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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.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Considering the Lilies; part 4

At last - you may well be thinking - here is the last in this series on the lovely lilies. It started here, and followed from there.

In this last posting I want to introduce you to some beautiful members of a family whose name may well be unfamiliar to you. Hemerocallidaceae was first proposed by the great Scottish botanist Robert Brown in 1810 but was certainly not familiar to at least most Australian amateurs until very recent years when some familiar species from other families were shifted into it. Elsewhere in the world many people would go further and include the members of this family in the grass tree family Xanthorrhoeaceae, but here we prefer to give that wonderful group of quintessentially Australian plants their own family. You don't of course need to know any of this to enjoy the plants, but I thought I should mention it in passing to explain why the system I'm using here might seem strange to you. It might be too, but I didn't invent it!

One such subsumed family is (was) Phormiaceae, which includes the New Zealand flaxes Phormium spp. Though not a numerous family it is widely spread, due largely to the genus Dianella - referring to Diana, in her role of goddess of the woods. These are robust familiar herbs in this part of the world, where they are known as flax lilies.
Mountain Flax Lily Dianella tasmanica, Namadgi NP above Canberra.
Above can be seen the big strappy leaves and tall flower stem.
Below is a close-up of the lovely yellow-stamened blue flowers.

Following the flowers are almost equally attractive big glossy blue or purple berries.
Mountain Flax Lily berries were eaten by the Aboriginal people of the mountains, who also used the leaf fibres
(remember the flax part of the name) and pounded and roasted the roots.
This species is found in higher places from northern New South Wales to Tasmania.
The paler-flowered Dianella caerulea is found in near coastal and lower hinterland habitats,
often sandy, in much of eastern Australia.
Apart from Nodding Blue Lily (another formerly in Phormiaceae), the rest of the lilies to be showcased today were until recently in family Anthericaceae. 

Blue Grass Lily Caesia calliantha is another local lily with a wide eastern Australian distribution. It is found in grassy understoreys of open forests and woodlands. Other species are found in New Guinea and southern Africa.
Blue Grass Lily, Kama NR, Canberra.
Thelionema is a closely related and similar genus, containing just three species from eastern Australia.

Blue Tufted Lily Thelionema caespitosum, Tallong, New South Wales.
Yes, I know, an unfortunate name! White flowers get commoner at higher altitudes.
Stypandra is a very small genus, with one species in Western Australia only, the other, Nodding Blue Lily S. glauca, very widespread in eastern and southern Australia. It is flowering delightfully right now around here. The flowers are very similar to Dianella, but the plant is entirely different with tall leafy stems.
Nodding Blue Lily, above and below.
The plant can grow to a metre and a half high.



Johnsonia is a small genus of five lilies, all Western Australian. They have strange little sheathed flowers in a spike. The genus is named for Thomas Johnson, a 17th London physician and herb gardener who was also a serious field botanist and mountaineer. He had the honour of displaying the first bunch of bananas to be seen in England in his shop in 1639.
Pipe Lily Johnsonia pubescens, Yandin Lookout, north of Perth

Hooded Lily Johnsonia teretifolia, Shannon NP, south west Western Australia.
And finally for this series, a somewhat more conventional-looking lily. Yellow Rush Lily is found again widely in grassy areas in much of eastern and southern Australia, where it favours grassy areas and can stud such meadows with numerous flowers.
Yellow Rush Lily, above and below, Tidbinbilla NR, Australian Capital Territory.


I hope you've enjoyed meeting or re-meeting these lovely plants as much as I have enjoyed introducing them to you.

(I should mention perhaps that also in the huge order Asparagales are now included orchids, irises and grass trees, but I prefer to leave my definition of lilies short of them, and treat them as separate groups in due course.)

I'm currently in Ecuador, and this is as many posts as I had time to put up in advance before I left.
I'LL BE BACK ON DECK HERE WITH ANOTHER POST ON 7 NOVEMBER; I LOOK FORWARD TO CATCHING UP WITH YOU THEN.

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