10 December, 2009

Stinky Flowers

While Teaching in the Torres Strait I came across this plant in fruit. I asked a group of young adult males what they called it. A hushed and giggling discussion followed until one of them approached me shyly and said behind his hand that they call it "Penis Flower." They were horrified when I said so do the scientists, they call it "Amorphophalus,"
Amorphophallus grow from Australia to south-east Asia. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes but this one which can approach two metres is the largest I know of. The plant is deciduous. After the first rains a single leaf or a flower spike appears.
Once open the smell is that of a rotten mammal. It can easily turn a sensitive stomach.
Flies on the other hand love it and come from miles around. There were six species of flies on the flower before I removed it from the garden so I could eat my meal in the house.
Here you can see the masses of male and female flowers.

Actephila foetida is aptly named but not nearly as strong in its scent as the amorphophalus. Rather than flies it is pollinated by beetles. This group of insects are very important pollinators in the Australian rainforest. Use the flowers as a scale and you will see that although these beetles look very similar the top one is half the length of the bottom one.This 'interesting' smelling Gossia is also pollinated by beetles but they would fly off as I approached so I photographed this one on a Grevillea where it was feeding on nectar.

15 September, 2009

The Australian "Oaks"

In Australia the Proteaceae family often have common names involving oak if they grow into trees. This is because of the oak like grain in a radial pattern. Other trees to be called 'oak' are the Sheoaks or Casuarina.
Below are two Proteaceae in flower at the moment: Darlingia darlingiana, white, and Alloxylon flameum, red. Above is the Banksia from yesterday's blog.
In most of the Proteaceae the flower bud opens by the tepals, undifferentiated perianth segments, opening to reveal the style standing proud. the Anthers are more or less stuck to the tepals and open before the bud so the pollen is left behind on the style and surrounding area. The style become receptive to pollen at a later stage.

14 September, 2009

Flowers in the Forest: September 2009

Spring time is not the best time for flowers but there are some around at the moment. In the tall sclerophyll forests of the western edge of the Atherton Tablelands is Banksia aquilonia, the tallest of the banksias. It is a handsome tree and the flowers are usually terminal. 'Cones' with seeds lose their old flowers but they are retained if no pollination is successful.
Johnstone River Satinash, Syzygium erythrocaylyx, flowers on the trunk, and branches. Red to scarlet buds open to green flowers. This tree only grows in very wet areas. The fruit is large, red and edible. One should not eat fruit from the rainforest unless a reliable guide indicates it is safe to do so. Let them eat it first and if they are still walking around in half an hour give it a go.
The rich golden yellow flowers of Myrtle Satinash, Thaleropia queeenslandica, cause the trees to stand out like beacons. The first flowers are beginning to open now on the southern Tablelands.
In the wilds of the Kennedy Range, the Powder-puff Lilly-pilly, Syzygium wilsoni ssp wilsoni, is a scruffy shrub. Grown in a garden with a bit of care and pruning it is a magnificently dense shrub with these wonderful flowers with white pollen. The new growth of this form is magenta. Other forms of the species grow into huge trees with white flowers or small trees with pink flowers and blue fruit as opposed to the white fruit of this form.
Bonewood, above and the following plants are all in flower now on the middle altitudes of the Atherton Tablelands where I am fortunate enough to live. Emminosperma alphitoniodes, is a great small tree with glossy green leaves. It is rare for the tree not to have new growth, fruit or flowers, whatever the time of year. The canopy is darkly dense and the trunk so pale as to be almost white.
Daphne Buttonwood, does not have the largest flowers but they make up for this by being highly scented in the early evening. the fruit look like old fashioned ribbed buttons.
Umbels of small flowers can still cover a whole tree of Snowwood, Pararchidendron pruinosum, and will be followed by dry leathery pods containing black seeds. The pods are dark brown on the outside and reddish-brown on the inside.

Pittosporum rubiginosum is in flower around Malanda and at Lake Barrine near the entrance to the huge Kauri trees. Small orange fruit contain many small sticky red seeds.
Darlingia darlingiana, or Brown Oak is now just starting to flower. They have a very strong honey scent. Beetles, flies and wasps are important pollinators.
The Tree Waratah is a stunner! One can see these in the forests from Malanda to Tolga but also in the towns. the timber is also of high quality.

01 September, 2009

Spring Time in the Mountains

Mt Bartle Frere hovers above the Tablelands. Taken two weeks ago this paddock now looks brown.
Today, September 1st, the first day of spring for those who follow the three month cycle of seasons. Actually we are beginning our fry season [accidental typo but I'll keep it] and it is dry already. The countryside is brown, unlike last year when we received enough rain throughout the year to keep the grass green and the creeks and springs flowing. Water levels are dropping quickly in the creeks and with the over extraction form our aquifers they will drop a lot further before the rains come. Still there is plenty of beauty around. The Red Cedars have now almost completed gaining their new leaves. The setting sun was still striking the colourful new growth of this tree near Malanda.
Fruit is becoming more available in the forest. From this little Thorny Yellow-wood which is eaten by honeyeaters to the large Water Gum which is eaten by Musky Rat-Kangaroos, This is the time for the northern migrants to return. The birds from the shorelines which fly to above the Arctic Circle to breed and those Cuckoos which just go to Indonesia and New Guinea for a holiday are returning. Some local birds breed at this time of year and other are displaying in hope of a mate later.Victoria's Riflebirds are beginning to display. A Bar-tailed Godwit has returned from the north and is feeding on the Cairns Esplanade with this Beach Stone-curlew. Metallic Starlings have just returned to the Tablelands but are already nest building on the coast.
Pheasant Coucals will turn almost black before they breed. This bird was photographed in our garden. Barred Cuckoo-shrikes have white eyes when not breeding but they are now turning a sexy yellow.

I got a little fright this morning while running around the yard to do a few jobs while creating this blog. I almost ran onto this handsome fellow. A Red-bellied Snake should be treated with caution but while they are bad news for dogs, humans should have little to fear from their venom. Lots of snakes are beginning to move out of their winter quarters and become active. A Yellow-faced Whipsnake was run over outside our house yesterday which is rather sad. Carpet Snakes, above, and Amethystine Pythons do not have to sun themselves for as long these warmer mornings and are soon on the move.

16 August, 2009

Whale Watching out of Cairns

As I had to go to Cairns for another function I took the chance to go whale watching. It was beautiful weather, an almost flat sea with a light breeze to keep one cool.This male dived and came up tail first. He gave us a wave but that was the most exciting display we saw close to.
After watching a few pods in the distance and a couple of single males at close quarters we were heading to shore satisfied but not thrilled with the afternoon. The skipper then announced that he had a call that Migaloo, the white Humpback Whale was seen 2 Nm north of us and would we mind being late back to port. Blow the book launch, show us the whale.
There it was, south of Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef, and heading south towards Cape Grafton.
The experience was only spoilt by a couple of idiots in a runabout approaching the whale at high speed and forcing it to dive; presumably in an attempt to get a closer look. they were well within the exclusion zone around any whale, let alone Migaloo's.
Still it was a great experience and a wonderful privillage to see this special creature.

22 July, 2009

Peterson Creek, Yungaburra

On a cool but sunny afternoon, Maria nad I went for a walk along Peterson Creek. Under some shady rainforest trees some fungus was glowing brightly despite the recent dry weather. A little further down stream at Snodgrass Pool I thought I saw something under the far bank. A look with the binoculars showed it to be a Water Rat, Hydromys chrygaster.After grooming for about ten minutes it ran along the undercut bank and up to a hole. It almost fell backwards out of the hole. I am not sure if the hloe belongs to this rat or something else. The path to a Platypus burrow is usually more smoothed than this one was.
Then it was off to look for dinner.A female Little Bronze Cuckoo, Chrysococcyx minutillus, almost sat on Maria's hat but landed on the branch above her head instead. The picture below shows the colour of the wing with some lighton it. In full sun the wings have a strong bronze sheen.
We saw three species of parrots, four honeyeaters, three cuckoo-shrikes, two skinks and a Platypus. As we walked back through the village a flock of 20 Sarus Cranes flew over in V formation.