A small, very spiky plant that grows on outcrops of granite, drying out to a bright orange in the drier seasons, but turning green again come the winter rains. It was interesting to see the flowerheads on this trip, since I had no idea they were held so far above the rest of the plant, nor that they were even spikier than the rest of it.
Dingo Rock, near Wongan Hills
AKA strangle tare, scaldweed, beggarweed, lady’s laces, fireweed, wizard’s net, devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, goldthread, hailweed, hairweed, hellbine, love vine, pull-down, strangleweed, angel hair, and witch’s hair. A parasitic plant that was doing a good job of strangling every weed on the stretch of footpath between the Wongan Hills Hotel and the Christmas Rock Reserve.
There’s some 100 to 170 known species of these Convolvulaceae, most of them yellow, orange, or red, since chlorophyll is hardly a priority for them when their entire existence revolves around vampirising every plant within reach. And reach they do - Dodder seedling grow towards the nearest green plants by following chemical clues. Once they reach it, they drive specialised structures called haustoria into the plant’s vascular system, and the original root attached to the ground dies off. From then on the dodder is reliant on the host, or multiple hosts, as it reaches over to parasitise all the other plants nearby too.
Not surprisingly, this can be a serious problem in agriculture, not least because plant diseases can spread from host to host along the network of dodder tendrils.
Interestingly enough, tomato plants have a range of defences against dodder, including chemicals produced when the dodder tries to attach, and the hairs on the stems that somehow prevent the haustoria from attaching.
AKA Wuruk or Woonert. Salmon Gums and native to Western Australia, and can grow to about 30m high, and live for 150 years, but given how useful the wood is for railway sleepers and mine supports let alone firewood, the population of mature trees anywhere near towns and rail lines isn’t what it used to be.
That said, it’s an excellent species in rehabilitation areas, being fast-growing, and drought and frost resistant, and does well in poor soils.
Wongan Hills, at the Christmas Rock reserve, where Salmon Gums are in such low numbers that individual trees have become landmarks.
A member of the daisy family. Western Australia is famous for its wildflowers, but not all the wildflowers are large and showy. This one, for example, is already flowering when only a few millimeters in size.
AKA desert quandong, or native peach. A partially parasitic plant in the Sandalwood family, that taps surrounding plants for nitrogen and some water. Found widely dispersed throughout the central deserts and southern areas of Australia.
The fruit is one of the best known bushfoods, and attempts have been made to domesticate the species. It makes an excellent jam.
As I was driving home from Wongan Hills, I noticed somebody had pulled over on the side of the road as we approached the crest of a small hill. I then saw why they’d pulled over - the entire northern side of the hill was a mass of pink Everlastings, the best display of them I’d seen all weekend. Of course, now people coming up or down the road saw two cars pulled over, and slowed down to see why. By the time I left there were six cars parked on both sides of the road, with people getting out to take photos.
Everlasting Daisies are native to Western Australia, but were introduced and cultivated in England in 1834 from seeds collected by James Mangles, an officer of the Royal Navy, naturalist, horticulturalist and writer. Quite a few WA plants are named in his honour, including our floral emblem the Kangaroo Paw Anigozanthos manglesii.
Common names for this daisy include pink sunray, silver bells, Australian strawflower, timeless rose or pink everlasting. The flowerheads bloom from silvery buds, and the papery bracts can be yellow, white, or pink, and are long-lasting enough to give the plant many of its common names.
Widespread in the SW and SE of Australia, and a member of the Celastraceae.
These ones were growing on the granite outcrop of Christmas Rock in Wongan Hills, along with lots of moss, small orchids, carnivorous plants and Granite Kunzea. One feature of Christmas Rock is the low stone wall built around the edge of the outcrop, to collect any rainfall and direct it down to where trains could use the water. This, of course, would have greatly impacted the bush already around the rock, as well as removed much of the flaking granite sheets that provided cover to Ornate Crevice-dragons and other wildlife, but the trains were more important, right?
AKA. Stacice, notch leaf sea lavender, sea pink, and wavyleaf sea lavender. A member of the leadwort family, or Plumbaginaceae.
Australia has three native Statices, and three have naturalised. This is one of the latter. An escaped garden plant, originally native to the Mediterranean region, where it did quite well in coastal salt-meadows (the genus is derived from the Greek for meadow). It’s also doing quite well in the Wheatbelt over here, where it’s invasive.
The flowers and hardiness are what made it popular as an ornamental. The individual flowers are minute but are held well clear of the foliage on branching wiry stems. The flowers themselves comprise an outer calyx and an inner corolla, often in different colors. White, cream, and mauve to purple shades are common, and the calyxes last long after the flowers themselves have dropped off.
A small slender annual, native to the WA Wheatbelt, and parts of South Australia and New South Wales. Hardly noticeable, where it not for the bizarre fruits that develop after the tiny flowers are pollinated.
Buds of another Everlasting that was coming into bloom on the Wongan Hills trip. I’m not sure which of the 5 species this one is. Might be Waitzia acuminata, commonly known as orange immortelle,
This might not look like it deserves the name ‘excelsior’ but it’s only young. Mature plants are up to 8m high, towering over the heath plants of the sandplain, and producing ridiculously spectacular sprays of blossom. It’s pretty ridiculous when it comes to nectar production too - there are frequently small puddles on the ground under the plant.
An active coloniser of disturbed soils, so a happy side-effect of road construction is avenues of these plants.
Reynoldson Reserve, near Wongan Hills
Another species of sandplain Grevillea, with flowers that may be yellow and red, or yellow and black. It was also the first plant I saw on the trip that wasn’t being pollinated by feral honeybees or common hoverflies.
Toothbrush Grevilleas can grow up to about 2.5 meters, but spread out into shrubs about 4m wide.
The featherflowers were only just getting started back in September, but this stand was already putting on a reasonable show. Interestingly enough, they were only growing in the moss and turf around a small patch of exposed granite.
As to which species this is, I don’t know. There’s a species of yellow Verticordia that’s only found around Wongan Hills, but this isn’t it. The rest of the genus - over 100 species - may be white, red, pink, purple, or any colour other than blue, pretty much, and can cover a hillside or sandplain in billowing heaps of blossom. It’s something to see. There’s so remarkable that the genus name means ‘Turner of Hearts’.
Two species are native to the Northern Territory - the rest are restricted to the Southwest.
A member of the Malvaceae, forming shrubs up to 2m high. The velvety flowers bloom in March or July to December. Quite fond of iron-rich soils, so frequently seen in gravel pits, but also in red pindan soils, white sands, sandy clays and loams, gravel, and laterite. Tough enough to thrive on undulating plains, drainage lines, dunes, outcrops, disturbed sites, and road verges across most of the drier parts of this end of the continent.
Reynoldson Flora Reserve, Wongan Hills
A small shrub with shiny five-petaled flowers. Despite the name, they can usually be found flowering year round. I should have gotten better photos, but was more interested in the pair of Marauding Katydids I found on it.
Endemic to the SW corner of WA.
Formerly Actinostrobus arenarius, until a 2010 study put it back within the Cypresses. AKA sandplain cypress, Bruce cypress, Bruce cypress-pine, and tamin. A conifer common in intact woodland around Wongan Hills, and north to Shark Bay. Mature specimens can be 7m tall, but these ones at the Reynoldson Flora Reserve were a third of that. It’s not the only cypress that grows on the low scrubby plant community of the sandplain, or kwongan - it shares the habitat with Callitris preissi, and C. roei, I thought I’d covered the formerly in the blog before, but apparently not - ah well.
European settlers in the area used to cut them down to use as Christmas Trees. I suppose they’d be marginally less flammable than trying to use a eucalypt.
Also known as Native Hop-bush, although given that the species is found in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions of Africa, the Americas, southern Asia and the rest of Australasia, ‘native’ is perhaps stretching it. There’s seven subspecies in Australia alone, and it’s highly variable in habit, from small shrub to tall tree. This one was growing on Dingo Rock, in a slight depression.
Other names include broad leaf hopbush, candlewood, giant hopbush, narrow leaf hopbush, soapwood, switchsorrel, wedge leaf hopbush, and native hop. In the south of India it’s called viraali . Elsewhere ʻaʻaliʻi, as well as ‘a‘ali‘i-ku ma kua and ‘a‘ali‘i ku makani in the Hawaiian language; akeake (New Zealand); lampuaye (Guam); mesechelangel (Palau); chirca (Uruguay, Argentina); romerillo (Sonora, Mexico); jarilla (Southern Mexico); hayuelo (Colombia); ch'akatea (Bolivia); casol caacol (Seri); and ghoraskai (Afghanistan). Not surprisingly for a plant that’s earned so much attention, it’s used for practically everything - leaves as wound plasters, dye from the fruit, to stimulate lactation in mothers, as a dysentery treatment, to cure digestive system disorders, skin problems and rheumatism, leaves mixed with coca and chewed as a stimulant, and as incense for funerals. Australia’s indigenous peoples used it to treat toothache, cuts and stingray stings.The wood is extremely tough, heavy and durable - the Māori used it for making weapons, carved walking staves, axe-handles, and weights on drill shafts. European settlers in Australia just used it to flavour beer, which is why it’s called hop-bush. We must have been pretty desperate.
These days it’s widely grown as a garden shrub, resistant to salinity, drought and pollution. It can be used for dune stabilization, remediation and reforestation. It can be grown from seed, if the seeds are treated with very hot water first.
The inconspicuous flowers lack petals and are wind pollinated, but not all plants bear female flowers. Fertilised flowers can take up to 11 months to mature into brilliant red two-or-three winged capsules, with unfertilized capsules maturing faster.
A widely distributed, and sometimes abundant, lichen that grows as a crust on semi-arid soils in Australia, but also found in Southern Africa and New Zealand.
Reynoldson Flora Reserve, near Wongan Hills