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The background of this web page (Photograph by D Grieg)
is the cover page of the current issue of the Newsletter.
It is the bark of the endangered Eucalyptus crucis, which is discussed below in the article
The Western Mallee (Section 100)

July, 2003


 Grasses in the Gardens

Themeda triandra    Kangaroo Grass
Synonym T. australis

Ros Cornish , Member of the Friends

Themeda :  from Arabic
triandra : Greek - treis three, aner man
australis : southern

One of the first plants people see when driving into the Gardens is Themeda triandra, the tall, nodding grass in the central grassland section (Section 175) between the car parks. It is one of the most widespread species of grass in Australia, occurring in all States from the coast to the arid inland. It also occurs in New Guinea. It once dominated the inland grasslands in south-eastern Australia but it is susceptible to heavy grazing and is out-competed by exotic pasture grasses when fertiliser is used.

Themeda triandra
                                                                Photo by John Wilke

T. triandra is a very useful grass because it is palatable to stock, grows mainly in summer and so is green when many other grasses have browned off. It is also drought-resistant and deep-rooted and is a major fodder grass for kangaroos, hence its common name. It became well known by the early settlers with reports of its growth being so vigorous that the stems "could be tied over the horses' saddles". According to Nancy T. Burbidge in Australian Grasses (revised edition, 1984) "this claim is more likely to have been based on enthusiasm, poetic licence, or short horses, than on strict truth."

It is a tufted perennial growing to about one metre high when flowering and usually has bluish-green new growth with some purple and red tones, brownish at maturity. The leaves occur at the base and have a blade to about 30cm long and 5 mm wide and are keeled near the base. The flowerheads have compound clusters of spikelets enclosed by spathes. The spikelets can be bisexual, male or sterile. The fertile flowers in the spikelets have a fine twisted awn about 5 cm long. When ripe, the fertile spikelets separate from the hard outer glumes to form a sharp-pointed barb tipped with stiff hairs. This helps with dispersal on the bodies of animals (or on clothing) and also with the penetration of hard ground.

T. triandra is becoming a popular feature plant and looks especially good in a grassland garden or in a rockery. It is a good plant to try in our erratic climate. Take a close look next time you are near Section 175 (and other places in the Gardens, eg Section 240) and keep watching it through the seasons.

Themeda is a genus of 18 species mainly from the Old World Tropics; there are 5 species in Australia, 3 of these native.


Growing Australian Plants

Banksia spinulosa

Family : Proteaceae

Anne Phillips , Member of Growing Friends

Banksia :    named after Joseph Banks, who travelled with Captain Cook
                 to Australia in 1770.

spinulosa:   from the Latin word spinula, a very small spine, thorn or
                 prickle (applies to the leaf margins of Banksia spinulosa) .

Banksia spinulosa is a round shrub to 1.5 metres high, with toothed, linear leaves.   Orange/yellow flower spikes, usually with dark prominent styles, occur in autumn and winter.

Banksia spinulosa

                                        Photo by Murray Fagg

Propagation from seed has good results, though seed is short-lived once extracted from the cone, and seedlings are moderately slow growing.

It's natural distribution is in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. It is resistant to salt spray and hardy in most well drained soils. It also attracts birds.

A good specimen can be seen near the bottom depot in Section 126. Another old specimen is located at the top of the Gardens above the Rainforest Gully in Section 56. (For assistance with directions to these locations ask the helpful staff at the Visitor Centre).

Banksia spinulosa will be available at the Growing Friends spring plant sale in November.

What's in a Name?

Bernard Fennessy , Volunteer Guide

In the Australian National Botanic Gardens there is a planting of Grevillea wilsonii in Section 27 at marker No 37 on the Main Path. It is growing under a spreading Cabbage Gum Eucalyptus amplifolia, which is downhill from the Main Path opposite a long, spreading specimen of Grevillea 'Poorinda Peter'. A garden seat is nearby.

G. wilsonii is a small, low spreading shrub with prickly, bipinnately lobed leaves.

In spring it has a brilliant floral display of erect clusters of red flowers. Its natural distribution is in the south-west of Western Australia. It occurs in the Darling Ranges where it grows in sandy gravelly soils.

This species was named by Allan Cunningham, botanist-explorer, to honour his friend and fellow explorer Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson (1792 - 1843). The latter was born in Braidwood, Lanarkshire, in Scotland.   He became a surgeon in the navy in 1815 and later served as surgeon-superintendent on several convict transports bound for
New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land.

Grevillea wilsonii
Photo by Murray Fagg

He made nine voyages in this role.  He had great success in preserving the lives of convicts under his care; he insisted on cleanliness and a daily issue of lime juice and wine. Prior to the appointment of surgeon-superintendents who were given absolute authority and responsibility for the welfare of convicts on the transports, almost half of the convicts who left England on the Second Fleet did not survive the voyage or the first week of their arrival in Sydney Cove, so great were their privations.

In 1829 Wilson commenced exploration work in the southwest of Western Australia, particularly in the region of King George Sound. He named the Denmark River after one of his naval surgical colleagues, Alexander Denmark.

Wilson was a keen botanist and brought seeds and plants, including Grevillea wilsonii, to the botanist Allan Cunningham. Wilson is credited with bringing to Hobart Town in 1831 the first hive of bees to survive in Australia. In 1835 he published a narrative of his voyages and included in it a description of Grevillea wilsonii by Cunningham.

Wilson was given a grant of land in Tasmania in 1822 but later transferred this to New South Wales. Part of the land granted to him there was called Braidwood and became the site for a township.

Wilson brought his wife, daughter and son to New South Wales in 1836, on his eighth voyage to Australia. They settled at Braidwood and Wilson became noted for the management of his farm and for his efficiency as a magistrate. He took a leading role in the affairs of the district. His wife died in 1838. During the depression of the early 1840's his health declined. He became bankrupt in 1843 and died that year; he is buried on a hilltop overlooking the town of Braidwood.


The Western Mallee (Section 100)

Anne Phillips, Member of Growing Friends

I'd like to draw your attention to a fascinating little pocket of the Gardens situated above the nursery. Section 100 was established for the express purpose of holding mallee eucalypts from the arid areas of Australia, that were previously sited along the edge of the Eucalypt lawn where they received too much irrigation, with undesirable consequences.

Creating this garden began in about 1990, first by excavating a lawn area and preparing a drainage system three metres deep. The area comprises washed coarse and fine river sand. A couple of years later the retaining wall was built to contain soil run-off, and this section consists of crushed granite and eucalyptus mulch, fine sand and lime, a bit of humus and zeolite to hold nutrients. Several truckloads of red soil from Roto near Griffith, NSW, were mixed with this.

At this time the ANBG was moving away from the use of chemicals to control insects, and this field being of interest to Greg Flowers, horticulturalist at the Gardens since 1987, he embarked on a study of biological control, selecting three Eucalyptus ligulata in Section 100 for the trials. In the early stages these plants were prone to a fierce infestation of scale, Eriococcus tepperi (identified by the Zoology Department of the ANU). Now, with a healthier microclimate, this is rare. The reading of this study into the insect ecosystem is indeed interesting, but I won't go into detail here.

The approach to Section 100 is up the tar road beside the nursery. On your left are a variety of mallee eucalypts, but on the right your wonderful discovery tour begins. You'll see lots of Eremophila species, but what caught my eye was Eucalyptus eremophila (eremophila meaning 'desert loving'), the Sand Mallee. It has the most unusual paw-like stems, about three centimetres long, flattened with a zigzag tip, where the pendulous buds form. This species is from south-west Western Australia.

A huge Melaleuca decora stands sentinel over the horseshoe-shaped sleeper path.

Late one afternoon in May, I saw Eastern Spinebills feeding on the nectar from a few remaining flowers of the rare and endangered Eucalyptus crucis subsp. crucis, the Southern Cross Mallee. The bark is most interesting with its curling strips revealing smooth coppery-red underbark (this type known as minniritchi bark). It is a small, sprawling mallee, again from south-west W.A, found always on, or around, granite rocks.

Eucalyptus crucis
subsp. cruci

                                         Photo by D Grieg

Leptosema daviesioides
Photo by M Crisp

Round the corner of the path you'll find the Upside-down Pea Bush, Leptosema daviesioides (similar to the genus Daviesia).

It's low to the ground and the orange/red flowers form a crown around the base of the plant while the foliage sprouts out over the top.

Nearby, on the gully side, is Grevillea centristigma covered in yellow/orange flowers set amongst soft hairy leaves.

Expected to be flowering at time of publication of this newsletter (Alex George's Banksia Book says June to January) is Banksia coccinea, Scarlet Banksia, though it can be reluctant to flower in cultivation.  The flower head is round and squat, with the flowers actually grey, contrasted by the scarlet styles. Robert Brown in 1801 collected the first specimen from King George Sound, W.A.

Banksia coccinea
Photo by D Grieg

Close by, another striking plant, Hakea victoria, Royal Hakea, looks like it belongs in the sea or the veggie patch. Its distinctive feature is its leaves - fiery red/orange near the stems changing to green with orange veins towards the outer edge. New growth is yellow to green with yellow veins. Dazzling when the sun strikes the plant and the leaves really do resemble flames. It's the best specimen of its kind around these parts, though there is another good one at Burrendong Arboretum near Wellington, N.S.W.

There's always more to discover at other times of the year, so keep visiting Section 100.

Illawarra Grevillea Park

Brian Buckley, Volunteer Guide

Bulli Pass at first seems like all the other roads along the east coast that lead from the tablelands to the seaside. It is, however, less bendy and a lot steeper than many, with a spectacular 1:6 gradient. Another difference is a lovely garden set into the hillside almost hidden from view behind the Bulli Bowling Club and the Showground.

The garden, Illawarra Grevillea Park, otherwise known as Slacky Flat Park, was the site chosen for a visit by a group of Friends on Saturday, 3 May. The park is staffed entirely by volunteers and only opens its gates to the public six times a year. The small number of volunteers has managed to minimise the formalities and devote their time almost exclusively to maintaining the park. They receive assistance from the Bulli township, local businesses make donations in kind and the Grevillea Study Group of the Australian Plant Society provides generous assistance.

The main gates open onto a courtyard where volunteers had plants for sale. Some of our group made purchases while others thought that Canberra might be too cold for these varieties.

Ray Brown made the group welcome and described the ten-year history of the park and gave a quick rundown of how the plants are maintained. A map was provided and we set off on our journey of discovery.

Photo by B Buckley                            

The first part of the gardens is an area on a slope leading up to a knoll where an historic chapel has been rescued from a dismal fate and now serves as a tea and coffee shop, bookstall and picture gallery. There are no large trees on this slope and the zigzag path is lined with plants soaking up the sunshine. As the name of the park implies the main plants in this area are Grevilleas.

The large size of the flowers and their range of colours - yellow, orange, red and even mauve - brought plenty of cries of delight from the group. The only disappointment here was the absence of labels. The best you could do was take a mental picture of one or two species and look at the picture gallery in the chapel and attempt to make a match.

From a picnic area the path led into the rainforest plantings. Here the humidity was palpable, supported by recent rains, an irrigation system and the nearby sea. This area is cultivated and features well-made paths leading through fern laden banks. The tall trees form a nice canopy and the dappled sunlight drifting through makes a pleasant scene. This is, however, only a preview of the delights that await those who are able to venture to the next stage.

Through the back gate of the park the trail leads to a gully running into the hillside under Bulli Pass. Here lies a real rainforest. The only improvements made are a path and narrow gates designed to stop anything but people getting through.

The path makes a loop through the forest and is named the Vine Forest Walk. Unfortunately the path is dirt, rough, twisty and at times quite steep. It crosses Slacky Creek twice and the walker has to step from rock to rock. Not everyone in the group could manage this part of the park. For those that could, the tall palms, cedars, various fungi and, of course, the vines all combined to make this a sensational part of the day.

Grevillea Park occupies 40 acres and there was no difficulty filling in the three and a half hours we had there.

On the trip back home we travelled from the coast across to the Hume Highway via Appin. In one part the road was lined by hundreds of Doryanthes excelsa. This will be quite a spectacle when they are in flower. I look forward to hearing a report, or seeing pictures, from the next group to travel down that way.

Friends Briefs

Friends Twilight Dinner

A very welcome calm and pleasant autumn evening at Hudsons in the Gardens ensured the success of this event for the 65 Friends and guests who attended on 6 March. Chatter flowed freely as long-standing and new friends enjoyed the ambience of good food and wine from Hudsons. Our Friends President, Andrew Walker, welcomed all present and drew the lucky door prizes. Generous support was provided by the ANBG, the Botanical Bookshop, Hudsons Catering, the Summer Concerts Wine Table, and the Growing Friends. Given the success of this evening, it is planned to have a Friends' dinner on a more regular basis.

Volunteer of the Year

Congratulations to one of our more active Friends, Rosemary Blemings, for winning the Volunteer of the Year award, in the environment category, largely for her conservation work in the A.C.T.

Growing Friends Plant Sale

The plant sale held by the Growing Friends in April was an outstanding success. The date of the next sale has been tentatively set for November.

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Compiled July, 2003 by Shirley McKeown   -  email : wombats1@tpg.com.au