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, 30 August 2012

Spring Wildflowers 1

One of the things that makes the Canberra region a joy for natural historians is its seasonality; of course all of Australia has seasons of varying contrast, but not much of the continent has such a sharply defined winter-spring changeover. In this it has somewhat more in common (though of course less harshly) with northern Europe, Asia and North America than even with the nearby NSW coastal habitats. As to when spring starts, that can spark a surprising intensity of debate. For reasons I don't have at my fingertips, Australia uses the agreed Meteorological definition of the seasons, which sets the change of season at the first of September (and December, March and June), while Europe and North America use the Astronomical definition, which uses the equinoxes and solstices to mark the season kick-off. I have heard people assert quite strongly that these are the 'real' seasons, but I don't really get that - they're both human conceits. There are good reasons to define the seasons by what's actually happening, as many societies have done, and as some Australian indigenous communities (such as in the Top End) still do. This would of course mean that the dates would change from year to year, and while that seems perfectly reasonable to me, I doubt that we could cope easily with it. 

For me however, spring in Canberra is defined by the first finger orchids and that has happened! For the rest of this post I'll let the flowers do most of the talking. All photos were taken on Black Mountain, a unit of Canberra Nature Park on the edge of the city centre (our Civic), dominated by dry eucalyptus forest.

Blue Fingers, Cyanicula caerulea above,
and Dusky Fingers, Petalostylis fuscatus (often still known as Caladenia fuscata)

Blue or mauve peas dominate their family in terms of flowering at present; the sprawling climber False Sarparilla Hardenbergia violacea, at the top of the post, has been shining for a couple of weeks now, but the small erect Purple Hovea Hovea heterophylla, is another good end-of-winter indicator.
White is currently popular (I generally think of such flowers as being likely to be pollinated by night-flying moths), and the beard-heaths stand out (for more on heaths currently flowering, see the recent post in The House of Fran_mart, under Blogs I Regularly Read, opposite). It is likely that the densely hairy throats deter ants, notorious nectar thieves.

Leucopogon fletcheri, millions of individually tiny flowers
can light up a forest floor!

Another contributor to the white theme are the multi-flowered Rice Flowers; they were originally described as Banksia, for the great Sir Joseph, but it was realised then that the name had already been taken.

Pimelea linifolia; the bark fibres were valued by
Aboriginal people.

And of course wattles are prominent, as they are everywhere and always it seems. With Wattle Day only two days away (when I'll be away) it seems appropriate to showcase them here, starting with a controversial one. Cootamundra Wattle, Acacia baileyana, is native to the western slopes, a couple of hundred kilometres west of here. It is a vigorous invader of native forests, and in parts of the Adelaide Hills has become a serious pest, as it is threatening to do in parts of Canberra Nature Park. On the other hand the seeds are favoured by Superb Parrots, a threatened species.

Acacia baileyana; the name commemorates a veritable
dynasty of 19th and early 20th century Australian
government botanists.

Early Wattle, Acacia genistifolia, which having flowered through much of winter
is about to hand over the baton to less hardy wattles; the name means 'gorse-leafed'.
Lastly for today, the modest little Box-leaf Wattle is starting to play its role in the understorey.
Acacia buxifolia - the name means just 'box-leafed', with no reference
to containers. Buxus was the Latin name for an unrelated European tree;
from a resemblance to its hard timber came the name 'box' for
a group of Australian eucalypts.

And I did warn yesterday about digressions, so maybe time to leave it there, but I'll continue to offer spring flowering updates over the next couple of months. Now stop sitting inside reading this, and get out there and enjoy it!


Anonymous said...

Springtime is coming! At last!
Love the photos, especially the Acacias which are so magnificent at the present. But I love the orchids too. Thanks for putting them up!
I agree about letting nature determine the seasons.
Great post!

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks for your kind words Madoqua, especially given the quality of your own! You'd mentioned your love of wattles, now I know you like orchids too - I'm an orchiholic, so there'll most certainly be more of them in days to come.