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 October 2022

Gariwerd/Grampians National Park; one of the best

One of the most superb - and most-visited - national parks in Australia rises from the western plains of Victoria. Gariwerd was renamed the Grampians after the Scottish range by the now infamous surveyor/explorer Thomas Mitchell in 1836, but now both names are used together. In the 1990s a Victorian premier, in an act of astonishing political perversity, abolished the original Indigenous names that had been jointly reinstated but sense and decency has since apparently been restored in this matter.

The central section of Gariwerd from the east, some 25km away. The range (or series
of ranges) is 90km long from north to south, and half that at its widest point,
covering an impressive 167,000 hectares, though astonishingly it wasn't declared
national park until 1984. It is surrounded by farmland, formerly woodland.
Gariwerd lies approximately at the end of the red arrow in the
south-east corner of the map.
A low-res map of the park, courtesy of Parks Victoria. You'll probably need to
click on it to see it at all clearly. Halls Gap (HG) is in the middle of the eastern edge of the
range - look for the white on blue i (for Information). The main areas covered by the
photos are Mount Zero and Gulgum Manja Shelter in the far north; Heatherlie Quarry
about halfway between HG and Mount Zero; Boroka Lookout, just north-west
of HG; Balconies, west of HG; Victoria Valley, south-west of HG.
There are roads through the park but it is not fragmented by them and much of the park is only accessible by foot. Accordingly, most visitors see only a tiny area of the park, though this is still pretty satisfactory. My guess is that most visitors never leave the small area around Hall's Gap, a busy village in the centre of the eastern edge of the range; from here there are walks along the delightful Stoney Creek and a short circular drive to other creek and waterfall walks.
Stoney Creek, a delightful short walk from the tourist hub of Hall's Gap.
These sheltered walks along ferny stream lines, often leading to a waterfall, are probably the most popular in the park (though not least because most of them are close to Hall's Gap).
Another scene on Stoney Creek; this is near the pool known as Venus' Bath. These awfully
twee names make me wince, but they are rife in areas favoured by 19th and early 20th
century tourists. And our forebears were dedicated and determined tourists!
People were coming to the Grampians (as they were then universally known in English) from Melbourne from the middle of the 19th century, taking advantage of the trains to Stawell in particular. In 1868, Thomas' Guide for Excursionists from Melbourne was published to promote the Grampians. The return rail fare from Melbourne was £5. "To him who likes to escape a while from the conventionalities and to be brought for a while face-face with nature in her solemn grand and eternal beauty, we say: Try the Grampians" Unfortunately he then went on to recommend the pleasures of shooting the wallabies (probably the Brush-tailed Rock-Wallaby, now Critically Endangered in Victoria)...

In addition the ranges supported a logging industry, a hugely destructive wattle bark industry (for tannins for leather-tanning), gold mining, stone quarrying and stock grazing. Not only was this environmentally detrimental, but had (as everywhere) catastrophic imlications for the Djab Wurrung and Jardwardjali people, whose descendants help manage the park today. However their stories are not mine to tell, and I don't have the right or ability to do so.
Gulgum Manja art site, in the far north of the park. This is a well-publicised site,
protected by a mesh and interpreted. There are several such sites in the areas (as well,
I imagine, as many others not advertised); more information on them can be found at
Brambuk Cultural Centre in Hall's Gap.
Instead here are a few more scenes from walks along the stream lines, or to waterfalls. They also feature some of the magnificent rock formations which are such a feature of the park. Most of the geology features sediments - sandstones etc - which were laid down during the Devonian, between 415 and 425 million years ago, by rivers carrying material from higher ground into shallow estuaries. (There are also some younger granites, but not in the areas most people visit.)
Golton Gorge, off the road north to Mount Zero. Another easy pleasant
walk to where the water slides over the rocks via a small fall into a pool.
Turret Falls, in the Wonderland area (see previous comments on
twee 19th century names), in the Hall's Gap area. This photo, and the couple of
Stoney Creek earlier,  were taken in September 2019 after prolonged drought,
just before the current series of inundating La NiƱas began.
The next two were taken in early October 2022 after a wet week, but before the devastating rains of the past week (I am writing on 27 October 2022) which have submerged so much of New South Wales and northern Victoria. The results at the waterfalls were spectacular (and I can't imagine what they look like now).
Mackenzie Falls, even from way above it was truly awesome
(and I don't use that word lightly).
Silverband Falls - and as you can see from the spots on the lens it was still
raining. The big eucalypt on the left had been washed off the hillside opposite,
and the roar of the water was overwhelming.
Away from the wet gullies in the sheltered central eastern ranges near Hall's Gap, dry eucalypt forest with a heathy understorey is more the norm.
The track into Heatherlie Quarry where the flowering in spring is spectacular.
There are some truly grand views to be had at a couple of justifiably well-known lookouts (both of which can be pretty good for flowers too). Boroka Lookout is right above Hall's Gap (600 metres above it in fact) though it's reached by a 15km drive west along Mount Victory Road, then north a little to the well-marked lookout. The views west and south are superb.
South from Goroka Lookout. The sandstone layers in the foreground and the tilted planes of
the Wonderland Range behind must delight a geologist's eyes; they certainly do mine.
Far beyond is the Serra Range. To the left is Lake Bellfield, created by a dam on Fyans Creek
in 1966 to provide water (and recreation) for Hall's Gap, which is to the left of the photo.
The other famed vistas are from Reed's Lookout and along the adjacent one kilometre track to the Balconies (formerly widely known as the Jaws of Death, which was apparently deemed to require some tweaking for PR purposes, perhaps understandably). The carpark is by the Mount Victory Road, not far past the Boroka Lookout turnoff.
Looking south into the Glenelg River headwaters valley (generally referred to as
Victoria Valley), with Moora Moora Reservoir in the distance. It was planned in
the 1880s but only completed in 1934, to divert water to Horsham - which I have to
say seems a long way in the wrong direction, way back over our left shoulder
as we're looking at it!
Moora Moora Reservoir (while we're talking about it), which is a lovely tranquil
place now, though in the 1890s there were up to 80 people in a small village here
logging ancient River Red Gums for railway sleepers. It's worth recalling too that
prior to the dam being built it was a doubtless rich and fascinating wetland.
Across the water the effects of bushfires can be seen in the trees; since 2006 there have
been three major fires in Gariwerd which have together burnt some 85% of the park.
The effects can be seen everywhere.
Back to Reeds Lookout, from where the track to the Balconies passes through interesting areas of sheet sandstone with little mossy gardens, and with views to the north.
Moss bed on the rocks along the Balconies walking track, with Fairies' Aprons
Utrichularia dichotoma and sundews Drosera spp.
Looking north across the sandstone sheets to Lake Wartook in a valley of the Mount
Difficult Range. The park seems to have more than its share of reservoirs, though to
be fair they were all built before its late gazettal (but see below). It was another wetland,
which attracted pastoralists and the Cobb and Co. coaches for watering stock.
The first dam wall was built here in 1887, but was raised significantly in 1997 - ie well
after the park's gazettal. The water is released to the Mackenzie River, and then channelled
to the Wimmera River to provide Horsham's water supply.
About 30 years ago you were able - indeed encouraged! - to clamber onto the lower 'balcony', high above the valley floor. Given that fact that the sandstone is gradually eroding away, this seems crazy now and there is fencing and signs in an attempt to deter people - but some people are hard to protect... I've even seen a photo from the 1940s of a party of 23 people posing on it, who collectively must have weighed close to two tonnes; that could have ended very badly indeed.
The Balconies from the newish adjacent lookout. The tree in the foreground partly
obscures the lower shelf, so you can't really see how flimsy it looks.
 While we're admiring sandstone, here are a few more Gariwerd sandstone scenes to admire.
The view looking roughly north-east from Mount Zero in the far north of the park.
Also in the far north, close to Mount Zero, is the Gulgum Manja art site (in an area also referred
to as Hollow Mountain). There is a photo of some of the art above, but this is its setting.
Along Rose's Gap Road, driving back from Mount Zero to Hall's Gap.
I just had to stop and photograph these grand cliffs over the trees.
As mentioned earlier, it is impossible not to be aware of the impact of fires in the past couple of decades, almost wherever you go in Gariwerd. 
Epicormic buds beginning the tree's recovery along the Mount Victory Road. I think this
was actually a management burn, being very recent and limited in area along the road.
The north end of the park burned very severely in January 2014 and as far as I know that
was the last time, though I'm having trouble getting information on the third fire mentioned
above. This photo was taken in early September 2019, and the fact that it had been very
dry for some time explains the apparently slow recovery. The flowering was still
impressive however.
This is the same general area (not the same scene) three years later, in October 2022.
Recovery is progressing well and the flowering this year was wonderful after three wet years.
I keep teasing you with mention of flowering without really producing any. That's because there is far too much to squeeze into this post, and I'll be focussing on the flowers next time. However as an appetiser here are three of the 20 species found nowhere but Gariwerd, plus another which has only one other outlying population.
Grampians Thryptomene T. calycina. This lovely shrub is widespread in the park (but nowhere else) flowering right  through winter and spring.
Flame Grevillea G. dimorpha is widespread, but not abundant, but can't be missed when in flower,
which also happens from late autumn to spring. I have read that it also occurs in the Pyrenees (!)
near Ararat to the east, but the Flora of Victoria confirms that it's restricted to Gariwerd.
Grampians Parrot-Pea Dillwynia oreodoxa is a Gariwerd endemic of rocky areas.

Rock Banksia B. saxicola, here on Mount William on a misty day, is otherwise
found only at Wilsons Promontery on the coast on the other side of Melbourne.
It is not common, found only in some mountainside sites.

If you're into wildflowers, come back in a fortnight - they're too good to have to wait three weeks for - when I'll present a range of lovely Gariwerd flora. If this post hasn't persuaded you to go there (or go back there) sometime soon, I'm hoping that the flowers can clinch it! Meantime, stay dry if you can, and enjoy the final weeks of spring in the Southern Hemisphere.

I love to receive your comments and in future will be notifying you personally by email when a new posting appears, if you'd like me to. All current subscribers have been added to this mailing list and have already been contacted. This will mean one email every three weeks at the current rate of posting. I promise never to use the list for any other purpose and will never share it.
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Thursday, 6 October 2022

Greenhoods are Great!


It's spring, and an old (in my case) man's fancy turns to thoughts of orchids. That's a vast topic; there are some 1700 orchid species in Australia alone, and orchids comprise some 8% (one in twelve) of the world's flowering plant species. Accordingly I'm going to limit myself today to just one group, less colourful than some orchids but nonetheless attractive, and indeed fascinating, to many of us. Within the wider orchid family they seem to be an old group with no close relations; indeed they are so specialised that they are not always immediately recognised as orchids. There are some 400 species of greenhoods, most of them Australian and the rest nearby, in New Guinea, New Zealand and New Caledonia. 

Summer Greenhood Diplodium decurvum, Brindabella Ranges, above Canberra.
To understand this curious flower structure, let me remind you of the basic orchid form (on which there are a myriad variations) using a rather more typical orchid flower. (You can skip this if you like, though that might make it harder to understand some of what follows - don't miss the pictures though!)
Purple Donkey Orchid Diuris punctata, Tallong, New South Wales.
Unlike most flowers, orchids (and lilies) have sepals - the outer ring of flower parts - which are as large and colourful as the petals. There is one dorsal sepal at the top of the flower, and two lateral sepals lower down. There are two dorsal petals, with the third petal forming an insect landing platform called the labellum (lip). (In this photo the dorsal sepal looks to be in front of the petals, but if you look at the top flower - you might have to magnify it by clicking on it - you'll see that it really does rise from behind them.) And that'll do for now!
The greenhood in the previous photo looks entirely different, but the basic structure of the flower is exactly the same. However in greenhoods the two dorsal petals and the dorsal sepal strongly overlap to form the hood, or galea; it may look as though it's a single fused structure, but it's not. The inconspicuous labellum of the Summer Greenhood can just be seen protruding under the hood. The two lateral sepals, which droop down in the donkey orchid, stand stiffly up in this greenhood, though this is isn't true of all greenhood species. However the important difference is that they're conspicuously fused at the base, while those of most other orchids are free of each other. Again, that'll do for now!

As I mentioned some greenhoods have the lateral sepals hanging down like the donkey orchid above, and many other orchids. Here's an example.
Tall Greenhood Bunochilus longifolius, Callala, south coast New South Wales.
The conspicuous labellum is very clear here, which brings us to greenhood pollination.
No greenhood provides a nectar reward to hard-working pollinating insects; all of them attract small male flies, mostly fungus gnats (like small non-biting mosquitoes), with a pseudo-pheromone, a chemical that mimics the 'come hither' scent of an interested female gnat. The labellum, which may be out in the open like this Tall Greenhood, or mostly hidden in the flower so it is just visible, like the Summer Greenhood earlier. When the amorously hopeful insect contacts the hinged labellum it snaps back, pinning the insect against the column, which contains both pollen and style. In its struggle to escape the unfortunate gnat either collects the sticky pollen, or delivers a bundle it's already carrying.
Rainforest Greenhood Pterostylis hildae, Katoomba, Blue Mountains, NSW.
Here the flower has been recently 'triggered', so the labellum is tucked away
out of sight inside. It may take 30 minutes for the labellum to reset, and
another 30 to become sensitive again; in part this is likely to be to allow
the last pollinating gnat to get well away so it doesn't return the pollen to its source.
The ovary is below the flower. After pollination the flower begins to shrivel and the ovary to swell; within it the tiny wind-borne dust-like seeds develop - this is characteristic of all orchids.

Nodding Greenhood Pterostylis nutans, Black Mountain, Canberra;
the flower is losing its colour and the ovary is starting to swell.
The process almost completed. Later in the blog is a photo of a healthy unfertilised flower.
 If you're at all familiar with the Australian orchid scene you won't be surprised to read that there is controversy over greenhood taxonomy. Until recently they were lumped into just one unwieldy big genus, Pterostylis, which contained obvious groups of species, each quite different from the others. Then in 2003 two highly respected Canberra-based orchid experts, David Jones and Mark Clerments, divided the genus into 16 genera, based on biochemical work. (The main reference is Jones, D.L. and M.A.Clements (2003b). A New Classification of Pterostylis R.Br. (Orchidaceae). Austral. Orch. Res. 4: 64-124 but it doesn't seem to be readily available on line.) 
No-one seemed to disagree that these were valid sub-groupings but the main botanical 'establishment' preferred to leave things as they were and just regard them as sub-genera. Subsequent further work using new tools by Clements combined some of those genera again, leaving eleven greenhood genera. Now things have settled down somewhat there seems to be a fairly healthy 'live and let live' approach taken. Take for instance two recent field guides relevant to my part of the world. The Field Guide to the Orchids of the Southern Tablelands of NSW including the ACT (Jean Egan et al, 2020) uses the 'new' genera. The Guide to Native Orchids of NSW and ACT (Copeland and Backhouse 2022) calls them all Pterostylis but finishes each entry with 'also called .....', acknowledging that those genus names are also in wide usage. 

Without claiming any expertise it seems to me that the more nuanced approach of Jones and Clements is more informative in recognising clearly separate greenhood groups. Jones' vast (800 pages) and hugely influential recent work, his 2021 full revision of Complete Guide to Native Orchids of Australia, obviously uses his own names. For these reasons I have chosen to also use them here; just bear in mind that some books will call them all Pterostylis.

And with that I'll just get on with introducing you to representatives of nine of those eleven genera, and hoping you enjoy meeting them as much as I do. (The other two contain just one species each, but I've not yet had the pleasure of meeting them.) As mentioned earlier, two basic groups of greenhoods are recognised. The larger group in terms of species, though only containing three genera, is characterised by having upswept lateral sepals like the summer greenhood above. Here are some more of this grouping, starting with a few from the big genus Diplodium, containing some 80 species, all but four of them being from Australia.
Scarlet Greenhood Diplodium coccinum, near Monga, inland south-east NSW.
This is an unusually colourful greenhood, a truly beautiful one that I've not often seen.
Common Autumn Greenhood D. reflexum, Black Mountain, Canberra.
Quite a few greenhoods, in this part of the world at least, flower in autumn.
(And Black Mountain, in the heart of the national capital, is an orchid nirvana,
with 51 species recorded there!)
Common Autumn Greenhoods often grow in large colonies;
this is also on Black Mountain.
Large Autumn Greenhood D. ampliatum, Chiltern Forest, central Victoria.
(This was until recently called D. revolutum, but inland plants are now
recognised as a separate species.)
Little Dumpies (or more formally Brittle Greenhood, though I don't know why)
D. truncatum, Black Mountain. I love the spontaneously arising folk names though.
Hairy-stemmed Snail Orchid D. setulosum, southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia.
There are over 30 species of the little snail orchids, mostly in Western Australia; until recently
they were given their own genus (Linguella) but Clements and Jones, after further work,
moved them into Diplodium.
Trim Greenhood D. concinnum, Callala, south coast New South Wales.
Again the labellum is obvious, protruding through the join of the two lateral sepals;
this angle is the sinus, and is used for identification of greenhoods. This species too
was once assigned to a separate species (Taurantha) which has since been withdrawn.
About 26 species remained in the old genus Pterostylis, along with some still to be named, and some 15 in other parts of Australasia. They include two of the commonest greenhoods in this part of the world and throughout much of eastern Australia. Both can form very big colonies.
Nodding Greenhood Pterostylis nutans, Micalong Falls, New South Wales.
Not dozing, they always look like this!
Maroonhood P. pedunculata, Woods Reserve, ACT.
This little one in particular can occur in hundreds.
The third genus in this group comprises very small-flowered orchids, often referred to as tiny orchids. There are 23 species of Speculantha, all confined to eastern Australia. They are distinctively dumpy little characters with short 'horns' ie lateral sepals and often a rusty tinge. Here are a couple of them.
Red-tipped or Blushing Tiny Greenhood, S. rubescens, Black Mountain, Canberra.
This one is widespread across the southern inland slopes and plains of NSW,
whereas most tiny greenhoods are coastal.

Squat or Swarthy Tiny Greenhood S. furva, Mongarlowe, south-eastern NSW.
As illustrated earlier, in the other greenhood sub-group the lateral sepals point downwards (ie they are deflexed if you're feeling erudite. There are eight genera of these, and I'm happy to be able to offer you examples of six of them. In addition there are two genera each with just one species - Daintree's Greenhood Pharochilus daintreanum from southern Queensland and northern NSW, and the Frog Greenhood Ranorchis sargentii from the south-west of the continent.
The leafy greenhoods, genus Bunochilus, are good examples of this group. There are 15 recognised species down the east coast of Australia, including the Tall Leafy Greenhood above and these two.
Brown-lipped, or Broad-sepaled, Leafy Greenhood B. umbrinus,
Tidbinbilla NR, ACT lower mountains; it is limited to the
NSW southern tablelands. In this plant the labellum has been triggered
so is pressed back into the flower; behind it the fungus gnat
is struggling to get out, carrying its pollen load. Otherwise the labellum
looks like that of the Tall Leafy Greenhood near the start of this blog post.
Montane Leafy Greenhood B. montanus, Black Mountain, Canberra.
Sorry about the poor lighting. This was described by David Jones in 2006,
but one recent publication prefers B. jonesii, doubtless a tribute to David Jones.
However that was published in 2007, so I can't shed any light on that story.
Hymenochilus is a genus of 24 very small-flowered greenhoods (called midget greenhoods, appropriately). Two of them are from New Zealand, the rest are Australian. Any they really are tiny - you can't properly see them unless you get right down to their level.
Black-tipped Greenhood H. bicolor, Black Mountain, Canberra.
The distinctive black appendage at the base of the labellum is only seen
when the labellum has not been triggered.
Alpine Swan Greenhood H. crassicaulis, high Brindabellas, Namadgi NP, ACT.
Named by Jones in 2008, it grows in high grassy areas of the Brindabellas and the
Snowy Mountains. This stem is coming to the end of its flowering,
with only the top flowers still fresh.
Midget Greenhoods H. muticus, Nangar NP, central western slopes, NSW.
This is mostly an inland species, found from Queensland to Victoria.
The rustyhoods, Oligochaetochilus, include some of the most striking greenhoods to my eye. There are some 80 species of them, up to 15 of which are still awaiting description. Many are reddish, as the group name reflects, many have long pointed lateral sepals, and many have hairs around the fringe of the labellum. Many also grow much further inland, and in drier areas, than most orchids.
Boorman's Rustyhood or Baggy Britches (!) or even Sikh's Whiskers, though that is
understandably falling from favour these days, Oligochaetochilus boormanii,
Weddin Mtns NP, south-western slopes New South Wales.
Slender Rustyhood O. aciculiformis, Mount Tennent, south of Canberra.
This species and the next were flowering together in a very nice site in dry
casuarina woodland.
Southern Hooked or Scaly Rustyhood O. hamatus (see previous caption).
This is an especially distinctive species with those long curving sepals.
The bearded greenhoods are, if anything, even more striking with their nodding labellum fringed with long thick yellow hairs. Plumatichilos contains some 25 species, nearly all of which are endemic to Australia and most to WA. I haven't had much luck with them over there, but here's a nice one from my home state of South Australia.
Leafy Bearded Greenhood Plumatichilos foliaceus, Alligator Gorge,
southern Flinders Ranges. Unfortunately the characteristic dark red knob on the tip
of the labellum is largely hidden in front of the shadow.
There are seven species of the pretty banded greenhoods Urochilus spp., five of them limited to WA.
Banded Greenhood U. vittatus, Shannon NP, south-west WA.
This one is fairly common across the sandy south-west.
Red-banded Greenhood U. sanguinea Kings Park, Perth. This one has a remarkably wide range across southern Australia from Tasmania to Perth and north to Kalbarri.
My last offering is a pretty weirdly and unmistakably striking single-species genus from WA.
Jug Orchid Stamnorchis recurva, Twin Creek NR, Western Australia.
So, the greenhoods, subtle beauties. I hope my enthusiasm hasn't led to you feeling buried in too much information and that you've been able to enjoy them as much as I do. Look for them in damp shady places (especially in the east) and in autumn and even winter when most other orchids are waiting their turn. You may well end up entranced.

I love to receive your comments and in future will be notifying you personally by email when a new posting appears, if you'd like me to. All current subscribers have been added to this mailing list and have already been contacted. This will mean one email every three weeks at the current rate of posting. I promise never to use the list for any other purpose and will never share it.
Should you wish to be added to it, just send me an email at calochilus51@internode.on.net. You can ask to be removed from the list at any time,or could simply mark an email as Spam, so you won't see future ones.