Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Banksias are Better than Banksy.

  Australian tourists travel to the UK and beyond to admire the street art of enigmatic dauber “Banksy”.  Meanwhile, back home, some rather more wondrous creations go largely unnoticed.  I’m talking of a genus of around 72 native plant species called Banksias...named, ironically after another Englishman named “Banks”.  The person in question is Botanist Joseph Banks who sailed to these shores with Captain James Cook in 1770.   

  On the Northern Beaches of Sydney, we have seven locally occurring Banksias, all of which boast spectacular spiky flowers that morph into sculptural seed heads as they mature.  These showy flowers, ranging in colour from burnt orange to greenish yellow are fabulously rich in nectar which provides crucial food for honey eating birds, possums and bats as well as being highly attractive to bees and other insects.  In our area, a number of rare animals depend on Banksia nectar for food including the Eastern Pygmy Possum, the Brown Antechinus and the Sugar Glider.  Aboriginals used to suck the flower spikes to get a “nectar hit” or they soaked them in water to produce a sweet drink.  Many people are familiar with the “Banksia Men”, the villains of May Gibson’s children’s book “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie” which were modelled on the gnarly looking Banksia cones.

  Look in any local garden though and you’ll be hard pressed to see any Banksias.  They’ve largely been replaced by the ubiquitous imports from overseas, such as Jacarandas, Bird of Paradise plants, Tibouchinas or Agapanthus. If Banksias are around, they’re likely to be a hybrid, grown to be more robust or flamboyant by the Horticultural industry and not the “real deal”.  Indigenous Banksias can be seen in Bushland reserves such as North Head Sanctuary.  

  If you’d like to plant your own, original endemic Banksia...go to a local native plant Nursery such as “Indigo” or “Harvest Seeds”.  You can purchase a tube stock seedling for less than $5. An inferior “Banksy” stencilled artwork, on the other hand, is likely to set you back hundreds of thousands of dollars. So choose the Aussie option. You’ll be laughing all the way to the Banksia.

Banksia Ericifolia (Lantern Banksia) is one of the most beautiful and abundant Banksias of our region. It is also important for birds such as “Honeyeaters”. Small birds may totally disappear from areas where it has been killed by fire

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Keep Off The Grass!

  Lawns. Why would any sane "Aussie" ever want one?  The problem with lawns is that they attract public enemy numbers one and two; the lawn mower and the “whipper-snipper”. Now we all know that these pieces of objectionable machinery register high on everyone’s “Richter-scale” of irritability but why is it that the trigger for their drill-like, bleats, always seems to be me, settling down on a Saturday arvo, for a “quiet” uninterrupted read? There I am, embracing the silent sanctity of suburbia, when their acerbic drones are projected into the recesses of my brain like an electric eel. They encamp there until I’m blaspheming in the manner of a tourettes sufferer on steroids.
  What compounds my irritation is that this unctuous sound is an aural illustration of the ignorance, waste and futility that spawned it. It epitomises humanity’s descent into blind stupidity. Ninety nine times out of a hundred the “Whipper Snipper” is used to trim exotic grasses such a Buffalo, Couch and Kikuyu, which shouldn’t even be present in this fragile continent. Across Australia we’ve planted hundreds of thousands of lawns made out of foreign weed species that devour water and nutrients like they’ve gone out of fashion. That is idiocy.

  If my neighbours replaced their weedy lawns with native ground cover such as “Dichondra ” they would never have to whip, snip or mow again..ever! And the benefits don’t end with me being able to catch up on my “Sydney Morning Herald”. For a start their lawn will go from being a weed seed-bank to a beautiful indigenous “biosphere”. They would also save mega bucks by not needlessly investing in machinery, fuel, lawn-food and irrigation systems.  Petrol powered gardening equipment also accounts for around 5% of our air pollution. That’s a huge potential dent in greenhouse emissions just waiting to happen.  They would also economise massively on time...precious moments they could spend reading leading edge journalism or maybe just drinking, gambling and committing adultery. In addition they would be able to stay out of the sun and limit their exposure to damaging UV rays. Lives could be saved!

 When you add up the social, environmental, physical and financial equation centred on grass growth and grass grooming, it’s quite clear. We have been hoodwinked by the lawn and mowing sector at a level that would make Tobacco Industry lobbyists, turf-coloured with envy. 

Postscript:  I used to spend several futile hours a month mowing. In an enlightened moment I dug up the lawn and replaced it with the lawn substitute called “Dichonda Repens” more commonly known as “Kidney weed” (NB it is not a weed). This native ground-cover is available in tube stock pots from most nurseries and garden centres; it thrives best in semi shaded area.  Plant one clump, every square 100cm, in your newly-cleared patch. Water in well and weed regularly until established. You will soon have a gorgeous green carpet and never need to mow again!!

A weedy, thirsty, energy intensive lawn now replaced by a soft carpeted native ground-cover


Monday, 27 May 2013

A Night on the Reptiles.

  The Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko is a beautiful creature that can sometimes be seen clinging to the side an exterior wall and has adapted fairly well to the encroachment of suburbia. It is native to the Sydney Basin and is fairly common in the Northern Beaches region. Not surprisingly it’s named after its rather curious leaf-shaped tail which could be mistaken by predators for its head. If under threat, it can drop this tail, which serves as a decoy by continuing to wriggle. The tail is also used to store fat and sustain the gecko through the winter months. If you try and pick one up, they will deliver a sharp squeal but they are completely harmless to humans and, in fact, do us a great service by eating spiders and cockroaches. 

 Geckos hunt by being completely still and stealth-like ...basically allowing their prey to come to them...they will then move with incredible speed to catch and devour their meal. They are nocturnal which means they only come out at night and like all geckos, they have specially adapted feet that allows them to adhere to most surfaces.  

 The leaf-tailed gecko is a master of camouflage, adapting it’s colour to the rocky surface it clutches to. It has amazing copper hued eyes with a fixed lens that enlarges in darkness. Most geckos can’t blink but their eyes are 350 times more sensitive to light than the human eye.  Reproduction is by laying one or two eggs in a crevice which hatch in around nine weeks. Gecko’s are very vulnerable to being hunted by cats, as are some of our other nocturnal wildlife such as ringtail possums, so please keep your prowling purrer in at night!

Footnote: The Asian House Gecko is a foreign import that arrived in by Brisbane by sea in the 1980’s. Since then its numbers have exploded and it is estimated that its population already numbers tens of millions in this country. It has become a pest species that impacts harmfully on native gecko populations because it transfers disease carrying mites. So far it hasn’t reached Sydney but it is heading our way.

An infant Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (adults reach around 15cm in length)