flora

Guerrilla Restoration

This is a guest post by Jordan Crook.

Along the railway lines in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the remnants of the bushland that once stood there still grow amongst the weeds and rapidly expanding suburbia. These living museums of the local flora are very special places in our urbanised environment but lie neglected, forgotten and unknown to many people who walk past them every day.

For the past few years, a small group of community members has been weeding and managing a patch of remnant valley heathy woodland: a rare type of native bushland along the Belgrave railway line, almost in the centre of the township of Ferntree Gully.

Just some of the beautiful floral species to be found in the restored reserve.  Image: Robert Pergl

Just some of the beautiful floral species to be found in the restored reserve. Image: Robert Pergl

The patch of bushland was rediscovered by Robert Pergl, who was riding his bike past the site every couple of days when heading to school at Swinburne University’s Wantirna Campus. He studied the trees and understory of local indigenous plants and observed the ever-creeping threat of weed invasion and inappropriate mowing. Based on his studies, he concluded that the site was worth looking after due to the many rare and threatened plant species found here.

After gathering a group of mates to help out, a guerrilla friends group arose to care for this piece of bush. Guided by the practices of the Bradley sisters, the grandparents of modern bushland management practices and methods, the area was now feeling the love.

A section of the reserve prior to wood weed removal.  Image: Robert Pergl

A section of the reserve prior to wood weed removal. Image: Robert Pergl

The same section of the reserve following wood weed removal.  Image: Robert Pergl

The same section of the reserve following wood weed removal. Image: Robert Pergl

Over the past three to four years, guerrilla bushland workers have brought the reserve back to life, reducing the threat from grass weeds by hand-weeding and excluding mowing from sensitive parts of the area. The worst weed is quaking grass (Briza maxima), but with “Briza Blitz” themed working bees, the impact of this species has been significantly reduced.

Through monitoring and surveying of the site, we have found over 50 indigenous plant species present, with more returning following continuing weeding works. Among these species are wildflowers, native orchid species, sundews (Drosera sp.) and the critically endangered matted bush pea (Pultenea pudunculata).

Watching the area come back to life with the dedicated work of volunteers has been amazing. What began as a small group of friends managing the area as guerrilla bushland workers has resulted in the obtaining of a lease over the site through the help of the Knox Environment Society after many years of lobbying.

An exquisite chocolate lily ( Arthropodium strictum ).  Image: Robert Pergl

An exquisite chocolate lily (Arthropodium strictum). Image: Robert Pergl

Margaret Mead, the academic and activist, said‘ ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.’ And that’s true. We took it upon ourselves to bring this area back to life and reverse the global trend of declining biodiversity. It may only be a small patch, but if we all take on responsibility in our backyards and local areas, we can slow and reverse the tide of extinction affecting the plants and animals that we're lucky enough to share this beautiful country with.

As the restoration of this location has always been about community involvement, we would like to open the opportunity up to the community to help name the site!  We would like it to be a wildflower reserve named after a significant local conservationist, plant, or animal. So put on your thinking caps and email your ideas to jcrooka@gmail.com with the subject “FTG Bushland Name”. We will announce the name on August 4th 2017.


Jordan Crook has a Diploma of Conservation and Land Management from Swinburne University. He is currently completing a Diploma of Arboriculture at Melbourne Polytechnic and can be found on Twitter at @JCrooka.


Banner image courtesy of Robert Pergl.

An Australian Icon: All You Need to Know About Wattle

With their sprays of golden blossoms and their unique foliage, wattles are arguably the most recognisable plants in Australia. Wattle species can be found in most ecosystems around the country, one of which is our national floral emblem - you may have noticed the golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) on Australia’s Coat of Arms.

Wattles belong to the genus Acacia, the largest genus of vascular plants in Australia. Australia is home to some 1,350 species of wattle, with around 28 of these occurring naturally in Victoria, including silver wattle (Acacia dealbata), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), and prickly moses (Acacia verticillata).

Wattles are diverse in their growth habit, and possess fascinating foliage and flowers. While the vast majority of species form shrubs and small trees, some creep and sprawl across the ground and others can grow to heights of 30 metres.

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    Silver wattles retain their bipinnate leaves throughout their lives. 

Silver wattles retain their bipinnate leaves throughout their lives. 

One of the more interesting features of this genus is their strange foliage. No matter the species, wattle saplings all start out with ‘bipinnate’ leaves. Botanically, this means that their leaves are divided twice: once into pinnae, and then again into pinnules (also known as leaflets). Some species of wattle, such as the silver wattle, retain this leaf form throughout their lives.

Strangely, most species of Acacia transition from this bipinnate leaf form and develop ‘phyllodes’ as they age. Phyllodes are not true leaves, and are actually flattened leaf stalks (petioles). These phyllodes are the narrow leaf-like structures you see on many adult wattles, including blackwood trees. Some species, such as prickly moses, have evolved needle- or spine-like phyllodes, which help minimise water loss by reducing the surface area of the leaf.  

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    This blackwood leaf is not a leaf at all, but actually the stalk of the leaf, or petiole. 

This blackwood leaf is not a leaf at all, but actually the stalk of the leaf, or petiole. 

Wattle flowers are globular clusters of their stamens, with the flower’s petals barely visible. These flowers act as a food source for many bird species, with their nectar attracting several species of honeyeaters, and seeds attracting cockatoos, rosellas and native pigeons.

Wattles are as iconic as kangaroos, emus and Vegemite. Today, on the first day of spring, notice the beautiful wattles around you and celebrate their beauty and diversity!


Emma Walsh

Emma Walsh is Secretary for Wild Melbourne and a science graduate who enjoys sharing her love of nature with others. In the past, she has worked as a wildlife presenter, and enjoys teaching children about our native wildlife and its conservation. Her other interests include gardening and bushwalking. 

Find her on Twitter at @emmalwalsh91.

Six Things You Should Know About Eucalypts

This National Eucalypt Day we are celebrating all the amazing things about our beautiful eucs! So here are some little-known facts about one of Australia's most iconic plant species.

The tallest flowering plant in the world is a Eucalypt.

Given the opportunity, mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) will often grow to heights of around 80 metres. However, the tallest mountain ash, know as ‘Centurion’, stands just over 99 metres tall in Tasmania.

Mountain ash is the tallest flowering plant in the world.  Image:  https://adayintheleaf.com

Mountain ash is the tallest flowering plant in the world. Image: https://adayintheleaf.com

Eucalyptus trees can sequester gold.

In 2003, geoscientists discovered a stand of eucalyptus trees that had tiny portions of gold (about one-fifth of the diameter of a human hair) present in their leaves. The eucalypts were able to absorb the gold from the soil around their roots because they were growing directly above a gold deposit.

Eucalypts give the Blue Mountains their name.

The vegetation in the Blue Mountains is dominated by eucalypts, which release volatile oils called terpenoids into the air. These tiny droplets of oil scatter light in a way that causes the mountains to appear blue. You can see the oil glands in a eucalyptus leaf by holding it up to the sun and looking for white and yellowish spots.

The Blue Mountains owe their name - and colour! - to the eucalypts that dominate the landscape.  Image: Adam J.W.C. via Wikimedia Commons.

The Blue Mountains owe their name - and colour! - to the eucalypts that dominate the landscape. Image: Adam J.W.C. via Wikimedia Commons.

Eucalypt, eucalyptus and gum tree are not interchangeable labels.

The word ‘eucalyptus’ refers to a single genus of trees. The word ‘eucalypt’ refers to a group of species that belong to multiple genera, including Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora. The term ‘gum tree’ refers to some species of eucalypts that exude a sticky, tannin-like substance called kino, more commonly known as gum. This means that a gum tree is not always a Eucalyptus tree, that a Eucalyptus tree is not always a gum tree, and that a eucalypt can be a gum tree, a Eucalyptus tree, or both. Confused yet?

Eucalypt leaves don’t make koalas drunk.

The notion that koalas are constantly in a state of drunkenness due to the toxicity of eucalypt leaves is a common misconception. In reality, eucalypt leaves contain so little energy that koalas must eat an enormous amount of them (up to one kilogram a day). Furthermore, koalas must sleep for up to 22 hours a day in order to conserve the little energy that they do obtain from their diet.

Despite popular opinion, eucalyptus leaves do not make koalas 'drunk'.  Image: Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons

Despite popular opinion, eucalyptus leaves do not make koalas 'drunk'. Image: Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons

 

For all the fun facts there are to learn about eucalypts, one of the best things about them is their iconic symbolism throughout Australian culture – let’s celebrate how lucky we are to have such unique and beautiful trees growing amongst us. Happy National Eucalypt Day!


Emma Walsh is a science graduate who enjoys sharing her love of nature with others. In the past, she has worked as a wildlife presenter, and enjoys teaching children about our native wildlife and its conservation. Her other interests include gardening and bushwalking.

 


Banner image courtesy of Peter Woodard via Wikipedia.

Suburban wilderness: the Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve

Heading south out of Melbourne, the search for wild spaces is quicker and easier than you might think. Two turns off the Peninsula Link freeway (built to help shuttle increasing numbers of residents and visitors to Mornington or Rosebud) and the suburban sprawl breaks on the edge of a unique remnant of natural bushland.

The Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve is 214 hectares of dappled stringybark woodland, flower-spotted heaths, and wetlands that reappear every spring, announced by calling frogs. From the long central break, paths curve and twist among soft hills and sand dunes left behind by the changing levels of ancient seas. At the peak of the greatest dune, surrounded by squat Epacris and heath wattle, the view stretches clear to the Dandenong Ranges in one direction and Arthur’s Seat in the other. Descending through the taller stands of Eucalyptus and Banksia interrupts a dizzying whirl of wrens, thrushes and cuckoos. Patient strolling is rewarded by the sight of shuffling echidnas, while the bounding black wallabies make an unusual hazard for bike riders.

Langwarrin Flora & Fauna Reserve. Image: Parks Victoria

Langwarrin Flora & Fauna Reserve. Image: Parks Victoria

The quality and variety of wildlife in this small space is staggering. At least 50 orchid species have been found within the reserve, including some rare and threatened examples like the purple diuris. The critically endangered New Holland mouse, and the southern emu-wren have both been spotted. The southern brown bandicoot has habitat here that is repeated almost nowhere else.

These assemblages would be wonderful enough on their own, but take on a particular significance in this location. The Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve was only made a protected space in 1985; from almost 100 years earlier, the land had been in military hands, belonging to the Victorian Government in the late 19th Century and the Commonwealth following Federation. During this tenure, land was cleared for parade grounds and encampments, for training, and for the grazing of local livestock. In one tense period during World War I, German prisoners of war were interned on the site. A little later, as blithely related by a sign near the reserve’s carpark, a hospital was constructed to treat returning soldiers suffering venereal disease.

Prior to the establishment of the military reserve, it is likely that the area was cleared for agriculture along with the majority of the Mornington Peninsula. Pasture and cropland were crucial in the expansion of Melbourne, both for trade export and to support the booming population that arrived with the gold rush. However, poor soils and inconvenient landscapes meant that some of the bushland was left uncleared – in the Langwarrin district this left behind reservoirs of seed and habitat that have been lost elsewhere, along with evidence of the First Australian Boonerwrung people’s cyclic passage as they tracked seasonal food sources. Nowadays, the reserve is used by residents for exercise, recreation, horse riding, and nature study.

Langwarrin Flora and Fauna reserve houses a diverse range of fauna. Image: Parks Victoria. 

Langwarrin Flora and Fauna reserve houses a diverse range of fauna. Image: Parks Victoria. 

It is a rarity to find a space like the reserve, as well as its larger neighbour the Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve, in an area that has consistently seen a dramatically increasing residential community. Since the beginning of the 21st Century, the outer suburbs of Melbourne have experienced some of the fastest population growth in Australia. New housing estates and the rezoning of agricultural land saw building booms in the Frankston area of up to 30% expansion between 2001 and 2011. There is a more complete development of land, an increase in population density, and pressure on roads and other infrastructure.

It is to be expected that all this impacts negatively on those remaining islands of native bushland. Management plans for the reserves of the area are constantly looking to the dangers of feral animals, of foxes and rabbits, and of the occasional presence of free-roaming housepets. There is also a cost that comes with allowing human access to each space, with risks such as erosion exacerbated by cyclists and horse-riders to the point of path closures during wet weather. A further danger is the spreading of invasive plants from nearby gardens: Pittosporum undulatum has a well-deserved reputation for choking out woodland understories, while coastal tea-trees alter fire regimes in uncertain ways. Pathogens like the cinnamon fungus, Phytophthora cinnamomi, are spread on the soles of walkers’ shoes and cause indiscriminate damage to vegetation.

Image: Parks Victoria

Image: Parks Victoria

Inevitably, though, people will keep coming into these spaces – and they have a right to. Using green spaces for walking, relaxing, or exercising has been shown to improve mental health and a sense of connection with the landscape. The reality is that without that tangible value, it is difficult to explain the necessity of preserving these beautiful, complex and fragile ecosystems.

While of course no one likes to brag, it is mentioned quite often that Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city. The Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked our city first among 140 locations each year since 2011, and other polls put us in similarly high positions. Our parks and gardens do a lot to contribute to our own mental wellbeing, and shape our lifestyles for the better. These islands of natural bushland are equally beneficial, with the added bonus of keeping Australia’s native plants and animals on the ground and in our perception.

These parks are kept for all of us, not just the conservationists who catalogue their secrets. Make the time. Look around you. Seek out a new wilderness to explore.


PAUL JONES

Paul works in science education and has been a teaching member of Monash University's Department of Biology since 2010. He is interested in community engagement and sustainable urban development