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Short Cuts

Readers are invited to submit short items of interest about Australian plants to be included here. If submitting non-original material (eg newspaper or magazine cuttings), please also advise if the author has given permission to republish and, if not, please provide a contact address so that permission can be sought.

Short Cuts in this issue:

Macro Results - Micro Method!
Don't throw out those "waste" bits from your propagating material
Grevillea rara Surfaces Again!
What's green, has white flowers and a snorkel?
The Protean Legend (More or Less....)
Discovering the "truth" about the Greek sea god
A Frog - friendly Garden
Prepare for the amphibian "Independence Day"....they're coming!!
How Does One Sharpen Sand?
Unanticipated adventures in plant propagation from cuttings
Potting on Seedlings
Essential advice for heavy-handed transplanters

Macro Results - Micro Method!

Ted and Cynthia Beasley show how no home is too small to have a successful glass house
....but you must drink a lot of coffee!

Micropropagation Diagram Our method of propagating some of the scarcer and smaller pieces of cutting material may be useful to others.

Stem tips of about 5 mm are placed into damp sphagnum moss in a bottle top. Then this is placed inside a shallow container and sealed. No need to water as the condensation keeps it damp. We use glass coffee jar tops which have a plastic sealer underneath.

Some of our cuttings, of the same plants propagated by more traditional methods, died. All of the micro-cuttings have survived, making sturdy little plants. We do treat all micro-cuttings with a fungicide.

We feel that this method could be of use to anyone with limited space for propagating as the containers can be stacked on top of one another (so long as you choose coffee with a flat-topped lid dome!)

A little extra care may be needed during the hardening off period for these micro-plants.

From the June 1988 issue of the newsletter of the Victorian Region of SGAP.

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Grevillea rara Surfaces Again!

Botanical shock! Grevillea species grows gills!
Christine Guthrie explains.....

Grevillea rara was first discovered and collected by Peter and Margaret Olde during a trip to Western Australia in 1986. Cutting material was sent back to the eastern States and propagated and flowering specimens collected. These were ultimately studied and a new species recognised and named in 1993 by Olde & Marriott ("Nuytsia" 9:244).

A further trip in 1991 by Peter Olde to collect fruiting material caused considerable consternation when it was realised that the site had been flooded by the Harris River Dam and was now under water.

The tentative new name for this species (subsequently abandoned!) was then proposed as "Grevillea submarina"!

At about this time Peter had begun correspondence with Mrs Val Crowley of Darkan, WA after she sent specimens of what turned out ultimately to be a new species, G. crowIeyae P. Olde & N. Marriott. Peter asked her to look for G.rara and after numerous expeditions by her into the area surrounding the dam, finally received a letter in August 1994, the contents of which are revealed here:

"A very quick note. Enclosing some specimens of what I hope is Grevillea rara which I found growing above the wall at the Harris River Dam yesterday. Not very good specimens I'm afraid - we just went for a drive with friends in their car - so nothing to cut with and no time for making notes etc. The plants -- 12 to 20 odd - were about 1.5 m high and all in bud. The only flower open was the small scungy bit enclosed" (subsequently identified as G.rara by P, Olde).
From the July 1996 issue of the the Newsletter of SGAP's Grevillea Study Group.

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The Protean Legend (More or Less....)

Jim Walsh has been researching the background of the Greek sea-god, Proteus, and you won't believe what he's found out (really...you won't believe it!)

Proteus was one of Neptune's sons (although Neptune never married, he wasn't above a romp in the billows with the lovely Amphitrite, among others). Proteus' early life is not well documented, but when he became an old man, his kindly Dad gave him a herd of sea-calves to look after, and a nice cool hole in the rock to sleep in during the heat of the day (there were no Unions in those days, and an employer could get away with just about anything; especially when he was a God as well).

Proteus lived alone in the cave, and his custom was to bring home his herds of sea-calves -at noon, and then to sleep. There was no way of catching him but by stealing upon him during sleep and binding him; if not so captured, he would elude anyone who came to consult him by changing his shape, for he had the power of changing it in an instant into any form he chose.

"...he would elude anyone who came to consult him by changing his shape..."

"Why would anyone want to capture an aged herdsman who lived alone in a hole in the ground?"

You may well ask.

The fact was, after a lifetime of dwelling on life's injustices, the old man had finally worked out the meaning of existence, and was known far and wide as a Prophet of considerable insight.

The trouble was, so many ancient Greeks would drop by for a spot of advice on the olive oil Futures Market and such like, that Proteus became fed up, and positively refused to answer questions unless he was bound hand and foot with no possibility of escape.

Even when bound hand and foot, Proteus would put on a tremendous display, changing in rapid succession into a raging tiger, a roaring fire, a fire-breathing dragon, a swarm of European wasps, an elephant, or, if all else failed, back into himself (think what possibilities P T Barnum would have seen in this boy!) The trick was, you had to hold fast Proteus' bonds while he carried on in this fashion, so that escape was impossible, and then . . . he would answer your question in order to be set free!

As you might imagine, it wasn't long before Proteus tired of having his midday kip interrupted by violent bondage and interminable questions. One day he gathered up his herd of sea-calves and disappeared forever into the wine-dark sea.

Probably just as well; one false prediction these days and old Proteus would find himself up before the Beak on a charge under the Trade Practices Act.

We botanical types remember the old herdsman in the diversity of form in the plant family Proteaceae, which includes such genera as: Grevillea, Telopea, Lomatia, Hakea, Stenocarpus, Lambertia, Dryandra, Banksia, Macadamia, Triunia, Darlingia, Hicksbeachia, etc, etc.

Two Australian members of the Proteaceae are shown here... Dryandra quercifolia (top - photo Margaret Pieroni) and Banksia repens. Both species are native to Western Australia. Select the thumbnail images or plant names for a higher resolution image (42k and 39k, respectively)

From the newsletter of SGAP's Sutherland Group by way of the April 1986 issue of "Native Plants for New South Wales", the newsletter of the New South Wales Region of SGAP.

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A Frog - friendly Garden

Psst....want to attract things that go "croak" in the night????
Kevin Casey has the good oil on attracting amphibians.

Frogs are fascinating creatures and a terrific asset to the environment. They are voracious eaters of many garden pests, including mosquitoes, slugs, beetles, blowflies, ants, moths, grasshoppers and cockroaches. Frogs capture their prey with the aid of a long, sticky tongue which is flicked out in a blur of speed.

With their acutely sensitive skin, frogs are also excellent biological indicators of the health of both aquatic and terrestrial environments. If frogs are thriving in your garden, you can be assured that your backyard ecology is balanced and generally in good shape. Creating a frog-friendly habitat has the added benefit of also attracting other wildlife, including small lizards, butterflies and native birds.

It takes very little effort to create an inviting refuge for local frogs in your garden. Frogs are quick to locate prime living areas and will readily take up residence in any suitable spot which meets their basic needs for food, shelter, humidity, safety from predators and appropriate breeding conditions.

Frog Diagram A small frog pond can be easily constructed by digging a hole about two metres wide and half a metre deep, lining with sturdy PVC black plastic, anchoring the edge with large flat stones and surrounding the entire area with a rich diversity of native plants. Sheltering vegetation is especially important for newly emerging frogs just out of the tadpole stage, the aim being to have a nice balance of trees, shrubs, climbers, grasses, ferns and aquatic plants for the pond itself. Groundcover is extremely important in frog habitats, as it allows frogs to escape the heat of the day and protect them from prowling cats, crows and other predators.

There are very few native plants which would not be suitable for a frog-attracting garden. Any thorny foliage is best kept some distance from the pond, however. Wrens and other birds are certainly attracted to the spikier Grevillea and Hakea species because they feel safe in the thick maze of branches, but frogs will avoid such plants in their choice of a daytime resting spot, preferring smooth-leaved vegetation.

If you want to attract native frogs you may need to reassess the way in which you think about gardening itself. Closely cropped lawns, meticulously pruned shrubbery and an absence of leaf litter may appeal to our human sense of neatness, but frogs much prefer a few clumps of unmown grass, some dense ground-hugging vegetation, plenty of moist crevices and mossy hollows to hide in and a generous supply of organic mulch spread around. Even if you have the only suitable frog breeding pond for miles around, the frogs will spend their time elsewhere if there isn't suitable vegetation around.

From the June 1996 issue of the newsletter of the Victorian Region of SGAP.

See the review of Kevin's book about frogs in What's Current in Print?

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How Does One Sharpen Sand?

Do you need elaborate equipment to strike cuttings?
Andrew Philips thought so, but sometimes it's possible to be too well prepared......

My native garden was finally advancing well. I had cleared away a jungle of weeds and replaced it with a desert of mulch. I hadn't yet planted anything but there were obvious signs of progress. The next step was to populate it with plants. Being instinctively miserly I refrained from purchasing many plants and decided to propagate my own. I started off by taking lots of cuttings from the gardens of friends and family.

A book I purchased made it sound very simple to take cuttings of Australian plants, and it seemed like it would produce faster results than using seed. I had also only just joined the SGAP and thought that sending away for seed would take a while and would probably not produced worthwhile results. (I have since grown many plants from seed obtained from the SGAP seed bank, but that is another story.) However, like most things that are worthwhile (and many that aren't) there were many setbacks and obstacles to be overcome. The first setback was to my credibility with my mother-in-law. Her most hideous suspicions were apparently realised when I let slip that I was looking for my rooting hormone because I was going down to the shed to do some propagating.

"...I let slip that I was looking for my rooting hormone because I was going down to the shed to do some propagating."

It was around this time that I joined the SGAP (mainly for the increased opportunities for obtaining cuttings). The first few issues of the Society's newsletter that I received fortuitously included articles and letters on succeeding with cuttings. But it was beginning to seem like there would be a much greater investment in time and money than I had anticipated. Evidently I would need to build an automatic misting system to stop the cuttings drying out and an under-bed heating system to encourage root formation. This was on top of the other materials that the book said I needed (peat, vermiculite, fungicides, antiseptics, hormones etc).

Just when I thought I was getting a grasp on things there was a letter from one Peter AbeIl (who had always stupefied me even when I was at school with him), which discussed the importance of the AFP (air filled porosity) of the propagation medium and the significance of molecule size of auxins (hormones). There were also several letters debating the importance of the "sharpness" of the sand that was used for cuttings.

This was all very worrying and confusing. Apparently there was more to do and more to go wrong than I had ever imagined. (Paradoxically, it seemed that the more "slips" I made the less slips I would make.) I was worried that my sand wasn't sharp, but I was perplexed as to how one goes about sharpening sand (something that no-one explained). I had bought a huge load of river sand some of which I was using for cuttings. It seemed likely that river sand was round (like river pebbles), but I was wondering where I could find a microscope to check this.

"She took one small piece and stuck it in some dirt in a pot. It soon started growing vigorously....."

While I, was contemplating all this my wife had seen a nice plant (which I later identified as Grevillea biternata) escaping from a neighbour's property onto the footpath. She took one small piece and stuck it in some dirt in a pot. It soon started growing vigorously (it has since grown to a glorious 2 metre diameter circle of green carpet.)

So it seemed that growing cuttings of native plants was not as difficult as I had thought. Inspired by her success I had soon grown many cuttings of westringias, Grevilleas and others without difficulty or expense. Although I have had innumerable failures with my experiments with cuttings, I have also had many gratifying successes. One thing that has always puzzled me is that given identical conditions one batch of cuttings may all die but another batch will all survive. I have a theory on this which, if you do not find enlightening, you might at least find light-hearted (see Spirited Plants? in "Short Cuts" in the September 1996 issue of "Australian Plants online").

I hope your sand stays sharp and your auxin molecules small.

From the May 1996 issue of "Blandfordia", the newsletter of the North Shore Group of SGAP.

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Potting on Seedlings

Make "Transplanting Trauma" a thing of the past....
Ian Waldron explains how to maximise the survival rate of germinated seedlings.

On reading back through various Study Group newsletters, one complaint seems apparent and still seems to persist; that is "I can germinate the seed without any problems but when I repot they all seem to die without reason."

The following method of transplanting seedlings has given almost 100% transplant survival for me regardless of seedling variety or seedling size, as long as they are large enough to handle.

The seedlings are washed out of the propagation mix in the communal tray into a container of water large enough to take the whole tray at once. The washing action is a gentle agitation of the tray in the water which gently and gradually washes the mix from around the roots.

If the roots of the seedlings are intertwined and will not separate easily without force sufficient to break the fine hairlike roots, a bundle of seedlings is selected which will separate from its fellows and then this is gently washed apart to individual seedling stage. At no stage should the roots be forced and they should never be allowed to dry out.

Once a bundle of seedlings has been separated they should be kept in water but separated one from the other and potted on to individual tubes, taking only the seedlings required from the water.

Hand Diagram The seedling is then suspended above the tube of mix with the roots hanging freely with the fingers at final mix level, or just above. Potting mix is then gently worked in around the roots to final level, at which stage the seedlings can be released from the fingers. A gentle tap on the base of the tube is all that is needed to settle the mix.

Once the seedling is in the tube, the tube should be placed in water up to the level of the top of the tube and allowed to soak. This will bed the seedling firmly within the mix. When the mix is thoroughly saturated, remove the tube from the water and allow to drain.

Finally spray the seedling with fungicide and pace in a protected position for up to a week, keeping the mix moist but not wet for the full period

Although it may seem a tedious method of transplanting, it works. With a little practice and patience, large numbers of seedlings can be handled in a relatively short period of time.

The basic theory behind this method is that if the hairlike roots are broken or torn, or allowed to dry out at any stage, transplant shock ensues and a high risk of death of the seedling is the consequence.

From the May 1996 issue of the SGAP's Melaleuca and Allied Genera Study Group.

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Australian Plants online - December 1996
The Society for Growing Australian Plants