Sunday, April 26, 2015

Australia: Trigger Flowers, Orchids and Weeds

It was time for us to move on.  By late morning on September 13, 2013, Eileen and I had to think about leaving the Stirling Ranges for the long drive north to our next destination. 

 Wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo)
Well, almost.  We did have time for a quick last look-around at the Stirling Range Retreat, with its neatly-labeled plants (that's how I know that this tree is a Wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo), the species that gives its name to the remaining patches of natural dry woodland in this part of the west). 

Some of the wandoo trees carried huge clumps of golden-tinged mistletoe, standing out sharply against the grey-green eucalypt foliage. 

Fan-leaved Synaphia (Synaphea flabelliformis)
There was time to photograph a pair of plants in the Proteaceae: Fan-leaved Synaphea (Synaphea flabelliformis)...

Prickly Dryandra (Banksia cf horrida)
...and Prickly Dryandra (Banksia horrida), looking rather like an oversized thistle.

Dusky Woodswallow (Artamus cyanopterus)
I finally got a more-or-less decent photo of one of the Dusky Woodswallows (Artamus cyanopterus) sitting in the trees above our cabin. It wasn't that the birds were shy or too active - it's just that photographing dark birds against a bright blue sky usually leaves me with, at best, silhouettes. 

For visitors making a longer stay than our single-night visit the owners of the Stirling Range Retreat offer a number of wildflower tours, including trips to see a variety of the local orchids. We weren't able to participate, but our host Tony Sands not only checked some of my photo identifications but, very kindly, gave us directions to a couple of flower spots in the vicinity that we could visit on our own before we left - another reason to delay our departure!

Finally,though, we were packed up and ready to leave the retreat.  On our way out we drove slowly - how many lizard crossing signs does one see in a lifetime?  Anyway, the local lizards, apparently, know about it. A Stump-tailed Skink or Shingleback Lizard (Tiliqua rugosa), the only one on our trip, scuttled across our path and disappeared into the undergrowth before I could get a presentable photograph. 

Checking out Tony's orchid spots meant detouring south again into the National Park, finding the right intersection, and combing through the vegetation. Terrestrial orchids can be obscure and tricky to find, and in the Stirlings looking for them takes you past one botanical distraction after another. 

Kunzea recurva
There were flowering Kunzea bushes, presumably Kunzea recurva, flaunting their clusters of lilac flowers. 

Mountain Pea (Gastrolobium cf rubrum)
As usual, a wealth of colourful pea flowers poked out of the undergrowth. This, I believe, is Mountain Pea (Gastrolobium rubrum), a Stirling-area endemic. 

Daviesia sp
This appears to be a species of Daviesia...

Chorizema sp
...while this appears to be a Chorizema, one of the flame peas. 

I have no idea what this attractive little flower is, despite repeated searches through field guides and the Internet. Help, as always, would be much appreciated!

Pink Rainbow (Drosera menziesii)
The little bell-like structures on this Pink Rainbow (Drosera menziesii) are not flowers, but leaves. This is a sundew, scrambling over other plants like a vine rather than lying flat on the ground like the sundews I am used to. Its leaves are insect traps, baited with bright red colour and armed with glue-tipped hairs. 

Qualup Bell (Pimelea cf physodes)
This is an interesting photo if I do say so myself, though I didn't realize it at the time.  The clusters of white buds belong to a Bunjong (Pimelea spectabilis, Thymeleaceae), but I assumed that the greenish bell-like object at the centre of the picture was the flower of a Darwinia, a genus in the Myrtaceae.  It wasn't until I began going through my photos at home that I realized that it was, in fact, a Qualup Bell (Pimelea physodes), a Darwinia look-alike in the same genus as the Bunjong.  It doesn't look it, does it?  Furthermore, it isn't a flower but an inflorescence, and the petal-like objects are bracts surrounding and concealing a mass of tiny flowers inside.

Fringe Lily (Thysanotus cf thyrsoideus)
Fringe Lilies (Thysanotus thyrsoideus), named for their distinctive fringed petals, belong to a large Australian genus of herbs or scrambling vines in the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) with particularly distinctive flowers.  Though the genus ranges throughout Australia and well into eastern Asia, the vast majority of them are confined to the west.

Blue Tinsel Lily (Calectasia grandiflora)
Blue Tinsel Lily (Calectasia grandiflora)
The Blue Tinsel Lily (Calectasia grandiflora), though it may not look it, is a member of the same family, Dasypogonaceae, as two odd plants I have shown in earlier posts. Drumsticks (Dasypogon bromeliifolius) and Black Gin (Kingia australis) have flower heads that look like the business end of a drum major's baton - nothing at all like these clusters of showy, metallic flowers. 

Blue Tinsel Lily (Calectasia grandiflora)
Blue Tinsel Lily (Calectasia grandiflora)
The name 'tinsel lily' seems even more appropriate for flowers that have begun to fade. They really look as though they have been cut out of strips of metal foil. 

Cowslip Orchid (Caladenia flava)
Floral distractions, however attractive or interesting, could not keep us for long from the orchids we had come to see. Of course we found the abundant and ubiquitous Cowslip Orchid (Caladenia flava), but we had already seen plenty of those.

Stumpy Spider Orchid (Caladenia ensata)
Stumpy Spider Orchid (Caladenia ensata)
We were much more interested in finding some of the Cowslip Orchid's rarer (and weirder) cousins, the spider orchids. Spider orchids apparently attract pollinators by producing chemical lures that imitate the sexual pheromones of certain wasps (Family Thynnidae).  This Stumpy Spider Orchid (Caladenia ensata) may seem particularly ill-named, but I assure you that, compared to some of it's extremely attenuated relatives, it is rather short in the long sepal department.

Crab-lipped Spider Orchid (Caladenia plicata)
Crab-lipped Spider Orchid (Caladenia plicata)
Crab-lipped Spider Orchid (Caladenia plicata)
The Crab-lipped Spider Orchid (Caladenia plicata), however, is even stumpier.  Of course, I may have misidentified both of these, at least to species...

Common Donkey Orchid (Diuris corymbosa)
Donkey orchids (Diuris) would seem rather ordinary if it were not for the immense flag-like petals. They have no perfume or nectar, but appear to lure in pollinators by mimicking pea flowers.  There are a great many of them, and they are not only difficult to identify but, like many orchids, they hybridize regularly. However, I believe that this is a Common Donkey Orchid (Diuris corymbosa). 

This, however, appears to be Purple Pansy Orchid (Diuris longifolia), a very close relative. 

Cow Kick (Stylidium schoenoides)
Cow Kick (Stylidium schoenoides)
Cow Kick (Stylidium schoenoides)
Exciting as they were, the orchids were less interesting to me than my first encounter (to my recollection) with one Australia's odder plant families, the Stylidiaceae or trigger plants.  Trigger plant flowers, unlike almost any others in the plant kingdom, have movable parts.  The anthers and style are mounted on a flexible column.  When a pollinating insect lands on the flower the column snaps forward, either planting a wad of pollen on the insect's back or picking up the load it received from the last trigger, depending on the flower's stage of development.  Western Australia is the world trigger plant capital, with over 150 species; this one is Cow Kick (Stylidium schoenoides).  In the second photograph both flowers have triggers still poised for action (despite the two tiny bugs mounted atop the flower on the right).  The left-hand flower in the bottom photograph has already sprung it's trigger.

Tawny-crowned Honeyeater (Glyciphila melanops)
Despite all the floral attractions, we still managed to notice a bird or two. This one is a Tawny-crowned Honeyeater (Glyciphila melanops). 

By now, though, we really had to head off for the north if we were going to make our destination before nightfall. Once we left the boundaries of the Stirling Ranges National Park, we entered a man-made, European-style landscape. If the fields of canola in this photo do not make you wonder where we are, the windmill should really give you pause for thought. 

Grey Teal (Anas gracilis)
Occasionally we did cross bits of natural vegetation, including a saltbush wetland with a few pairs of Grey Teal (Anas gracilis). 

The few eucalyptus trees we saw were merely windbreaks or boundary markers between farmers' fields.

I tried to check out roadside wildflowers whenever we stopped for a break, but as like as not the plants I found were alien weeds

I was so tuned into the idea that we were in one of the great natural floras of the world that it took me a while to realize that swathes of plants like these were not native flowers at all. These are Capeweeds (Arctotheca calendula), invaders (like so many other Western Australia and weeds) from that other great southern hemisphere flora, the Cape Province of South Africa.

Onion Grass (Romulea rosea)
South African weeds include some highly attractive flowers.  I have posted this before, with a query about what it might be; it turns out to be another South African invader, Guildford or Onion Grass (Romulea rosea).
One-Leaf Cape Tulip (Moraea flaccida)
One-Leaf Cape Tulip (Moraea flaccida)
One-Leaf Cape Tulip (Moraea flaccida)
This lovely little South African flower is, as far as I can tell, One-Leaf Cape Tulip (Moraea flaccida).  Despite the name it is, like Romulea, an iris (Iridaceae), a member of a large and widespread genus found throughout Africa, southwest Asia and and around the Mediterranean.  This species is at home in the fynbos, the wonderfully diverse heatland country around the Cape.  In Australia, though, it is just a weed.

Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii
Not every Australian weed comes from South Africa.  Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii) hails from North Africa and the Middle East; besides invading Australia, it has become a serious nuisance in the American southwest.

Capeweed (Arctotheca calendula)
What these weeds are, and where they come from, I do not know.  They're pretty enough - but we were heading north not to see invasive aliens, but some extremely rare natives.  Fore once on this trip, they were not flowers, but mammals.  We'll meet them next time.