Showing posts with label native plants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label native plants. Show all posts

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Infrequent flyers

 Butterflies used to be so prolific that excitable children would run after them with huge nets in an urge to fulfill their megalomanic urge for bright fluttery things.  Avaricious collectors would pin the fragile little thoraxes of butterflies onto display boards to show off their hunting prowess. In Victorian times, the pursuit of butterflies bordered on being a community obsession. 

 Of course these days, now that butterfly visits have become a rarity, we know much better than to harm them directly.  The gardening commentators still fail to make the simple connection between caterpillars and butterflies though.  If it looks remotely like a caterpillar, then they reckon it should be poisoned, squashed or otherwise eradicated from the neatly manicured, grub free, back yards that they champion.

A Graphium Sarpedon or Blue Triangle Butterfly found in parts of Australia and South Asia, known for their habit of feeding by the edge of puddles. Did you know that a butterfly's sense of taste is 200 times stronger than a human's!
 The fact that one day...those caterpillars would, magically transform themselves into beautiful and highly effective pollinators...seems to interest them not one jot. And  the likelihood that waging chemical warfare on caterpillars will then have a domino effect on beneficial insects and birds would never enter their horticultural heads.

The Australian crow (Euploea Core) Butterfly. One of the most common migrating butterfly species

 Butterflies have been on this planet for 40 or 50 million years and there are a between 15,000 and 20,000 species worldwide, but, thanks to habitat destruction and the use of pesticides, their numbers are in steep decline. In North America, the journey of the Monarch butterfly is heralded as a natural wonder of mass migration. Millions of these brilliantly coloured creatures flutter over 3,000 kilometers from the US to Mexico to hibernate. But now their numbers are decreasing from around 100 million to less than half that (and falling) due to logging, development and the loss of native Milkweed plants that they rely on for sustenance.

One of the drivers causing butterfly decline is gardeners and the fact that they almost invariable eschew endemic native plants for foreign cultivars. American naturalist Benjamin Vogt made these observations –

We need to be gardening for insects as much if not more than ourselves. We talk about vegetable gardening as this holistic, green, wonderful thing to do for the planet -- but why don't we ever talk about ornamental gardening for insects and larvae?  We garden for butterflies (too often with butterfly bush), but we don't garden with the plants they evolved with to eat. We need to stop gardening solely for ourselves and see the incredible, beautiful, soul-magnifying existence that happens when we open up our gardens to the rest of the local environment by using native plants. We believe in giving to the needy and poor of our own species, and to other causes near our hearts, why not the birds, insect pollinators, amphibians right out back in the gardens we supposedly cherish so much?"

Wasp Moth (Eressa Angustipenna). Found in NSW, Queensland and the Philippines.

It’s all pretty simple really… to create a well balanced, backyard eco-system, we  need to restore the endemic trees, shrubs, ground-covers and grasses that existed there originally.  Don’t use herbicides or pesticides remove exotic weeds by hand and gradually the natural order and hopefully the butterflies will return.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Lost Rocks of Sydney (Part 2)

The Dilema:

In “part one” of this report, we discovered that most of the lovely rocky outcrops, dotted around Sydney like gigantic unclaimed parcels, were in a “spot of bother”.

These hulking great edifices have been gradually entangled by deviously aggressive weeds. Most of them now lie ensnared, their original biodiversity choked and suffocating... or already expired.

One of the monumental “lost rocks”, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, epitomised this miserable scenario.  It was besieged by the “Who’s Who” of invasive species. And these are the main culprits:- Fishbone Fern, English Ivy, Japanese Honey Suckle, Asparagus Fern, Lantana, Ochna, Crucifix Orchid,  Buffalo Grass, Mother of Millions.

The Solution:  The small team of volunteers from Rock Face Renaissance gradually worked to remove the weeds, rescue the surviving endemic  plants and rejuvenate this cascading colossus of historic stone. Never in the field of weed removal, were so many green bins filled, by so few.

The Result?

Resurrection, resuscitation and renewal!  A beautiful stone feature has been revealed after years of neglect and what’s left of the indigenous flora and fauna has room to breathe once more. 

Check out these before and after shots:-

This was then..

And these are now...!
It's amazing what was hidden beneath all those weeds
The native flora shines through!
Concealed "treasures" revealed!
On top of the rock, some Lomandras have survived underneath a carpet of weeds!
And a tiny Acacia Terminalis (Sunshine Wattle) germinates.

If only more of Sydney’s "lost rocks" can be saved before it’s too late. If you have any examples of rocky outcrops in need of salvation or require help with some rock

Thursday, 8 August 2013

It's not called "Botany" Bay for nothing.

  Hawkesbury Sandstone is the surface bedrock of the greater Sydney basin. It covers an area of approximately 17,100 square kilometres . Two hundred million years ago, mountain ranges in Antarctica were eroded and produced vast quantities of sand. This was carried by a huge river system across southern Australia from Antarctica (then part of Gondwanaland). These sands were deposited into the Sydney basin where they were consolidated into sandstone up to 50 metres thick . This sandstone is the basis of the nutrient-poor soils found in Sydney which developed over millenia and 'came to nurture a spectacularly diverse range of plants. “It is a singular fact that in Australia the most brilliant flowers are found on the most worthless country” wrote A.G. Hamilton in 1930. 

 The fact that the impoverished soils were not suitable for agriculture means that large areas, around the city, have been conserved into modern times.  But now, urban sprawl is sadly taking its toll. Foreign invasive weeds are thriving on all the nitrates and phosphorus washed into the bushland from our roads and gardens but the highly evolved natives, which can’t survive high nutrient levels, are being decimated. The gardening “experts” meanwhile encourage us to fertilize and spray our back yards at every given opportunity which compounds the situation. They’ll also try and seduce you into purchasing commercially created, hybrid “natives” which are both expensive and unauthentic (they might even impact negatively on the gene pools of genuine endemic plants.

 It’s not too late to grow some Hawkesbury Sandstone “originals” though. Firstly acquire them from a reputable indigenous plant nursery or from your local Council.  They are much cheaper, require no fertilizers or pesticides and are perfectly adapted to local soil and climatic conditions.  Whack them in your, non macro-nutrient enhanced, patch of dirt. Then, sit back, enjoy and feel a closer connection to the natural world! Here are some wonderful examples of native plants currently in bloom on Sydney’s Northern Beaches  which would look glorious in your garden (if you live around here).

Epacris Longiflora (Native Fuschia)
Grevillea Speciosa (Red Spider Flower)
Hakea Sericea (Bushy Needlebush)
Hibbertia Scandens (Golden Guinea Flower)
Acacia Longifolia (Sydney Golden Wattle)
Woollsia Pungens (Snow Wreath)
Dendrobium Speciosum (Rock Lily, Rock Orchid)

This book by Les Robinson is a fantastic resource and contains a wealth of valuable info.

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