Thursday, 22 November 2018

Get active: comment on the draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy

Apologies but here comes another activist-type post. Of course, we'd all prefer to be enjoying and growing our wonderful local native plants than reading strategy documents, drafting submissions or going on protest marches. But sometimes nature needs our help, and this is one (more) of those times. 

New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Wollongong City Council (WCC) have released a draft Illawarra Escarpment Mountain Bike Strategy (covering land within the Wollongong local government area). 

NPWS are accepting comments from the public on the draft Strategy until 10 December 2018. 

This is a really important document to comment on if you are concerned about the future of the Illawarra escarpment. While mountain bike riding has its place on the Illawarra escarpment, the draft Strategy proposes a huge length of trails (82km) in some of the most sensitive areas, particularly Mount Keira. And, as the Strategy itself notes (p.3), there are already high levels of disturbance to vegetation, soil and drainage from mining, roads and power lines (not to mention informal mountain bike trails). 

Please read the draft Strategy and send in some comments by the deadline. Some points you may wish to take into account include the following: 

- The draft Strategy proposes a very significant length of formal trails, at 82km, in some of the highest conservation value areas of the Illawarra escarpment within the Wollongong LGA. This is particularly an issue for the Mount Keira area, where proposed trails are extremely dense to the south of Parrish Avenue in Mount Pleasant. (This is also an area where there is good quality subtropical rainforest that will be vulnerable to further incursion of informal trails as a result.)
- The draft Strategy does not directly address environmental impacts of the proposed 82km of formal mountain bike trails. It proposes formalising informal trails as a way to reduce the environmental impact of the existing informal trails, but does not acknowledge or evaluate the environmental impact of formal trails relative to a base case where no trails are present. Nor does it demonstrate how formalising existing trails will slow the construction of new informal trails. Current NPSW ranger resourcing is inadequate to address current informal trail construction. 
- It states (p.3) that site selection for trails was based on factors including environmental sustainability and protection of native plants and animals but does not demonstrate how these factors were included. 
- It includes maps of proposed trails that are not sufficiently detailed to ascertain their exact location, or the impact of the trails on native vegetation. Maps do not indicate the type or quality of vegetation in the areas where trails are proposed, or the fauna that use that vegetation. 

Keep in mind that the walking trails around Mount Keira have been struggling for resourcing for maintenance for many years, and that weeds are running rampant in the area.

Please read the draft Strategy and send in a submission expressing your views. Comments can be emailed to

And just because every post needs at least one photo, here's a shot of rainforest on the Illawarra escarpment.  

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Try growing (if you dare): parasitic plants

Did you know that the Illawarra is home to sixteen species of parasitic plant? Yes, we  have everything from the crazy strangling Dodder Vine (Cuscuta tasmanica), to small trees like the Cherry Ballart (Exocarpos cupressiformis) and a bunch of fascinating Mistletoe plants that grow like enormous leathery bunches of seaweed off the branches of trees. 

Very few people seem to cultivate them, though. Partly because they're not available and partly because people don't like the sound of them. A parasitic plant is, after all, one that exploits another plant to gain nutrition or water. Doesn't sound that nice does it?

Despite their lack of profile and bad reputation, some of them - like the Mistletoes - are very attractive and can be managed in a garden situation. If you can get hold of them that is! Another limitation is that most species grow naturally on eucalypts, and so need to be in a garden big enough to fit one.

Most of the local Mistletoes are in the Loranthaceae family. They tend to have colourful red and yellow flowers, and grow on plants in the Myrtaceae family (as well as some others). 

These are the leathery leaves and distinctive
flowers of the Drooping Mistletoe (Amyema 

 pendula), a large parasitic plant that can often
be seen on Eucalypts as drooping 'beards' of
brown-green foliage. It also grows on Wattles.

This is the flower of the Creeping Mistletoe (Muellerina
), one of two local Muellerina species. A
single open flower is flanked by a few spent flowers. Image by Tony Markham.
All that sounded rather off-putting, I fear, so here are some positives about Mistletoes. The fruit of some are edible (e.g. Drooping Mistletoe) and considered to be quite tasty. The fruit are also enjoyed by Mistletoebirds, small Robin-like birds the males of which have colourful red, white and black plumage. These birds excrete the sticky seeds which cling onto trees' branches and may germinate to form new Mistletoe plants. So if you want to increase your chances seeing Mistletoebirds, grow their favourite food! 

And in fact Mistletoes are likely to attract other birds too. A 2004 article from ABC Science lists several other species that eat the fruit, including Woodswallows, Bowerbirds, Cockatoos and Ravens. An Australian study also found that Mistletoes have a major positive impact on the richness and distribution of plant and bird species. They are definitely a good bird all-rounder. 

Bonus fact: the Mistletoes also attract the Common Jezebel butterfly (Delias nigrina), a large and colourful butterfly that can be present throughout the year. 

Three of the local Mistletoes are in the Viscaceae family. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the Jointed Mistletoe (Korthsalsella rubra), which looks rather like young children's drawings of hands. Sadly I don't have a shareable photo of this species but you can see it on Flickr here

The region is also home to some Dodder-laurels (Cassytha species), a kind of twining creeper that parasitises a wide range of other species. While they are most common on the Sydney sandstone soil west of the escarpment cliffline, they also occur in areas of the Illawarra with sandy soil.

To find out more about Australian Mistletoes, this site is comprehensive. And Birds in Backyards have a great profile of the Mistletoebird

Have you grown any parasitic plants in your garden?

Monday, 8 October 2018

Garden inspiration: King's Park WA

At last some rain is falling in the Illawarra region. It's been dry for ever so long, and the recent downpours are welcome to plants and animals alike. 

On the other side of the country the rainfall over winter has been average (for the first time in - what - a decade?) and the plants are very happy indeed. In Perth it's been a superb spring for kangaroo paws, wattles, orchids and more or less everything else. King's Park is the perfect place to see many Perth natives flowering, and get a sense of what a bush garden can achieve with minimal human intervention. 

The unique and distinctive Mangles' Kangaroo
Paw (Anigozanthus manglesii) is flowering
its head off in King's Park this spring.

I'm guessing this is a cultivar of Catspaw
(Anigozanthos humilis) - it's growing near
the Zamia Cafe in King's Park in a fairly
'sculpted' area) - it's a real beauty!

Most Perth region plants will not (WILL NOT) grow well in Wollongong or surrounds, but they are still wonderful to look at. And some similar species do grow in the Illawarra region, and could be used to similar effect. So have a look and see what inspiration you can draw. 

A King's Park classic Conostylis candicans,
with its cheerful yellow flowers. This species
can be grown in the Illawarra region, if you
have enough grit and determination!

I think this is Acorn Banksia (Banksia prionotes)
but the photo was taken in haste. Anyway,
some beautiful candles on this plant!
A mixed planting of WA natives in Kings Park. 
Water features are very welcome in Perth, where it's dry
for so much of the year. This one contained some
Nardoo (Marsilea drummondii) plants doing well in

a part shade situation. 
And my goodness the orchids! It's just amazing to see what's in flower!!

Donkey Orchids (Diuris sp.) by the dozen!

Yeah guess the species!
I identified this as Reaching Spider Orchid
(Caladenia arrecta) but would appreciate
comments from the experts!

There was so much more to see and to photograph, but this will I hope give you a sense of some of the Kings Park plants! The shapes and colours are unmissable. 

Happy gardening - enjoy what the Illawarra or your local region has to offer!

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Garden inspiration: a threatened species

It's Threatened Species Week this week, so I thought I'd share something a little different. This is a plant I'd have like to under 'Try growing'...but it's unlikely to be with us for much longer. 

The plant is Scrub Turpentine (Rhodamnia rubescens) and it's a tree that's threatened by the invasive Myrtle Rust (Puccinia psidii) to the point that it has been given a preliminary listing of Critically Endangered in New South Wales. Here are a couple of plants in relatively good health. Most look much more miserable or have actually died. 

Scrub Turpentine can become a fairly
large tree. This is the largest healthy one
 I've seen in recent years. 

This little specimen is growing in
 central Wollongong near Woolworths.
 The yellow spots on some of the leaves
are patches of Myrtle Rust.

These leaves are Myrtle Rust-free,
which is a very unusual sight these days.

I wish I could tell you to pop a couple of these in your garden to create shade and give food for the birds. But unfortunately Myrtle Rust, discovered in Australia in 2010, kills its new growth and generally stops established plants from producing fruit. It also attackes the new leaves, and particularly the seedlings. Very few plants seem to have resistance, although one plant in the Berry area has produced fruit recently so we shouldn't give up hope just yet. Perhaps, with ongoing research into the species, I might be able to recommend growing it in a decade or two's time. 

At least one Scrub Turpentine is still producing viable
 fruit, so there may be some hope for the species. 

Threatened Species Week is a time to reflect on what we can do to protect threatened species, and also avoid adding to the number that are under threat. Keeping an eye out for unusual pests or problems on the plants in your garden, and being careful to avoid invasive or weedy introduced species, are a couple of small steps we can all take. 

And here's an article by the Invasive Species Council that tells the sad tale of Myrtle Rust's spread in Australia, and makes some suggestions for preventing similar disastrous incursions by other species in future. 

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Try growing: Illawarra's native orchids

OK so I've posted on native orchids before, but more from the perspective of what just happened to be growing in the garden. A few years on and I've learned that there are a lot of orchids native to the Illawarra region that do well and look good in cultivation.

The most obvious candidate is the well-known Sydney Rock Orchid (Dendrobium speciosum), which can be seen in full flower right now in gardens around the region. It grows naturally on rocks, but can also be grown on tree stumps or in well-drained spots directly on the ground. Around 75% sun is about ideal, but plants can cope with more or less sun than that. Keep them on the dry side, as overwatering can damage or even kill them off. 

Sydney Rock Orchid flowering well in full sun.
Image by Kath Gadd.

It's fairly easy to obtain plants of this species. Much less so for some of the other Dendrobiums, although several are also excellent and interesting garden plants. One, the Bridal Veil Orchid (Dendrobium teretifolium) has a spectacular display of delicate, spidery-looking flowers in early spring. 

The delicate flowers of the Bridal Veil
Orchid. Image by Carl Glaister.

Some local orchids are as appealing for their scent as their appearance. Foremost among them is the Orange Blossom Orchid, a small orchid that grows on tree trunks and produces beautiful white flowers with a distinctive orange scent.  

The flowers of Orange Blossom Orchid.
Image by Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.

Orange Blossom Orchid grows naturally on the trunks of
native trees such as this Red Cedar (Toona ciliata).
Image by Alan Stephenson. All rights reserved.

It is hard to get hold of plants, but they are very rewarding to grow if your garden has a suitable tree to host them. They do best on a rough-barked tree, in semi-shade conditions. Occasional watering during spring and summer will help them along. 

All the orchids described above grow naturally on rocks or tree trunks (or both). But there are also many species that grow in the ground (and these are known as terrestrial orchids). A few of these can be cultivated without too much effort. One that is well worth trying is the Blunt Greenhood (Pterostylis curta), a ground orchid with pretty little bonnet-shaped flowers. If you can get hold of a plant it should be with you for many a year, grown in a pot or in well-drained soil.

Blunt Greenhood flowering well in
 August 2018.

If you're keen to find out more about local native orchid species, or grow some for yourself, you could do worse than visit the spring show of the Australian Native Orchid Society (Illawarra), which is on next weekend 8-9 September at the Old Courthouse in Wollongong. You can see a range of orchid grown in pots, talk to orchid experts, buy orchids and even have your ratty old plants repotted and looked after for a nominal fee. 

There are also some good online resources on cultivating Australian orchids, particularly Brian Walters' article Starting out with native orchids.

Happy gardening!

Post script. I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't also orchids on display at the Illawarra Grevillea Park, which is open this weekend and next from 10-4. Bonus plant sales and guided walks too!

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Get active: support a vision of Wollongong Botanic Garden with more local native plantings!

OK I know most of us just want to have a quiet time enjoying the good things in life and a spot of gardening. But for those in the Wollongong LGA, or who visit the area, there's an important opportunity right now to help determine the future direction of Wollongong Botanic Garden. 

A quick snap of Bangalow Palms (Archontophoenix
) in the rainforest gully. 

A draft Wollongong Botanic Garden Masterplan has been released for public consultation, and we have until Monday 3 September (yes, only two weeks away!) to provide comments. 

Tthis plan recommends something really significant: expanding the garden's existing collections into the Kooloobong Oval area with rainforest plantings that help link the rainforest walk area of the gardens to Mount Keira. (See p27 for the key bullet points.)

Mount Keira and the Wollongong Botanic Garden are very close to each other physically, but at the moment there's limited connectivity between them. Imagine how good it would be if you could walk from the rainforest areas of the gardens to the Ken Ausburn Track at the base of Mt Keira through continuous native plantings!

And, I'm sorry to say it, but this vision is currently under threat, because the University of Wollongong has proposed a voluntary planning agreement that would convert the ovals area to a synthetic turf area leased to the University for 20 years.

Please have your say by September 3, through the Wollongong City Council website or by emailing councillors.  You could support the proposal to keep the current uses of the ovals area, and extension of rainforest plantings into this area, and to increase the links between the Garden and Mount Keira.

There are lots of other issues to consider in the draft Masterplan, around adding a cafe, what will happen to Glennifer Brae (keep the Con!) and so on, but the future of the ovals area is very much about Going Native in the Illawarra. I hope you'll find a few minutes to let Council know your views and support an extension of rainforest plantings in the ovals area! 

A healthy Gymea Lily (Doryanthes excelsa) in the
woodland area of Wollongong Botanic Garden.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Garden inspiration: Wisemans Park and the Illawarra Flame Festival

Well it's been a warm and dry winter so far, and with the long-range forecast suggesting more of the same (or worse), it's hard to find natural areas that are looking inspirational in any conventional sense. That's to say, if you're after lush greenery and plants looking their absolute glossy, showy best, you will be disappointed almost wherever you look. 

But next Sunday August 19, there's a different form of inspiration on display at Wisemans Park in Gwynneville. It's the Flame Tree Festival, an arts and sciences festival that looks at how flame affects our lives. There are all sorts of presentations, performances and activities, all happening on or near Wisemans Park between 10am and 2pm. You can find out more about building in bushfire prone areas, shop for local native plants, or watch fire buskers do their thing. It's a family-friendly event and you can find out more here or on facebook

Wisemans Park itself is profoundly inspirational, though not in a glossy showy way. It contains one of the very few remaining pockets of Illawarra Lowlands Grassy Woodlands, a critically endangered ecological community that has been almost completely obliterated by development on the Illawarra coastal plain. Here you can see a range of understorey species like Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) and Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides), growing beneath striking local eucalypts like White Stringybark (Eucalyptus globoidea) and Forest Red Gum (E. tereticornis).

Kangaroo Grass understorey at Wisemans Park.
 Image by Mithra Cox, reproduced under CC BY-NC 2.0

As well as hosting a critically endangered ecological community, Wisemans Park also contains some unusual and endangered species. You might see a Scrub Turpentine (Rhodamnia rubescens), a species that has been nearly wiped out by a Myrtle Rust that reached Australia less than a decade ago. And you could come across a Red Kamala (Mallotus philippensis), a pretty little tree whose viability is being threatened by the hordes of deer that are running rampant in the Illawarra. They just love eating its seedlings!

Gunning for an All-time Worst Photo Award
here, this is a Scrub Turpentine that is
growing at Wisemans Park.
If you come along to Wisemans Park on the 19th at 10.30am or 12.30pm, you can join botanist and horticulturist Carl Glaister on a guided tour of the park, and see some of its wonders for yourself. 

You can also find lists of species that grow in the area on the Illawarra Bushland Database, or head down to explore for yourself. Who knows, you might see some of the orchids that have been recorded in the area!

Tiny Rock Ferns and Vanilla Lilies, holding
on in weed-free areas of Wisemans Park,
 are some of the inspirational local plants. 

Another of the park's amazing eucalypts
is Cabbage Gum (Eucalyptus amplifolia).
Image by Byron Cawthorne-Mcgregor.