eastern Australian alps.

Blandfordiaceae is a tiny family of just four species, all in the genus Blandfordia of eastern Australia. They are known as Christmas Bells for their mid-summer flowering and are much-loved. They grow generally in moist heathy areas.
Christmas Bells, Blandfordia nobilis, Morton NP, New South Wales.
Boryaceae is another small family, exclusively Australian, with most species in the genus Borya and in south-western Australia where they are especially found around great granite outcrops, drying out to apparent death and recovering dramatically when it rains. Unsurprisingly they are known as resurrection plants.
Borya sphaerocephala, Dingo Rock, south-west Western Australia.
Doryanthaceae is yet another tiny Australian endemic family, featuring just two giant species in the genus Doryanthes. Gymea Lily D. excelsa is found near the coast in rocky forests from Sydney to southern Queensland and is one of the most striking plants in Australia. In winter and early spring it puts up a massive flowering spike to four metres tall!
Gymea Lily, above and below, Royal National Park, Sydney.

Hypoxidaceae on the other hand is a near world-wide family, as is the large type genus with up to 150 species.
Yellow Star Hypoxis hygrometrica, Canberra.
The odd species name - it means 'water measuring' - refers to the curious fact that the plant's hairs
coil up when dry and extend when wet. To my knowledge this has never been explained!

Hypoxis sp., Ngaoundaba Ranch, central Cameroon.
And finally for today, family Asphodeliaceae, the aloes and asphodels. Some modern taxonomies subsume this one into the Xanthorrhoeas, which intuitively feels a bit odd, but this has not been accepted in Australia. Locally there are a couple of species of Bulbine Lily.
Bulbine bulbosa, Canberra.
In case you'd missed it, the name is trying to assure us that it has a bulb!
An edible one too apparently, well known to indigenous Australians.
This is a very common and cheerful spring flower in grassy areas locally.
Rock Lily Bulbine glauca, Namadgi National Park, above Canberra.
Unlike Bulbine Lily this one lacks an edible tuber; it replaces that species at higher altitudes.
And I think that will do us for today - you must be just about lilied out by now. We've not yet finished with the glorious lilies though; we'll wrap it up with a posting on each of two families, the next being the asparagus family!



Flabmeister said...

A small thought about the distribution of Bulbine glauca. While it is certainly more common at higher elevations I have found it near Urriara Crossing and the Murrumbidgee near Michelago.

Neither of these are particularly higher than the haunt of B. bulbosa. Possibly the rockiness of these low spots where I have found them adds sufficient harshness to the environment to compensate for the wussy elevation?


Ian Fraser said...

Interesting observation thanks Martin, and now I wonder if I've been seeing what I expect to see, and have overlooked lower elevation B. glauca because I wasn't expecting it? I shall attempt to be more observant in future!