Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Australia: A Coral Reef on Land (Part 2)

We're continuing on our circuit of the Lesueur National Park Scenic Drive, stopping for wildflowers on our way (as we did on September 13, 2015, when these photographs were taken).

Bristly Cottonheads (Conostylis setigera)
The bulk of the wildflower diversity in Kwongan vegetation is concentrated in relatively few plant families, so we continue to encounter representatives of families we have already seen.  Here, for example, is Bristly Cottonheads (Conostylis setigera), another member of the Haemadoraceae, the family I profiled in my last post.

Drumsticks (Dasypogon bromeliifolius)
Drumsticks (Dasypogon bromeliifolius)
This is one of the plants in the endemic Western Australian family Dasypogonaceae: Drumsticks (Dasypogon bromeliifolius), a plant we first saw on our trip the previous week from Perth to Albany.

Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna)
Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna)
We had seen the ivory spikes of Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna) before too, a number of times.

Stackhousia huegelii
Stackhousia huegelii
Now, however, we found it with a relative, the yellow-flowered Stackhousia huegelii, near the northern limit of its coastal range.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)
Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)
Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia), or whichever pea this is, has flowers that look more handsome from the back than from the front.

Scarlet Runner (Kennedia prostrata)
Another pea, Scarlet Runner (Kennedia prostrata) scrambles over sandy soils in much of the southwest.

Pink-tipped Pearl Flower (Conostephium minus)
Pink-tipped Pearl Flower (Conostephium minus)
This is either Pink-tipped Pearl Flower (Conostephium minus), a Kwongan specialty, or the more widespread Pearl Flower (C. pendulum).  The genus, a member of the heath family (Ericaceae), is endemic to the Australian southwest.  There are about a dozen species.  Pearl flower anthers are tightly enclosed within a tube formed by the petals, and it appears that their pollen can only be released when the flower is shaken by the vibrating wings of certain bees, including bumblebees.  This phenomenon is called buzz pollination; other plants that rely on it include tomatoes, potatoes and blueberries.

Pentaptilon (Pentaptilon careyi)
Pentaptilon (Pentaptilon careyi)
I haved identified this plant as Pentaptilon (Pentaptilon careyi), but according to the Florabase range map Lesueur may be a bit too far south for it.  It probably belongs to the same family, Goodeniaceae (the flowers certainly resemble those of the widespread native buttercups (Hibbertia)), but I am none too sure that I have this one right.

Purple Tassels (Sowerbaea laxifolia)
Purple Tassels (Sowerbaea laxifolia) is common in the southwest, and is, by now, a familiar sight.

Wild Violet (Hybanthus calycinus)
Wild Violet (Hybanthus calycinus)
Wild Violet (Hybanthus calycinus) may look a bit odd to northern-hemisphere violet fanciers, but the Australian genus Hybanthus is a true violet all the same.  At least it is purple; others in the genus are white, yellow or even (recalling a flower I found many years ago in Australia's tropical north) bright orange.

As usual, there are lots of flowers I can't identify.  This is one of them.

Banksia sp
As I did in my first installment on our drive through Lesueur, I want to end by focusing on a particular plant family. In this case it is a particular favorite of mine, the Proteaceae, a Gondwanaland relic whose members I have seen  growing wild in Australia, Africa, New Zealand and Chile. The family takes its name from the wonderful African genus Protea, which takes its name in turn from the shape-shifting Greek demigod Proteus. Its members are indeed very variable, though almost all of them are strikingly unusual to a visitor from the Northern Hemisphere. They are heathland plants par excellence, and are among the dominant plant families in the Kwongan.  

Banksia sp
Banksia sp
By far the best-known of Australia's Proteaceae are the Banksias. Banksia is a large and diverse genus, especially that it now includes the dryandras. Their flower heads are almost as distinctive after the blooms fade (they can remain on the plant for months) as they are before, and, as I explained a few years back, have found their way into Australian children's literature.

Firewood Banksia (Banksia menziesii)
Firewood Banksia (Banksia menziesii)
Firewood Banksia (Banksia menziesii) is a large shrub or, if you prefer, small tree (it can reach 7 or even 15 metres in height).  It is common in the Kwongan heathlands.  It gets its name because its wood burns quickly away, leaving a fine ash.  The artist Philippa Nikulinsky has devoted a whole book of paintings to this species alone.

Parrot Bush (Banksia [Dryandra] sessilis)
Parrot Bush (Banksia [Dryandra] sessilis), one of the dryandras, grows across much of the southwest.  Honeyeaters pollinate it, and its seeds are eaten by Long-billed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus baudinii) and Australian Ringneck parrots (Barnardius zonarius).

Blueboy (Stirlingia latifolia)
Blueboy (Stirlingia latifolia)
Blueboy (Stirlingia latifolia) looks about as unlike the banksias as you can get, but it is still one of the Proteaceae.  Its stems grow underground, as woody tubers.  Odddly enough, according to Wikipedia, "The common name Blueboy refers to the fact that wall plaster made using sand taken from where S. latifolia occurs turns blue".

Blueboy (Stirlingia latifolia)
Blueboy (Stirlingia latifolia)
Blueboy (Stirlingia latifolia)
 Blueboy has distinctive, fluffy seedheads, and may be even more decorative after it flowers.

Conospermum boreale
We have already met  Conospermum boreale, one of the smokebushes, but I include it again to show how diverse the protea family can be.

Needle-Leaved Petrophile (Petrophile brevifolia)
The globular flower heads of petrophiles and coneflowers are, perphaps, more typical of what we expect protea flower displays to look like.  This is Needle-Leaved Petrophile (Petrophile brevifolia).

Pixie Mops (Petrophile linearis)
Pixie Mops (Petrophile linearis)
Pixie Mops (Petrophile linearis) grows from the Lesueur area southwards.  Its English name, I suppose, is self-explanatory.

Pincushion Coneflower (Isopogon dubius)
Pincushion Coneflower (Isopogon dubius)
Pincushion Coneflower (Isopogon dubius)
Pincushion Coneflower (Isopogon dubius), no doubt named for its spiky leaves, ranges from the Kwongan at Lesueur south to the Jarrah forest south of Perth.

Sickle-leaved Coneflower (Isopogon linearis)
Sickle-leaved Coneflower (Isopogon linearis) is a more localized species, endemic to the Kwongan between Geraldton and Perth.

Spiny Synaphea (Synaphea spinulosa)
The 56 species of Synaphea (some of which we met in earlier posts) look, at first, quite unlike the banksias, coneflowers and their kin, but they are proteas nonetheless.  They are endemic to Western Australia, and are confined almost entirely to the southwest.  Spiny Synaphea (Synaphea spinulosa subsp. spinulosa) (whose spiky leaves do look rather like those of Parrot Bush and Pincushion Coneflower) is the Kwongan form of a widespread southwestern species.

Many-flowered Honeysuckle (Lambertia multiflora)
Many-flowered Honeysuckle (Lambertia multiflora)
Quite different again are the native honeysuckles (Lambertia), proteas despite their common name.  This is Many-flowered Honeysuckle (Lambertia multiflora).

Many-flowered Honeysuckle (Lambertia multiflora)
Many-flowered Honeysuckle (Lambertia multiflora)
Lambertia is a good, if small-scale, example of the floral diversity of Australia's southwest.  There is one species in eastern Australia, the Mountain Devil (L. formosa). which I saw in the Blue Mountains near Sydney.  The other nine species are all found only in the southwest.  That is a story that can be told for many plant genera.  The southwest is harsher country than the east, and, strangely, that may be the reason for its richness of plant life - isolated in tiny pockets, adapting to narrow ecological niches, plants in the west speciated over and over again.  It is evolution at its most flamboyant.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Australia: A Coral Reef on Land (Part 1)

By the late afternoon of September 15, 2013, our little group had begun to penetrate the heart of Western Australia's remarkable floral diversity.  From our base in Jurien Bay, over 200 kilometres north of Perth, we were to spend the next three days exploring an area so rich in wildflowers that it almost overwhelms the senses.  This is the Kwongan, and the wildflowers that grow here are so numerous, and so varied, that visitors have often compared it, in the number and brilliance of its species, to a coral reef on land.  Our first stop was one of the richest in the Kwongan: Lesueur National Park, named for the flat-topped mesa known as Mount Lesueur (named, in its turn, for the artist-naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur, who sailed past here on the ship Naturaliste at the beginning of the nineteenth century). 

Lesueur, gazetted only in 1992, boasts over 900 species of plants - a remarkable total, and even more remarkable when you consider just what sort of place this is.  Far from being the nurturing garden that you might expect, the Kwongan - its name taken from a local aboriginal language - is a harsh, dry, punishing landscape where plants must struggle to grow and survive.

Like the similar, and even more diverse, fynbos region of the South African Cape, the Kwongan is an arid coastal sandplain heathland, with nutrient-poor soils and a Mediterranean climate featuring long, dry, hot summers and rain that falls mainly in winter.  The vegetation here is scrubby, low and dense. 

Its plants, to survive, must have tough, dry leaves - the botanical term is sclerophyllous - and deep, penetrating roots.  The number of plant families that dominate the area is comparatively few, but those that have made it here have evolved into species after species, each adapted to slight differences in microclimate, access to water, and availability of nutrients in the soil.

With limited time, the best way to get a taste of Lesueur and its riches is to take the Lesueur Scenic Drive, a one-way, 18.5 km track that loops through some of its best areas.  

With only a few hours of daylight to spare we set off around it, pausing as often as we could to pore over the flowers at our feet.  Even in that short time, I photographed so many that it will take me four posts to get through them all.  This is the first.

Lesueur Southern Cross (Xanthosia tomentosa)
Many of the plants here are found nowhere else, or at least nowhere else but in the immediate area.  This is one of them: Lesueur Southern Cross (Xanthosia tomentosa), a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) and a northern relative of the Southern Cross (X. rotundifolia) that we had encountered in the Stirling Ranges.  Like its southerly relative, its flowers (the little yellowish things in the photo) are tiny; it is the large white bracts that give it its showy appearance.

Blue Tinsel Lily (Calectasia sp)
After considerable worrying about the best way to lay out my account of our drive through Lesueur, I finally decided that the easiest, and simplest, was to follow it more or less as we experienced it: a myriad of flowers, in (with a few exceptions) no particular botanical order.   We can start, then, with one of the Blue Tinsel Lilies (Calectasia sp.), showy members of the peculiar family Dasypogonaceae; for its cousins, you'll have to wait for the next post.

Conospermum boreale
Conospermum boreale
Conospermum boreale
Smokebushes provided a sort of background to the main show, rather as clusters of baby's breath set off the larger blooms in a flower arrangement. This one,  Conospermum boreale, is a Kwongan endemic, with a range running through the sandplain country from Perth north to Geraldton.  Conospermum is a member of the protea family (Proteaceae), a dominant and diverse heathland family (we'll see more Proteaceae later on).

Dense, often sprawling shrubs dominate in the Kwongan, as in heathlands everywhere.

Red Swamp Cranberry (Astroloma stomarrhena)
"Heath" refers to a vegetation type - basically what you see in the Kwongan, the African fynbos or the heather-clad moors of Britain - but there are members of the true heath family (Ericaceae, including the Southern-Hemisphere Epacridaceae) here as well.  This one is (I believe) Red Swamp Cranberry (Astroloma stomarrhena).

Geraldton Wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum)
Geraldton Wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum)
Geraldton Wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum)
Many of the most handsome, like this (presumed) Geraldton Wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum), are members of the myrtle family (Myrtaceae).

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)
Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)
Others are members of the pea family (Fabaceae).  I have this one down as Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia), but I confess I am none too sure.


Trees are not totally absent, at least in patches here and there.

Eucalyptus drummondii
This one is another member of the myrtle family (and in fact of the dominant tree genus in Australia, Eucalyptus): Drummond's Gum (Eucalyptus drummondii).

Lasiopetalum drummondi
Lasiopetalum drummondiLasiopetalum drummondii
The Drummond in question was James Drummond (1786/7-1863), a Scot who emigrated to Western Australia in 1828 and spent much of the later part of his life collecting plant specimens for botanists in the UK. Over 100 plants were named for him, and according to Wikipedia some sixty of these names are still valid.  Here's another: Lasiopetalum drummondii, a localized member of the mallow family (Malvaceae).

Xanthorrhoea sp
Not exactly shrubs, but not really trees either: grass trees (Xanthorrhoea sp.) dot the Lesueur landscape, making it look (if nothing else) particularly Australian.

Lomandra hastilis
These cattail-like spikes belong to Lomandra hastilis, a member of a genus whose fifty-odd, mostly Australian, species have been kicked around between a number of plant families, including both the Xanthorrhoeaceae and the Dasypogonaceae, before settling among the Asparagaceae.

Milkmaids (Burchardia sp)Milkmaids (Burchardia sp)
Among the plethora of Kwongan endemics were a few familiar faces: Milkmaids (Burchardia sp....

Red Ink Sundew (Drosera erythrorhiza)
...and Red Ink Sundew (Drosera erythrorhiza), still not in flower...

...as well as a few plants, including this attractive species, that I still have not been able to identify.

Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
I am ending if this first installment on  our drive around Lesueur  with a focus on a particular, and particularly Western Australian, family, the bloodworts (Haemodoraceae). it is true that this family has members on all the southern continents, plus a few in North America, but there are reasons for attaching it particularly to this Australian state.  For one thing, the red spike poking out of the vegetation in this photo, the Red-and-green, or Mangles', Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii subsp. quadrans), is the state's official flower, and appears on its coat of arms. For another, the kangaroo paws include what are surely the most distinctive and memorable Western Australian flowers, even including the many orchids, proteas and other botanical marvels that grow there.

Conostylis sp
Conostylis sp
Conostylis sp
The Haemodoraceae are monocots, related to plants like the pickerelweeds (Pontederiaceae) and more distantly to grass trees, grasses and palms.   Monocots produce no wood, so  their members cannot form a true part of the heathland shrub layer. Instead, they stand out on their own, drawing attention to themselves by their often peculiar appearance.  The family includes the coneflowers (Conostylis sp), plants we had already encountered several times on our trip through the southwest.  This one appears to be Prickly Conostylis (C. aculeata), or possibly Grey Cottonhead (C. candicans), or.... oh, well, it's one of them.  Its flowers are only just opening.

Conostylis sp
Conostylis sp
This one, still in bud, may be Golden Conostylis (C. aurea).

Here is a rather different-looking coneflower, possibly Trumpets (Conostylis androstemma), a species that by now should have finished flowering.

Cat"s Paw (Anigozanthos humilis)
Cat"s Paw (Anigozanthos humilis)
The cat's paws are miniature versions of the kangaroo paws (on the assumption that kangaroos, or at least the large ones, are bigger than cats, or at least the small ones).  

Cat"s Paw (Anigozanthos humilis)
Cat"s Paw (Anigozanthos humilis)
Cat"s Paw (Anigozanthos humilis)
Common Cat's Paw (Anigozanthos humilis) is a widespread and variable flower, one that we had already encountered a number of times but, nonetheless, one that I always found difficult to pass by.

Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Even more impossible to leave unphotographed were the tall and stately stems of Mangles' Kangaroo Paw, which we were now meeting in the wild for the first time.  They call attention to themselves for a reason: kangaroo paws are pollinated by birds.  Their long stems raise them above the surrounding vegetation, and their bright red color must make them well-nigh impossible for their pollinators to miss.

Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
 Though kangaroo paws are familiar enough these days as exotic additions to flower arrangements, see them in the wild is nonetheless a rather startling experience. They are not only gorgeous, but so different from the plants surrounding them that they look as though they had been dropped from Mars – or, perhaps, are actually not plants at all but glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly,  scattered about in a garden of real flowers as Chihuly's creations often are.

Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Their flowers are certainly strange.  Except at their tips, the six petals are fused together for most of their length.  The claw-like structures hanging beneath them are the stamens, and their position varies from species to species within the genus Anigozanthos. This is apparently an  adaptation to make sure that each species dusts pollen on the heads of visiting birds in a different spot, thereby reducing the risk of cross-pollination.

Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Mangles' Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
Anyway, whatever its effect on visiting birds, this is a plant that certainly astonished me, and though it ranges along the good part of the South Western Australian coast I am sure that I will always associate it with the plantscape at Lesueur.