Species of the Month: December

Chocolate Lily (Arthropodium strictum)

Credit: http://www.marion.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/images/Arthropodium-strictum.jpg

Credit: http://www.marion.sa.gov.au/webdata/resources/images/Arthropodium-strictum.jpg

Scented flowers are often high up on the suburban gardener's wish list. Roses often take centre stage, complemented by gardenias and magnolias, and bordered by lavender bushes. However, there are numerous indigenous scented shrubs and flowers that Melbournians can plant if they wish to maintain their scented garden while helping to support native wildlife. The Chocolate Lily (Arthropodium strictum) is such a plant. A small, grassy looking plant, this purple lily will brighten up any garden, and its scent is delectable. Also known by the name of Dichopogon strictus, the Chocolate Lily is indigenous to a vast majority of Melbourne.

Lilies are fleshy perennials with tuberous roots and appear to have six petals, but in truth they have three petals and three sepals. Sepals are not true petals, and typically act to protect the flower before it has bloomed, but in several plant groups the sepals are colourful and act as petals. The flowers of the Chocolate Lily are three centimetres wide and are violet in colour, and are produced singly on erect stalks up to one meter tall. The petals are broad with undulating, ruffled margins, while the sepals are strap-like and curl backwards. Chocolate Lilies can be found flowering in September through until the end of the calendar year. Lilies are monocots, which means that their leaves have parallel veins as opposed to the veins that you find on the leaf of a dicot (for example, a eucalyptus tree), which form a complex network. The leaves of the Chocolate Lily are flat and narrow, and can grow up to 60cm long and 10mm wide. The Chocolate Lilies defining feature is its scent. You might have guessed from its name: the Chocolate Lily does, in fact, smell like Chocolate!

Chocolate Lilies are found in full sun and part shade, and thrive in well-drained soils. These lilies populate a wide range of woodland and forest habitats, from box ironbark forests and grassy dry forests to damp forests and swampy woodlands. This species is frost and drought tolerant, and is relatively adaptable, in the sense that it can survive in varying conditions. This species is rarely found in mallee regions and is completely absent from Victoria’s alpine region, but is found throughout much of Victoria’s woodland and forest ecosystems. National parks in which Chocolate Lilies can be easily found include Lysterfield Park, Organ Pipes National Park, Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve and Westgate Park.

Chocolate Lilies will die back to the rootstock after they have finished flowering, will remain dormant throughout the summer, but then reshoot after the autumn rains. This species is pollinated by a range of insects, but does not attract birds or butterflies.

This plant is ideal for anyone who loves both gardening and cocoa-flavoured treats. If this sounds like you, head down to you’re nearest indigenous nursery and pick up a few for the garden, you wont be disappointed!

Author: Emma Walsh

The Black Swan (Cygnus atratus

Credit: Christopher McCormack

Credit: Christopher McCormack

If you’ve ever been for a stroll around Albert Park Lake, been down to Swan Bay outside of Queenscliff, or visited another of our regions wetlands, than you might have found yourself staring at one of our country’s more peculiar waterbirds. Black swans are small as far as swan species go, but proportionally speaking they have the longest neck of any of the seven recognized species. 

These birds endemic to Australia have been turning heads for a long time. The Dutch were the first people from the Old World to see the birds when they came ashore in Western Australia, and they have since come to adorn the state’s emblem and the logo of the famous Swan Brewery. 

Prior to their discovery, the concept of the "Black Swan" had always been considered a mythical anomaly. Indeed, philosophers who argued that some truths are obvious and do not need to be proven would often support their contention with the concept that all swans are white. The discovery of a whole new species of black swans threw a spanner in the works, and would come to support those who argued that all truths require evidence. But while Europeans were astonished, the Black Swan had long been a familiar sight to Australia’s Aborigines – they made for good eating!  

They can have up to six eggs and are often very devoted parents. Pairs reaffirm their bonds and celebrate territorial victories by calling to one another, bowing their heads, and lifting their bills to the sky in a display known as a triumph. Males are typically larger than females, though overall the species shows little difference between the sexes - although, unlike most birds, males of the species do possess a penis! Possibly to aid in the transmission of sperm in an aquatic environment. 

Work done by the Mulder Lab at the University of Melbourne has revealed a number of interesting things about these birds. For example, while swans are often depicted as the epitome of monogamous devotion, about 1 in 6 cygnets are the product of mating outside of the pair. Also of interest is the white bill markings that adorn their red bills. Zoologist and artist, Milly Formby, found that these markings appear to play a role in social interactions and may be indicative of the dominance rank of an individual. The Mulder Lab continues to study these birds at Albert Park Lake, where they collar individuals for identification purposes. You can get involved by downloading the My Swan app and reporting collared swans that you see. Visit the My Swan website for more information.   

Credit: http://raoulmulder.org/research/

Credit: http://raoulmulder.org/research/

Author: Christopher McCormack