About Me

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Canberra-based naturalist, conservationist, educator since 1980. I’m passionate about the natural world (especially the southern hemisphere), and trying to understand it and to share such understandings. To that aim I’ve written several books (most recently 'Birds in Their Habitats' and 'Australian Bird Names; origins and meanings'), run tours all over Australia, and for the last decade to South America, done a lot of ABC radio work, chaired a government environmental advisory committee and taught many adult education classes – and of course presented this blog, since 2012. I am the recipient of the Australian Natural History Medallion, the Australian Plants Award and most recently a Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘services to conservation and the environment’. I live happily in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise surrounded by a dense native garden and lots of birds.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Have a Hakea

This is the fourth in a sporadic series on plants of the great Gondwanan family Proteaceae; it began here, but it might be easiest to go the most recent instalment, on grevilleas, and follow the links back.

While not nearly as large a genus as the better-known Grevillea, Hakea is still pretty substantial with around 150 species recognised. It is possibly less widely familiar because hakeas have generally been less cultivated; they are often regarded as prickly and not as colourfully bloomed as grevilleas, but neither of those observations are anywhere near universally true, as we shall see. All are Australian.

Corkwood Hakea lorea, Kata Tjuta National Park, central Australia.
Hakeas can be found throughout Australia, but unlike grevilleas they do not grow in rainforests. Many, like the Corkwood above, thrive in the arid lands, but like so many Australian groups their stronghold is the fabulously rich sandy heaths of the south-west of the continent. They grow as shrubs or small trees but, again unlike grevilleas, they tend not to form ground covers. 
Mountain Needlebush H. lissosparma, Ben Lomond NP, Tasmania.
As suggested by these two photos, hakeas can be found almost anywhere.
Curiously the genus was named back in 1797 by German botanist Heinrich Adolph Schrader - 'curiously' because that was very early in the history of naming Australian plants, and the Germans weren't generally involved that early (though there were a number of significant collectors later on). In fact he named it in a book (in Latin) of rare plants grown in Hanover gardens. Of course this just begs the question, which is how did it get there so early? I have no answer to this teaser. The species, Hakea teretifolia, is a fairly common east coast one. Schrader called it Hakea glabra, not realising that British botanist Richard Salisbury had already named it Banksia teretifolia the year before. Salisbury's species name had to take precedence, but when it became clear that it wasn't a banksia, Schrader's genus name was the next in line. He named it for Baron Christian Ludwig von Hake, universally described as a Hanover councillor and patron of science (or botany); there must have been a bit more to him but I can't find any of it. 

The name is usually pronounced Hay-kee-a in English, but I prefer Hah-kee-a, that being how the Baron would have said his name - the question of whether we should name organisms after people is a separate one, but if we're going to do so it seems to make sense to pronounce it like the model's name.

A final note before we talk about the real topic - the plants themselves. It's an interesting phenomenon that botanical taxonomists, at least in Australia, seem keen to expand the concept of a genus as widely as possible so that huge genera comprising several former separate taxa are becoming the norm. Zoologists (eg bird taxonomists) meantime, are going the other way and fine-tuning so that it's more common to find genera being split up to reflect subtler differences. It does seem to me that the latter tells us more about the history of the groups, including the timing of their separation. The point here is that we seem to be moving towards lumping Grevillea in with Hakea (which would mean that all Grevillea would become Hakea, not likely to be a popular move among most of the population!).

The most obvious difference between Grevillea and Hakea is in the fruit; while that of Grevillea is brittle and papery, Hakea fruit is hard, woody and even massive.

Mountain Needlebush fruit, Ben Lomond NP, Tasmania.
Many of these species live in fire-prone heathlands, and protect seeds (just one per fruit) in the massive cases. After the fire has passed, and the ash-bed has cooled, the case opens up and drops the seed into the enriched, unshaded, soil.
Post-wildfire opened hakea cones, Lesueur NP, Western Australia.
But for species which do not grow in areas affected by regular fires, the cases are flimsier and do not rely on a fire's heat to open them.
Small-fruit Hakea H. microcarpa, Namadgi NP above Canberra.
This species grows in high country boggy areas which do not regularly burn.
Leaves can be cyclindrical or narrowly strap-like as in the above examples, or flat and leathery.
H. neurophyllya, Lesueur NP, Western Australia.
Some other Western Australian species have unexpected stem-clasping leaves which surround the flowers; it could be that by trapping 'moats' of dew or rain they are preventing ants from stealing nectar.
Scallops H. cucullata, Twin Creeks Reserve near the Stirling Ranges, Western Australia.
Others are divided and spiky.
Unidentified hakea, Shannon NP, south-western Australia. Any suggestions?
Some of the most extraordinary foliage of all however belongs to the remarkable Royal, or Lantern, Hakea H. victoria, which has a small range centred on the Fitzgerald River NP, southern Western Australia. The plant can be three metres high and has colourful leaves the size of large cabbage leaves, surrounding inconspicuous creamy flowers
Lantern Hakeas in Fitzgerald River NP

The leaves of Lantern Hakea; it is likely that at least part of their function is to attract attention to
the otherwise non-obvious flowers.
Hakea flowers are rarely at the tips of branches, as those of grevilleas usually are. Many are indeed simply white and not very dramatic, with small clusters of flowers, as per the oft-heard bias against them as garden plants.
Harsh Hakea H. prostrata, Torndirrup NP, Western Australia.
Other white-flowered ones can be dramatic however, simply through the masses of flowers.
H. recurva, Paynes Find, inland Western Australia.
 Many others are highly colourful with great cylinders or spheres of clustered flowers.
Grass-leaf Hakea H. francisiana (who thought the leaves were its most prominent feature?!),
Pinkawillinie Conservation Park, South Australia.

H. invaginata, Ballidu, Western Australia.

Grass-leaf Hakea (again - see above comment!) H. multilineata, Goldfields Woodlands NP, Western Australia.
So, there's a brief introduction to a genus which may be unfamiliar to some, especially if you're reading this from overseas, and which will probably never overtake Grevillea for popularity in the garden. But I reckon it deserves more admiration than it gets.

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Susan said...

So you say 'fook-see-ah' not 'fyoosh-yah' and 'dahl-yah' rather than 'day-lee-ah'? I've never heard anyone pronounce Fuchsia in a way that reflects the pronunciation of Fuchs, but all my American clients say 'dahl-yah', the way you would say Dahl.

Ian Fraser said...

Yes, I do say 'fook-see-ah'. I confess that on the rare occasion I say 'dahlia' I think of it as a common name and say it the conventional way. If I were using it as a genus name I would say 'dahl-yah' though, even at the risk of being mistaken for a North American! (I also say Acacia mel-an-oh-ZIE-lone'...)