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, 27 July 2017

An Alphabet of White Flowers

I have in the (fairly distant) past, compiled alphabets of both yellow and red flowers. Today, on a mere whim, I have decided to do the same with white flowers. The 'rules', as before, are that where possible I've illustrated each letter with a genus, but where that proved unachievable I've settled for a species name. In this way I've managed to fill every letter except Z - even the hitherto unattainable Y! (Y is highly problematic because it doesn't exist in Latin.) The focus is on Australian plants, but I've included some lovely examples from both South America and Africa. It's not meant to be too deep, and I'm going away for a couple of weeks tomorrow (inter alia gathering lots of material for future posts!), so I've kept it pretty simple. Let's start - I hope you enjoy the journey!

Mountain Celery Aciphylla glacialis Family Apicaceae, Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales.
This beautiful herb is limited to the high mountains of southern New South Wales and Victoria.
It has recovered from a parlous situation since stock grazing was removed from the alpine parks.
Snow Daisies Brachyscome nivalis, Namadgi National Park, Australian Capital Territory.
Another species from the south-eastern alps (and nothing in the rules says they have to be completely white!).
Swamp Crinum Crinum uniflorum Family Amaryllidaceae, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory.
This lovely lily is found in damp sandy situations across northern Australia.
Disa sp., Bamenda Highlands, western Cameroon. One of some 180 species of this orchid genus,
mostly from Africa. The Bamenda Highlands are being rapidly denuded of rainforest by small-scale farming
and eucalypt plantations.
Pinkwood Eucryphia moorei, Family Eucryphiaceae (sometimes Cunoniaceae),
Monga National Park, southern New South Wales.
This is a tree of the cool rainforests, and an ancient Gondwanan; the genus is also found in South America.
Caladenia (or Arachnorchis) flindersica, Alligator Gorge, Mt Remarkable National Park, South Australia.
The species name (I always seem to have trouble with F-genera!) refers to its home in the Flinders Ranges.
Mueller's Snow-Gentian Gentianella muelleriana (above and below), brightening a wet misty summer's day
in Kosciuszko National Park. (For a while the Australian and New Zealand snow-gentians were given their
own genus Chionogentias, but they have more recently been returned to the widespread Gentianella)
Snakebush Hemiandra sp, Family Lamiaceae, Norseman, Western Australia.
And no, I'm afraid I can't shine any light on the unlikely-sounding common name.
Wee Jasper Grevillea Grevillea iaspicula Family Proteaceae, Southern Tablelands Ecosytems Park, Canberra.
The species name is an attempt at Latinising the quaint locality name (near to Canberra).
This is the only photo here not taken in the wild; this is a highly localised and threatened species.
Jonesiopsis incensa, Wubin, Western Australia.
Note that this genus name, commemorating eminent Australian orchid taxonomist and iconoclast David Jones,
is no longer widely recognised. (J-names are not easy to find though!)
    Kunzea muelleri, Family Myrtaceae, Kosciuszko National Park, where it can be a dominant shrub
in the alpine heaths. The genus commemorates German botanist Gustav Kunze.
Arrayan Luma apiculata Family Myrtaceae, Alerce Andino National Park, southern Chile.
This beautiful tree grows in wet forests.
Carpet of Snow Macgregoria racemigera Family Celastraceae, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia.
This delightful and surprising little plant can indeed carpet the desert sands in good seasons.
Giant Waterlily Nymphaea gigantea Family Nymphaeaceae, James River, Barkly Tableland,
north-eastern Northern Territory. Found across northern Australia and in New Guinea.
Huilmo Olysnium biflora Family Iridaceae, Torres del Paine NP, southern Chile.
This is a genus of 17 iris species, all South American except for one in North America.
Broad Foxtail Ptilotus nobilis Family Amaranthaceae, far northern South Australia.
Found right across inland Australia, this handsome ephemeral can stretch to the horizon after good rains.
Sturt's Pigface Gunniopsis quadrifida, Family Aizoaceae, Lake Hart, South Australia.
A succulent also found across the dry Australian inland, growing on the shores of dry salt lakes.
Splendid Everlasting Rhodanthe chlorocephala, near Cue, inland central Western Australia.
A truly magnificent daisy, found only in this region of the west.
Sobralia virginalis, eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes, east of Cusco.
A striking big orchid, in this case just growing on the roadside.
Tufted Grass Lily Thelionema caespitosa Family Hemerocallidaceae, Tallong, southern New South Wales.
Prickly Moses Acacia ulicifolia Deua NP, southern New South Wales.
A very pale-flowered wattle, common around Sydney, where its common name arose
as a mangling of the original Prickly Mimosa.
Valeriana rigida Family Valerianaceae (or Caprifoliaceae), El Cajas NP, southern Ecuador.
A smallish genus from both Europe (including the medicinal herb) and the Americas.
This one forms stiff mats at high altitudes - here at close to 4000 metres above sea level.
Tineo Weinmannia trichosperma Family Cunoniaceae, Salto Petrohue, southern Chile.
A tree of the southern Andean wet forests, from an old Gondwanan family.
Southern Cross Plant Xanthosia rotundifolium Two Peoples Bay NP, southern Western Australia.
A remarkable-looking member of the carrot family - and a valid 'X'!
Yalata Mallee Eucalyptus yalatensis, Nullarbor Plain, far western South Australia.
Y-names are very rare in botany, as Latin lacks the letter; however this one was named for the
locality of Yalata, an indigenous word.
Which, in the sad absence of a Z plant, brings us to the end! I hope you've enjoyed this bit of trivia, and perhaps met some lovely flowers for the first time.

BACK ON THURSDAY (with one I've prepared!)
(And remember that you can get a reminder when the next post appears by putting your email address in the Follow by Email box in the top right of this screen.)
I shall be away until 15 August and will not be able to reply to any comments
you make until after that, unless you do so very soon after this posting.
I shall certainly do so however, so please check back.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Tasmania's Dove Lake; an exquisite stroll

Say 'bushwalk' and 'Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park', and the response is likely to be something like "oh, the Overland Track!". This six to seven day walk from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair is truly among the world's great wild walks, but clearly it's not for everyone. There is however another great walk in the park, one of my favourite day walks in Australia, and one accessible to anyone of even moderate fitness and mobility. 
Looking across Dove Lake to Cradle Mountain.
The six-kilometre lake circuit mostly keeps us at lake level, with sections of boardwalk, so we can
concentrate on the magnificent scenery around us, rather than on our feet!
Much of the park is wilderness, so of course no roads, but Dove Lake at the end of the road is readily accessed by car; the carpark is not far past the excellent parks visitors' centre. 
The end of the arrow indicates Dove Lake - the mass of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair NP
to the south of it is evident (160,000 hectares), and is contiguous with the even larger
Franklin Gordon Wild Rivers and Southwest NPs.
Your chances of enjoying the views without the intervention of clouds at some stage are not high, but on our most recent visit we were lucky.

Cradle Mountain is the souvenir of one of the most significant events in Australia's story. Around 55 million years ago Antarctica began to 'unzip' from the southern margins of what is now Australia, starting from the west. As the rift opened, vast quantities of subterranean molten material flowed into it, including an estimated 5,000 cubic kilometres beneath Tasmania! The dolerites of Cradle Mountain derived from the final disintegration of Gondwana and the isolation of Australian.
A slightly misty view of the Cradle Mountain dolerite towers.
A more distant view of the rugged dolerites.
The lake itself is of much more recent origin, being gouged out of the landscape over the past couple of million years by glacial action; Tasmania has been affected much more dramatically than the mainland by the current cycle of glaciations.
Glacier Rock. While they are not as obvious as I'd like, the horizontal scores in the rock were gouged out
by glacial action as the valley was being formed.

The lake is hard to photograph as a whole from ground level, being some two kilometres long and about 600 metres wide at its widest point. Here are some perspectives of it from various vantage points around the walk. (And while it's true that the views were never hidden from us by cloud, neither was there a lot of sun in evidence.)
As you can see from these two photos, there are sections of the walk which climb onto
ridges, which provide excellent views.
The brown stain in the water is the result of tannins from vegetation, especially tea trees, Leptospermum spp.

A stand of flowering tea trees.
Perhaps the most striking habitat that we pass through is the extensive area of cool temperate rainforest, dominated (like most Tasmanian rainforest) by Myrtle Beech Nothofagus cunninghamii (though I've just learnt that some would now prefer to use the genus name Lophozonia). This is a relic straight from Gondwana, and is eerily reminiscent of such forests in Patagonia and New Zealand.
Entering the rainforest.
Myrtle Beech trunks.
Here the darker trunks belong to Sassafras Atherosperma moschatum Family Atherospermataceae.
This is, as you'd expect, another old Gondwanan, and is an important co-dominant in many of these forests.
Very old Sassafras trunk.
At the end of this post I'll share a couple more rainforest scenes from nearby walks in the park, but for now we'll stay with Dove Lake.

Another striking plant is the giant heath known locally as Pandanus (which name is more usually used for the family Pandanaceae, of warm climate lily-relations).
Pandanus Richea pandanifolia, Family Epacridacaeae (or Ericaceae as it is increasingly known,
at least for now), in the landscape along the track, above and below.

Pandanus really is imposing, and can be found in both rainforest and eucalypt forest.
Yet another significant group of Tasmanian endemics is that of the ancient pines, and a couple of them are evident along our route.
Pencil Pines Athrotaxis cupressoides, Family Cupressaceae, against Cradle Mountain.
Pencil Pine foliage.

Very old Pencil Pine, which has been there for centuries.
While the cypress family to which the Pencil Pine belongs is widespread, Family Podocarpaceae
is Gondwanan. Here are a couple of shots of Celerytop Pine Phyllocladus aspleniifolius along the way.

The Gondwanan pines will feature in a future post, but for now we'll move on to some other endemic plants.

Pink Mountain Berry Leptecophylla (Cyathodes) juniperina, Family Epacridaceae (or Ericaceae if you'd rather).
Baeckia gunniana, Family Myrtaceae.
This one is actually also found in the mainland mountains, but it was named for a Tasmanian,
landowner and naturalist Ronald Gunn who collected for von Mueller.

Another species named for Gunn is certainly an endemic; it is a beech which grows as a shrub, and which unlike the Myrtle Beech is deciduous. We were there in February however, so it was still in full leaf.
Deciduous Beech N. gunnii, above and below.

The concertina leaves are very characteristic.

The beautifully aromatic Lemon-scented Boronia B. citriodora, Family Rutaceae,
is also an endemic.
Another habitat which the track traverses is Button Grass plain, which covers large areas of south-western Tasmania in particular, where the ground is water-logged or low in nutrient. There isn't a lot along the track, but there is some.

Button Grass Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus - which is not a grass at all, but a sedge, Family Cyperaceae.

Button Grass flower.
Another very impressive sedge growing in these boggy areas is the aptly-named Cutting Grass (well, the 'grass' isn't appropriate of course) Gahnia grandis, which can grow to over three metres high.

Cutting Grass in flower.
Yes, I know it's not a plant, but this slime mould is too magnificent not to share!
As  mentioned earlier, there are a couple of other, shorter walks in the immediate vicinity: Weindorfer's Forest Walk is between Dove Lake and the entrance, while Pencil Pines Falls Walk is at the entrance station. Both are worth it for the beautiful rainforest alone.

Beech forest; Weindorfer's Forest above,
Pencil Pine Falls, below.

Leatherwood Eucryphia lucida, Pencil Pine Falls. The Family Eucryphiaceae is an ancient
Gondwanan one, with the genus also present in South America.

However it is probably best known as the origin of the magnificent and distinctive leatherwood honey!
We might as well finish with the Pencil Pine Falls themselves, a very pretty little cascade.

I can't imagine you visiting Tasmania without going to Dove Lake, but I hope this has given you extra incentive. However if it were me I'd be waiting until the end of winter...

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