Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Australia 2. The Southwestern Corner

Kangaroo paws (Anigosanthus) pop up amongst
Rhodanthe chlorocephala (Asteraceae) in an area
that was recently burned.  Frequent natural fires 
remove dead wood, litter, and undergrowth.  
From Perth, I set out toward the southwestern corner of the Australian continent.  This is an area of chaparral vegetation, similar to that of southern California, the Cape Province of South Africa, or the Mediterranean region.  Rains come in the winter, leading to fantastic displays of flowers in the spring, which in Australia arrives in September.  Wild fires are common here, and a natural part of the chaparral's life cycle.  This returns nutrients to the soil and prevents more catastrophic fires. The plants native to such regions are adapted to survive and resprout quickly.

Many of the plant families represented are familiar, but the genera are often strange to those of us from the northern hemisphere.  Myrtceae, Fabaceae, Orchidaceae, and Asteraceae abound, along with the peculiar southern hemisphere family Proteaceae.  A really good guide can be found on-line at Florabase, a database of Western Australian wildflowers.

I stayed close to the coast for most of the trip.  The rocky cliffs and dunes here are covered with a lush cover of evergreen shrubs.  The cold southern ocean pounds away nearby.  We face the southern Indian Ocean on the way down, but as we round the bend of the continent, we face straight toward Antarctica.
Winter rain and coastal fog maintain an evergreen elfin forest along the
southwestern coast. 
A species of Carissa hugs a granite crest along the
Kunzea pulchella
There are few people in the countryside, and at every roadside stop I had to step carefully in order to avoid crushing sundews and orchids. I established my headquarters at a motel in the town of Albany and spent the next several days exploring the bush that was all around.  One highlight of the trip was the many carnivorous sundews in the area.  They were in fact so numerous that they will get a whole posting devoted mainly to them.  Enjoy the pictures and stay tuned!

Thysanotus patersonii, one of many species 
of fringe lily in the family Asparagaceae.  
This one is a vine.
Lavandula stoechas (Lamiaceae)
Pattersonia occidentalis
Pattersonia umbrosa

A species of Adenanthos, possibly A. barbigerus (Proteaceae)
found in Western Australia

The forests of southwestern Australia are dominated by Eucalyptus trees, as the are
in most parts of the continent.  Here the ground cover is dominated by large ferns
and a vining legume with orange flowers.

A member of the genus Euphorbia, so common in South Africa,
thrives here as well.

Caladenia latifolia, one of the many 
ground orchids in the woods of the southwest.

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) is one of many
 plants native to South Africa that has become a weed in

Adenanthos obovatus has a denser spike of flowers.

Scaevola aemula, in the family Goodeniaceae
creates lively patches of blue in the
spring landscape.
A close-up of Scaevola aemula flowers.

Dampiera is also in the Goodeniaceae, and easily confused with

One of the many legumes to be found in Western Australia.

Banksia coccinea is the most spectacular member of the Proteaceae in Australia. The flower heads consist of many tiny

Despite its compact flower heads, Actinodium 
cunninghamii is not a member of the sunflower family, 
but rather or the ubiquitous Myrtaceae. 

The yellow blossoms of Chamaexeros rise from the base of the fan-shaped cluster
of leaves. 

The various Australian species of Hibbertia superficially resembles our evening
primroses. but are members of  the family Dilleniaceae.

A species of Banksia overlooks the cold southern Ocean.

Another member of the Proteaceae, probably Adenanthos sericeus,
forms a conifer-like shrub.

The seed capsules of Banksia form from
the fusion of a number of separate flowers,
and only open after a fire.

Caladenia longicauda was common in the woods.
An unidentified member of the Myrtaceae, possibly
a Kunzea.

Verticordia grandiflora (Myrtaceae)
A species of Boronia (Rutaceae) grows in white
sand along the coast.
Another Boronia.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Australia 1. Around Perth

The Western Australia Botanic Garden in Kings Park, Perth, is a marvelous
place to begin learning about the local flora.
After my 1998 visit to South Africa, I continued eastward across the Indian Ocean to Australia to catch part of the spring wildflower season there.  Australia is another botanical paradise, filled with wondrous and strange plants.  This island continent has been isolated from the rest of the world's land masses so long that its flora is quite unique.  Many of the plant families are recognizable, but with genera and species unlike what we know in the northern hemisphere.

Chamaeleucium is a shrub in the family Myrtaceae,
which also includes Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and the
bottle brushes.
Members of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae), for example, arrived early, when few other flowering plants were present, and radiated dramatically into many genera and hundreds of species.  There are over 700 species of Eucalyptus for example, which dominate most of Australia's forests.  Other genera in the Australian Myrtaceae include the popular ornamental bottle-brush (Callistemon) and the genus Melaleuca, a species of which is a noxious invasive weed in southern Florida.

The unique southern hemisphere family, Proteaceae, which is so spectacular in South Africa, is in Australia also, with marvelous genera like Banksia and Grevillea.  The legume family (Fabaceae) has proliferated here, providing nitrogn to the mineral-poor soils.  Australia, particularly western Australia, is also home to the greatest diversity of sundews (genus Drosera) to be found anywhere. These carnivorous plants also bring nitrogen into the food chain.  And then there are the ground orchids, which in North America are rare and often endangered.  In Australia, one sees them nearly everywhere.

Xanthorrhoea australis resembles the Yuccas of
North America, but is unrelated to them.

There are some unique families here as well - the Xanthorrheaceae, with growth forms that resemble our yuccas, and the endemic pitcher plant, Cephalotus, which is in a family of its own.

I arrived at the city of Perth, capital of the state of Western Australia.  As in the rest of Australia, the human population is concentrated in a few cities and towns, mostly near the coast, leaving the huge interior very sparsely inhabited.  Much of that interior is desert, but the coastal areas and the mountains have ample rain, mostly in the winter.  This supports varied vegetation similar to what we would find in California or the Mediterranean region.  There are Eucalyptus forests as well as areas dominated by evergreen shrubs.

In a display of spring wildflowers at the Kings Park Gardens
in Perth, members of the family Proteaceae are featured.
In Perth, I began with the botanical garden, a great place to get an introduction to the local flora.  As
in South Africa, there are many people who take great interest and when I arrived in October, there was a wildflower show going on at the Garden, as well as planted displays of the local flora.

Banksia blechnifolia has an underground stem system and strongly resembles
some cycads, like Florida's Zamia floridana.

From Perth, I struck out toward the southwestern corner of the country, staying in the town of Albany.  From there I explored the countryside, including the fascinating D'Entrecasteaux National Park.  That will be the subject of my next couple of postings.

Some species of Australian sundews
(genus Drosera) take on the form of  upright,
 leafy shoots. Some are even branched in a shrub-like
configuration, or climb like vines.

Kangaroo paws, Anigozanthos manglesii, spring to life soon
after a fire in the woods near Perth.  
Fires are natural in Western Australia, as they are in 
California and other Mediterranean climates. 
Frequent fires clear debris and weedy growth, 
preventing more catastrophic fires. 

Anigosanthos flavidus has brilliant orange flowers.

Darwinia meeboldii is a striking member
of the Myrtaceae endemic to Australia.

Caladenia flava is a striking ground orchid, one of
hundreds in Australia/

The brightly colored flowers of Eucalyptus consist mostly of

Kingia australis, or grass tree, is another member of
the Xanthorrhoeaceae.

Boronia megastigma (Rutaceae) has cheery, bell-like
Banksia hookeriana sports a massive head of tiny flowers.

Hovea elliptica is a member of the legume
family.  Its roots harbor nitrogen-fixing
Diuris brumalis is another spectacular ground orchid.

Xanthosia rotundifolia is a member of the Apiaceae,
with dove-like clusters of bracts below each umbel of flowers.

Banksia praemorsa is another spectacular member of the Proteaceae. 
Its head is made up of hundreds of tiny yellow flowers.

Banksia ashbyi brightens the bush with
brilliant yellow flower heads.

Eremophila maculata is a shrub in the
Chorizema ilicifolium is another of the many
species of legumes in Australia.
Dillwynia laxiflora flowers have the same
color pattern as the Chorizema, though it is
only distantly related.  It suggests that the
two species share the same set of pollinators.

This fuzzy-leaved Solanum is a relative of the tomato and the potato.