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Short Cuts

Short items of interest about Australian plants selected from the many newsletters and journals published by member Societies of ASGAP.......

Short Cuts in this issue:

BulletNative Gardens and Birds
Developing a bird-attracting garden can be quicker than you think
BulletGrowing Better Cycads from Seed
Tips to improve the rate of successful germination
BulletCommon Names and Their Origins
The meanings on many common names are obvious but some are a bit inscrutible....
BulletCuttings and Myths
"Rules" are made to be broken!
BulletDesigning a Garden - The Lang Approach
Not quite chaos - but not quite as planned, either.
BulletMoonlight Stinger or Gympie Gympie
Dendrocnide is a genus to be wary of in the bush.

Native Gardens and Birds

A neglected garden bed can become a haven for birds in a surprisingly short time. Anne Rees relates her experience in northern Tasmania.

Before moving to Tasmania, we lived on a one-acre bush block at Mirboo North, a small town in South Gippsland, Victoria. When we bought the block, in 1993, it was a mess, with most of the area covered by either clumps of blackberries, patches of thistle and dandelions or huge piles of uprooted stumps, and branches and trunks of dead trees.

But we could see beyond that. There was a small seasonal creek running through the middle of the block, and tall Eucalyptus obliqua (Messmates) and small shrubs such as Epacris impressa (common heath), Lomatia ilicifolia (holly lomatia), and Bauera rubioides (wiry bauera), and the common fringe lily (Thysanotus tuberosus) still grew on several small undisturbed areas.

After we built on the block in 1996, we burnt, slashed and cleared all the rubbish from the block and commenced planting what was to become a wonderful native garden for native birds.

   Proven Bird Attactors

Click on thumbnail images or plant names for larger images

Banksia 'Birthday Candles'
Banksia 'Birthday Candles'

Correa reflexa
Correa reflexa

Grevillea fililoba
Grevillea fililoba

Grevillea lanigera
Grevillea lanigera

For four years, 1999 to 2002, we took part in the Birds Australia Atlas Project, each month, over three days, completing an area search within 500 m of a central point, that central point being our garden. The results of these bird counts showed that the total number of species of native birds seen in the search area over a 12 month period was 51. For our garden area, the total number of species was 39.

Moving to Wynyard in Tasmania to a suburban type block has been quite a change. The gardens here must have been neglected for many years, the mostly exotic plants were untidy and overgrown and the garden beds were full of weeds. There were large sections of grass at the front and at the back of the house.

The state of the grounds we considered a plus however, because, without any qualms, we went ahead and removed all the plants but one, a Crowea 'Ryan's Star', which was growing in one of the front gardens. Unfortunately, we had to remove the only other native plant that was here, an Acacia iteaphylla. It had been planted too close to the garage, and severe pruning over the years had resulted in an ugly plant with branches to steer clear of.

So, with a completely clean slate as it were, we started once again to establish a native garden for native birds. All the grass was removed from the front area and about a third from the back. Beds were planned and then dug, plants bought from many nurseries and planting commenced in October, 2003.

Our first native birds appeared in late April this year, a pair of Eastern Spinebills, and six New Holland Honeyeaters, a family group. The New Holland Honeyeaters are the dominant birds and if the Eastern Spinebills are in the garden when the New Hollands arrive the New Hollands chase them away.

Now, after some eight months, we are able to watch New Holland Honeyeaters through the front windows at breakfast time. Recently we saw four of them arrive, first at the Banksia 'Birthday Candles' beside the front path, and from there they crossed to a side garden to three plants of Anigozanthos 'Bush Tango'. They then moved back to a Correa 'Marian's Marvel' in the garden bed in front of the lounge room window. This is one of four 'Marian's Marvels' we have growing as it is a favorite, a very showy correa with its pink and yellow bells, and one that grows to a good height.

The New Hollands slowly moved through the garden bed on the other side of the front path next, stopping to feed at three plants of Grevillea fililoba 'Ellendale Pool' growing together, a prostrate G.lanigera (woolly grevillea) and another C. 'Marian's Marvel'.

In turn now they stopped to preen, sitting on the side fence or in the old flowering deciduous street tree in front of our house. Then it was back to the side garden, and the other two 'Marian's Marvels', and a tall growing C.reflexa (native fuchsia) with bright red and yellow flowers. Breakfast was well over by this time, and the dishes needing doing, so we left the New Hollands on two of our most showy grevilleas, G. 'Ned Kelly' and G. 'Robyn Gordon', both resplendent with flowers, and got on with the housework.

It is still early days for our garden, and any disturbances such as people walking by startle the birds and they fly away. We need taller, denser growth to provide the cover that birds need. We have the framework planted, perhaps within a year or two, as the garden develops, we will have more species of birds in the garden and the birds will stay around longer.

From the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Tasmania) - North West Group, August 2004.

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Growing Better Cycads from Seed

Cycads are renowned for their slow growth but germination of seed can also be excruciatingly slow! Peter Heibloem suggests some guidelines to help ensure effective germination....

Use community pots for sprouted seeds which are at least 200 mm deep. This promotes strong tap root development and conserves valuable space. After 1-2 years or longer, seedlings can be removed and put into individual containers. Put 25 mm of gravel at the bottom of your pot for extra drainage and 25 mm of coarse river sand on the top of the potting mix to prevent the potting mix from drying out too fast.

   Cycad Fruit

Click on thumbnail images or plant names for larger images

Macrozamia communis
Macrozamia communis

Lepidozamia peroffskyana

Give the cycad seedlings more water rather than less water so that they never dry out. To prevent root rot, make sure that the potting mix is very open and exceptionally well drained. This will allow more air around the roots and promote faster root development.

Fertilise the cycads with slow release Osmocote or Nutricote - I use 6-9 months formula with trace elements added. I also water with Naturakelp or a fish/seaweed concentrate about every six weeks.

I germinate my cycad seed in cliptop plastic bags in slightly damp perlite and vermiculite soaked in fungicide in a cool place. This keeps pests out and avoids the temptation to force the seed into early germination which never works and usually spoils the seed. After the seed is germinated, I put the seed on a hot bed until the root is 25 - 50 mm long and then into the pot. This minimises losses which can occur if the seed dries out before the root is long enough.

Planting cycad seed too early often ruins the seed, especially if it is planted in hot or wet conditions, or it dries out before it is ready to germinate. Storing fresh seed in plastic bags in cool, dry conditions for 2-6 months is recommended. To determine when the seed is ready to germinate, a few can be planted or placed in damp vermiculite in another bag. Or if numbers permit, one can be cut open to observe the development of the embryo. From my experience, very few varieties of cycad seed are ready to germinate after they come off the plant.

The most common mistake I have made is keeping the seed too damp and planting the seed too early. If your seed start to dry out (check every two weeks for "rattlers"), soak the seed again to rehydrate it, then dry it and store it again until it is time to plant.

From the newsletter of the ASGAP's Cycad, Zamia and Palm Study Group (now defunct), June/July 1996

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Common Names and Their Origins

It's easy to see how names like 'Native Elm' and 'Native Holly' originated, but what about 'Grease Nut' or 'Bootlace Bush'?? Lloyd Bird looks at the origin of common names.

While scientific names of plants are recognised worldwide, common names are often of local origins and relate to specific areas. Early settlers often based common names on real or fancied resemblance to European species of plants and trees. Examples are Native Elm, Native Silky Oak, Native Holly, Native Grape, Native Olive, Native Plum, Native Guava and Native Mulberry.

Australian trees were quickly recognised as a source of valuable timber with derogatory names applied to non-commercial species. Fibrewood, Shatterwood, Brittlewood, Featherwood, and Chinaman's Cedar to name a few. Hernandia bivalvis, a rare tree growing in Dry Rainforest at Pine Mt, Ipswich, is known locally as Shitwood, a reference to its soft non-durable timber which found use as brake blocks on pioneer horse drawn vehicles. The tree is also referred to as Grease Nut, as the large ribbed seeds are a source of various essential oils.

Toughness and durability of timber led to descriptive names such as Ironwood, Flintwood, Axebreaker, Gap Axe, Steelwood, Axehandlewood, Malletwood, Churnwood, Coachwood and Stavewood related to the specific uses of wood from these trees, shrubs and vines.

With fruit akin to commercial species, names such as Native Lime, Native Grape, Native Persimmon, Native Guava, Native Raspberry, Wild Almond and Black Apple were used, to name just a few.

Wikstroemia indica bears the common names of Bootlace Bush or Tie Bush - the tough stringy bark was an excellent substitute for string or broken bootlaces. Armed with vicious thorns the scrambling climber (Maclura cochinchinensis) Cockspur Vine forms dense thickets along waterways and rainforest margins.

Barbed Wire Vine (Smilax australis), with its multitude of stout wiry stems clothed in prickles, has the ability to impede progress and cause lacerations. Clematis glycinoides the Headache Vine receives its name from the reputed ability to alleviate headaches if one sniffs the crushed leaves.

Distinctive odours emitted from wood, bark or crushed leaves also give rise to common names such as Celerywood, Dogwood, Possum-wood, Stinkwood and Smell of the Bed. Also referred to as Odour Bush, the former Mallotus claoxyloides is responsible for the earthy odour of some rainforest gullies.

Blind-your-eye, Caustic Vine, Poison Peach and Fish Poison Tree are common names relating to toxic properties present in these plants.

Over the years local plant enthusiasts have added to the list of common names. Pouteria eerwah - Flinders Plum, Cryptocarya sclerophylla - Totem Tree, Notelaea lloydii - Lloyd's Olive, Notelaea sp. Bundamba - Ipswich Olive.

Trophis scandens   
Trophis scandens
Burny vine or
Horny vine?

Photo: Ian Sutton
Click for a larger image

On hearing Trophis scandens, the Burny Vine, was reputed to be the Viagra vine of the indigenous people, locals promptly christened this rainforest climbing plant the Horny Vine.

Common names are both imaginative and descriptive. Bastard Crows Ash, Soap Tree, Knot Vine, Caterpillar Plant, Crabs Eye, Snake Vine, Eye Opener tree, Razor Grass, Nipple Fig, Tingletongue, Blood Vine, Leopard Tree and Monkey's Earrings. Dogs Balls, Grewia latifolia, is a reference to the small edible fruit of this shrub similar in appearance to the section of a male dog's anatomy.

Most country folk have an excellent knowledge of local flora often preferring common names to scientific ones. While common names vary in different localities they can nevertheless be of assistance when conferring with land owners on the location of native or introduced flora in specific areas.

From the newsletter of the Queensland Region of the Society for Growing Australian Plants, September 2003

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Cuttings and Myths

All experienced plant propagators develop their own methods but some rules are immutable. Or are they?? Ross Doig cuts through the crap!

Over the years there has grown up a body of "do's and don't's" which, in the course of time, has assumed the nature of Holy Writ. Native plants have not been immune from this disease.

Some common myths follow....

  1. Plant material in flower or with seed cases should be avoided.
    Not so. In fact many a cutting is struck from flowering material collected at the Society's Regional and Group meetings! You can even allow flowering in the cutting box, although it is a good idea to remove floral material when dead.

  2. Time of year is critical.
    No, cuttings of many genera will take root whatever time of year they are put down, provided the "wood is right". However, they will certainly be slower to strike (in cold frame/shadehouse conditions) in winter and, in holding them longer, death from various causes is risked.

  3. Cuttings should be between 50 and 100 mm in length if possible.
    As many propagators have discovered, such genera as Waratah, Hakea, Banksia, Grevillea, Pultenaea, Correa and Boronia contain many species where cuttings between 100 and 300 mm strike readily. In fact, in such species longer cuttings often strike more rapidly and form more roots.

  4. Hormones should be used.
    It has been proved that hormone preparations result in more and stronger roots in many genera but, in setting cuttings in identical conditions with and without hormones, I have found no significant difference particularly in growth when potted on. I have experienced a blackening die back to about 10 mm of stem ends with hormones and suspect burning from hormone use.

  5. Many a good book advises, "Remove all except a few leaves."
    One understands from illustrations that "few" means up to, say, six. With epacrids I have found that leaving up to 30 leaves works well with such species as Epacris pulchella, E.microphylla, E.longiflora, and E.obtusifolia, a fact very much appreciated when you consider the difficulty of removing leaves without a sliver of bark adhering!

    With banksias, some conospermums and hakeas, the lower leaves die over a period of months. Start by leaving six leaves attached and striking is a lottery, but with Banksia ericifolia, Hakea sericea, H.gibbosa, H.bakerana and Conospermum taxifolia, having up to, say, 20 leaves attached would be good insurance.

  6. Cut off growing tips is another directive.
    Answer? Well, yes and no. When tips wilt under propagating conditions then remove them but, if they do not wilt (probably the case with 80% at least of native plants cuttings), leave them. More often than not vigorously growing tips reveal that a cutting has rooted. If terminal growth is in the form of budding flower heads, removal is probably advisable although I have allowed various pultenaeas to flower without apparent retardation.

  7. Fungicides and bleaches should be used.
    Possibly, but only when an atmosphere of soggy humidity is fostered. Combine this environment with low light levels and poor ventilation in mid winter or mid summer and you will certainly need them. Confine moisture to the cutting medium and they should not be necessary.

  8. Keep everything antiseptic - sterilise mediums/soils, tools, cutting tubes/pots and benches.
    Very commendable - and in commercial practice absolutely essential. In the small propagation set-up used by the average amateur grower, avoidance of undesirable conditions noted above render such treatments unnecessary. Remember - rooted cuttings end up in gardens replete with a magnificent range of nasties. Exposure to these before planting out will, hopefully, generate some immunity.

  9. Cuttings need to be watered frequently.
    Again yes and no. In the standard shadehouse/cold frame situation this is certainly so but if the plastic PET bottle and matching closely fitted plastic pot is employed, watering can be almost eliminated. Straight sand with some silt, peat and sand, gravel and "tennis court loam," are mediums which will suit the non- watering method. Note that the top must be kept on the bottle in this system and a semi shaded environment chosen. Further, a plastic bag is not suitable for a non-watering system.

Finally some Holy Writ of my own...... A surprising number of species will strike readily if cuttings between 200-300 mm are selected, retaining up to 20 leaves (if under 20 mm length) and having 3 or 4 growing tips. Often such larger cuttings strike before the more normal 50 - 100 mm sizes. Try this with Kennedia, Hardenbergia, Pultenaea, Correa, Banksia ericifolia, B. 'Giant Candles' and Boronia.

From "Native Plants for New South Wales", newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), September 1994.

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Designing a Garden - The Lang Approach

No matter how detailed your garden design might be, gardens have a habit of evolving in unanticipated directions. David Lang's garden is a case in point....

You've bought a house but the yard is bare and you need some sort of garden, so you plant a few shrubs randomly around the perimeter fence and throw a couple of handfuls of grass seed over the rest.

Within a week or so the seeds are germinating. This ensures that you get a storm which washes the burgeoning lawn down to the bottom quarter of the yard and leaves little eroded rivulets over the rest.

Not to worry, you persevere and eventually get what you laughingly refer to as a lawn. It consists of four or five different kinds of grass, none of which you planted, and umpteen varieties of weeds. When, from time to time, you appear with a lawn mower, neighbours cynically inquire "Harvest time, is it?'

The years pass, the kids grow up, and there is less need for a lawn as a play area. The time has come to turn lawn into garden and take gardening seriously, and this needs some careful planning. You cut a piece of pegboard to the same shape as the yard and throw a handful of small marbles over it. Where the black ones stop is where you are going to plant trees, the red ones are shrubs and the green, smaller plants. A few lengths of string dropped on the board indicate where some paths will go.

Actually I didn't do that, but looking at the garden a few years later, I thought it might have been better if I had. In reality, I had a plan which went something like this: Remove the dead shrubs from the perimeter fence and extend the shrub planting area a metre or two further in. Plant a few trees in the middle of the back yard and out the front. Get some shrubs to plant here and there in the proposed extended garden. Buy some little plants to fill in vacant spots.

You've decided on native plants because they don't need looking after, do they? At the nursery you stroll around looking at the various displays, pretending to be very knowledgeable, occasionally collaring a nursery worker to ask intelligent questions like 'Does this species have a tap root or are they rhizomes?'. This alerts the nurseryman to the fact he is dealing with an idiot and, with any luck, might be able to offload some of his junk.

I order a couple of she-oaks (I have a pleasant childhood memory of sitting on a hill listening to the wind soughing through the leaves of she- oaks), and a couple of local gum trees, but nothing that grows over twenty-five feet, if you please. And, nothing that makes a mess of the place.

So he sells me several Casuarina glauca, a couple of Eucalyptus citriodora and one or two others. The casuarinas, as I recently estimated by triangulation, are now about twenty metres (sixty two feet!) tall, two Eucalyptus citriodora, not local, are not much shorter than that and shed bark all over the place come spring while the Eucalyptus botryoides is also about twenty metres tall and is one of the messiest trees around, continually dropping twigs and small branches.

The Eucalyptus nicholii, also not local, didn't thrive and half of it had to be cut down a few years ago. I don't remember the shrubs he sold me, they're long dead, anyway. Before our house was built the place was a horse yard and the ground was compacted clay. (My wife, Shirley, used some of it when she was doing her pottery and we have one or two nice pieces made out of parts of our garden.)

Everything but the trees didn't survive so we went in a different direction, trying ferns and a couple of rainforest trees. These surprised us by doing quite well, so we decided to continue pretty much down that pathway.

Garden planning continued along the lines of 'I'm sick of mowing all that grass, I'm going to turn a whack of it into garden'. The ground is too hard so you get a load of bush sand, spread it around, then go off and buy some tree ferns, shrubs and whatever and shove them randomly into the newly designated garden.

Of course, gardens change, plants grow and some die, so from time to time it is necessary to take stock and see what repairs are necessary. This occasions another trip to the nursery.

Typically, I spy a pretty plant, fetch it home in triumph and, with glad cries, invite Shirley to come and see what I've found. I would have bought it assuming it would grow to about a metre tall, but then I consult 'Wrigley and Fagg' which informs me it will probably be four metres tall and two wide so I have to wander around the yard with a tape measure to see where it will fit. I end up putting it in a small space vowing it will be heavily pruned as it grows. It never is.

That, then, pretty much sums up the extent of our garden planning. It would be more accurate, I suppose, to say the garden evolved from nothing into horticultural chaos. Nevertheless, on warm autumn evenings we like to sit on the deck and, while drinking a cleansing ale, view the mess with a certain affection and a feeling of quiet pride.

From "Native Plants for New South Wales", newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (NSW), April 2004.

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Moonlight Stinger or Gympie Gympie (Dendrocnide moroides)

If you've ever encountered a stinger in the bush, it's not an experience easily forgotten. Some treatments may ease the pain but avoidance is the best treatment.

There are four species of Dendrocnide or Stingers/Stinging Trees in the family Urticaceae in Australia. All of them have large hollow silica-tipped hairs on the leaves and twigs. These hairs contain a virulent poison which can cause extreme pain.

Dendrocnide moroides is reported to be the most virulent species. In the Mackay area (north Queensland) it is often called Moonlighter because it appears luminescent in moonlight. It is a fairly common rainforest plant most likely to be encountered where there has been disturbance to the forest.

  Dendrocnide leaf
  Leaf of Dendrocnide showing the stinging hairs

This soft-wooded shrub is frequently seen as a single-stemmed plant, 1-2 metres high. The large, long-stalked, alternate leaves are broadly heart-shaped, to about 30 cm x 22 cm, with finely toothed margins. The stalk is attached inside the margin on the underside of the leaf. Mulberry-like, bright pink to purple, juicy fruits are bome in axillary stalks on female plants.

All parts of the plant are covered in fine stinging hairs. Neither age nor heat destroys the poison. (There are reports of dried Herbarium specimens in excess of 30 years old still being virulent.) Even a mere brush with the plant can cause extreme pain. The pain starts as a tingling sensation and develops into stabbing or radiating pain with it being "referred" to other parts of the body, often opposite the affected area. The poison contained in the hairs also causes local redness, sweating and red swollen spots. The background pain may persist for days. Even after it goes, the affected area may become painful after exposure to cold air, cold water or when rubbed, up to two months or more after the original sting.

Originally, the poison was thought to be formic and acetic acids, but later work suggested it was histamine, Acetyl-choline and 5-Hydroxytryptamine. These chemical are known to be responsible for effects such as the symptoms above, as they are involved in allergic reactions, neural transmission and local reactions, such as the increase in the blood supply and hair erection. Later work suggests that the poison principle only acts like ACTH, histamine and HT, but tests indicate the reactions are not actually due to these chemicals. In fact, identification of the chemicals has not been completed.

Forestry workers, in areas where Stingers are common, are supplied with gloves, respirators and anti-histamine tablets, but the bush walker is not likely to have this sort of equipment to hand. Folk remedies suggest that the juice from the Cunjevoi plant (Alocasia brisbanensis) is useful in first aid treatment to relieve the sting, but experienced sufferers have said this is not so!

The most effective First Aid is probably achieved by application of bandaid or sticking plaster. These should be applied then removed, thus pulling out the hollow poison-containing hairs and so preventing long-term pain. The short-term pain caused by poison entering on first contact is probably best handled with common analgesics like Panadol.

Other methods with some benefit for removing the hairs have included scrubbing or rubbing with sand, but care must be taken not to drive the hairs further in, where they will remain for long periods until they break down or work their way out. Our research has indicated that in-depth knowledge of the poisonous principle is scarce and research into identification of the actual chemicals is necessary before precise chemical pain relief is possible.

For safety's sake - watch out for this plant and keep well clear when bushwalking!!

From an SGAP Mackay Branch leaflet via the newsletter of SGAP (Queensland) Region's newsletter, September 2000.

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Australian Plants online - September 2004
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants