The background to this web page is Persoonia pinifolia
in Section 191F

Photograph by Murray Fagg

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November, 2005

A special Fathers Day event was arranged by Sarah O'Brien.
This is her description of  the extremely enjoyable event
(and her photograph of a masterpiece underway ! )

On a sparkling Fathers Day on 4 September a group of Friends manned an activity table on
the cafe lawn for families to make botanically themed Fathers Day cards. The brightly presented cards included
"Banksia Thanksia dad"  ;  "Warrior tah"  ;  "Cool fern for a cool dad" ;
"Bottle Brush crush"
  ;  "Treemendous dad"  and  "Wattle Wonder".

Children glued plant parts provided by Doreen Wilson of the Friends' craft group
and coloured-in to produce wonderful cards, carried away proudly by the dads.

The Gardens' Pot Collection
Ruffled Feathers
What's in a name ?
What to do in the Native Garden
Counting the Plants
Wattle Day
Orchids in the Gardens
A Chinese Brush in the Gardens

The Gardens' Pot Collection

Heather Sweet

ANBG Nursery Staff Member

The permanent pot collection consists of approximately 2500 plants (about 1000 species) which are housed in the top polytunnel at the new nursery. Many of these plants are from arid areas and benefit from the rain protection provided by the tunnel. Plants are repotted annually or as needed. Cuttings of plants are taken at least annually, and old plants replaced with successful propagations. Some plants (Darwinia, Eremophila, Prostanthera, Pimelea, Grevillea spp) are propagated by grafting.

Plants are placed in the permanent pot collection for a number of reasons. Some are difficult to maintain in the ground or there may be low numbers of a particular clone. These plants can be carefully tended to maintain the vigour of the propagating material. Having the stock plants nearby is an efficient way of propagating. It also enables us to select out horticulturally valuable clones.

The collections officer regularly reviews the permanent collection, and plants that have become well established in the gardens are removed.

Two of the colourful plants in the pot collection :

Ptilotus manglesii       Photo : Murray Fagg




 Actinodium cunninghamii  Photo : D Greig             

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Ruffled Feathers

Tom Green

Member of the Friends of the ANBG

Alpha males, promiscuous females, incest and betrayal - it's all happening in our ANBG!

"Lovely", "Splendid", "Superb", bird collectors exploring New Holland struggled to find enough superlatives to describe the glorious new species of Fairy-wren that they were sending back to European museums. Early illustrators drew just pairs of these birds but it soon became apparent that they lived in extended families. It became accepted wisdom that "the blue birds of happiness" lived with a harem of brown plumaged females. Even Neville Cayley in his 1940's book felt the need to defend the blue wren as "a good family man" and "nothing if not a gentleman".

Modern research, much of it conducted in the ANBG, paints a very different picture. Fairy-wrens live in a matriarchal society with one dominant female attended by one to several males. All these males assist to some extent in raising the nestlings. In settled groups only one, the 'alpha' male, develops the brilliant blue plumage that we all so much admire. The other males, so overawed by this display, retain their dull 'female' plumage even when sexually mature.

DNA tests show that a startling three-quarters of all young raised are 'illegitimate', that is they are not fathered by the hen bird's mate. No other bird studied shows this level of infidelity. What is happening?

Illustration by John Gould (1804-1881)

The males do know what is going on! ANU students have watched the displaying males in the ANBG. Ninety-six per cent of all displays were made to females other than their mate. "What's new?" I hear our married members ask. When out courting, some male birds of other species come visiting with a tempting grub. Australian grassfinches carry a long straw as evidence of their housebuilding skills. Our Fairy-wren carries a useless yellow petal stolen from the nearest bush - it does a wonderful job setting off the blueness of his costume.

Despite all this courtship the students saw very little evidence of any 'hanky-panky'. How were the female wrens getting away with it? Eventually radio transmitters small enough to be carried by a wren were developed and six fitted to females about to lay their eggs. Surprise! Well before dawn these perfidious females stretched their wings and flew like arrows to the roosts of the best looking males, sometimes crossing several other territories on the way. They were usually back home well before the sun rose.

The 'husband' and his helpers hang around to guard the nest and raise someone else's young. What do they get out of it? Sex of course. The coloured bird usually fathers at least some of the young birds in his nest. The uncoloured males are sexually mature and are occasionally favoured with a quick mating by their mother. Those youngsters in a group with a popular alpha male have a good chance of mating with a visiting female in the predawn confusion. Overall about 10% of young are fathered by these subordinte males. This is a much better result for them than for the young of most species which are expelled from their natal territory on maturity. So we see even young Fairy-wrens gain from running with the 'smart crowd'.

Pity the young females. They are pushed out to a life on the street by their selfish mothers. Only the very few that find a chance vacancy in a nearby territory have any hope of survival.

So next time you encounter a pert little brown wren in the ANBG just say "Tsk Tsk" to it and go resolutely on your way.

Acknowledgements :

This article is an embellishment of the excellent work of Prof. A. Cockburn and his students in the ANU Department of Botany and Zoology. More information at

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What's in a Name?

Bernard Fennessy

Volunteer Guide, Friends of the ANBG

Smooth-blue Snow Grass Poa fawcettiae occurs in the alpine and sub-alpine tracts of the Australian Alps and associated ranges from the Brindabella Range in the A.C.T. to the Baw Baws in Victoria, with an outlier in the Grampians, and eastern mountains of Tasmania. In the Australian National Botanic Gardens there is a specimen in the Rock Garden (Section 15QA). Poa fawcettiae is a perennial 20 - 60 cm high and leaves are bluish-green, glaucous, tightly folded and moderately stiff and sharp-pointed. Its bluish leaves distinguish it from P. costiniana. It is an important component of tall alpine herbfields, but also occurs in other communities including drier areas in sod tussock grassland.

 Poa fawcettiae          Image by C. Totterdell

Poa fawcettiae is named after Maisie Carr nee Fawcett (1912-1988), a distinguished botanist and ecologist. She was born in Melbourne and attended Melbourne High School (1925 - 1928) where the only science subjects taught to girls were mathematics and physics, until her final year when she did geology. She obtained a secondary teaching scholarship and majored in botany at Melbourne University. She joined the McCoy Society and went on several expeditions - Julia Percy Island, Banks Group and Lake Purrumbete in Victoria's Western District. For her MSc she worked on the coral fungi Clavariaceae. Her PhD studies were later interrupted by an injury leading to hospitalisation and a long convalescence. Because of her medical setback she was advised to do outdoor work rather than microscopy, and she commenced studies on the ecology of the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne.

Following the setting up of the Soil Conservation Board in Victoria, she accepted secondment to the Board as its first field officer, with the task of reporting on the state of the catchment of the Hume Reservoir. She was stationed at Omeo in eastern Victoria. Fire in 1939 had burnt over the high country causing massive soil erosion and threatening siltation of the dams proposed for the Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme, then under construction.

In Omeo she integrated into the life of the district and became interested in the farmers' soil erosion and pasture problems. She became to know the entire Hume Catchment (5374 square miles) very well, travelling over much of it on horseback. She identified signs of incipient erosion on the Bogong High Plains, caused partly by summer cattle grazing, and partly by fires lit by the cattlemen to 'control shrubs'. She was a quiet leader helping to get the cattlemen who ran their cattle on the High Plains in the summer to understand the fragility of the native vegetation and particularly of the moss beds which played an important role in the hydraulics of the catchment.

With Professor J.S. Turner of the Botany School, Melbourne University, she started long-term botanical studies of large plots of vegetation protected against cattle grazing, matched with observations in non-enclosed areas. These studies led to a series of published papers on applied ecology.

In 1955 she married Denis Carr, a plant physiologist, and over the next 30 years the pair collaborated in research on eucalypts and particularly in scanning electron microscopy of the microanatomical features of the epidermis in relation to taxonomy. They also became interested in the history of botany in Australia, co-editing two books People and Plants of Australia and Plants and Man in Australia.

Maisie Carr died in 1988 after being involved in the production of over 70 papers and five books. Because of her detailed involvement with the vegetation of the Bogong High Plains it is appropriate that an important component of the alpine vegetation, Poa fawcettiae, is named after her.

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What to do in the Native Garden

Craig Cosgrove

A.N.B.G. Horticulture Manager

November and December        January and February          March

November and December

Generally speaking most of your spring plantings should be complete by November to enable as much establishment as possible by summer, although I am sure at times it is a great temptation to continue planting into early summer. It is often hard to go past a great native plant specimen when browsing through your local nursery.

Ensure you are prepared for part of the windy season in Canberra by following some of the suggestions below.

Plant your plants in the correct location according to their needs; you can move pots into a more sheltered location out of the hot, windy weather.

Mulch garden beds and pots to reduce evaporation from the soil, preferably with renewable wood chip or leaf matter from your garden. I have found gravel mulches work well particularly in locations where wind and water actually dislodge organic mulches, even in pots. Planting ground covers will also resist wind and water erosion. Some species include : Grevillea 'Bronze Rambler', G. x gaudichaudii, G. 'Poorinda Royal Mantle', G. juniperina 'Molonglo', G australis (prostrate form), Hardenbergia violacea (climber or ground cover), Myoporum parvifolium, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, just to name a few of the more reliable species. You can even consider clumping native grass species together to achieve similar results.

You should be able to prune many of your spring flowering native plants after they have flowered. Pruning will result in more compact plants and encourage more profuse floral displays. There are a vast number of native plants that will benefit from pruning, including : Prostanthera, Crowea, Correa, Boronia, Calistemon, Melaleuca, Telopea and Grevillea species.

Evaluate your watering schedule, which will be either automatic or manual, and adjust it accordingly. It is crucial not to just water according only to your past practices, but to get down in the dirt and check if it is actually dry. If you have followed advice for mulching, planting ground covers, etc, you may find that the soil is still moist. It is obviously important to abide by current water restrictions.

If you are going away, prepare your garden for the Christmas break, ask neighbours or friends to at least keep the water up to your plants or check on the automatic system and ensure it is working. You can install temporary or permanent irrigation systems on your pots by installing irrigation controllers that operate on batteries.

Much of the above is relevant for us in the ANBG, but obviously on a much larger scale. We have many different species to maintain in various situations and microclimates, and we also have to plan for the Christmas break as it is a crucial part of the year. We mainly focus on watering, safety and emergency issues.

It is always important to keep on top of weed removal as November is on the tail end of one of the two peak growing seasons in Canberra.

January and February

The main focus during this time of the year is to keep the water up to your plants; this is also the main focus at the ANBG.

If you have time, continue with other tasks, such as pruning, weeding and pest control.

If you are considering applying wetting agents, just be aware that repeat applications may be needed over a period of time, depending on which type you are using. As a response to the drought and water restrictions there are now many different products on the market, and it is always advisable to follow the label instructions.

Start planning for autumn; consider planting requirements for your garden, as the best time to plant in Canberra is generally during autumn.


Start planting early, including trees, shrubs, grasses etc, and then plants will have up to nine months to 'settle in' prior to their first summer.

If you need to prune your native grasses, autumn would be a reasonable time to carry out this task, but be careful not to cut shorter than approximately 150 mm. Other ways include combing or burning, although I would suggest you seek advice about burning off in the A.C.T.

If you feel you need to fertilise your native plants, early autumn is generally a good time to do this. If your garden is basically self-sustaining utilising leaf litter, compost and prunings, there should be little need to apply fertilisers. Pot plants are the exception as nutrients are leached quickly due to the free-draining media.

Obviously your native plants will benefit from extra nutrients and each garden will have varying requirements dependent on numerous factors, including soil, aspect, microclimate, plant species, moisture etc.

Pots are a great way to grow some of the more difficult to cultivate native plants. Some Lechenaultia species perform well in pots, flowering from the end of winter through spring and summer. They are a good substitute for exotic annuals and bulbs as the plants will survive for a number of years. There are many other native plants that perform better in pots than in-ground situations.

There are many pests and diseases to cope with in the garden during the November to March period. It is not always necessary to control all pests as doing so could upset the balance of the beneficial organisms. As for the ANBG, there are acceptable levels of pests and disease damage to plants in your native garden. One of the most important issues with pests and disease attack to plants is to keep your plants in a healthy condition, but it is bet to avoid over-fertilising and promoting excessive growth.

Many of the pests and diseases found in a native garden and other gardens that you may be familiar with are listed below. They can affect plants in a multitude of situations there there are numerous ways of controlling or containing a large number of them :

scale, aphids, scarab grubs, lace bug, mites, caterpillars, weevils, borers, beetles, snails, slugs, earwigs, fungus, bacteria, animals, other microscopic organisms.

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Counting the Plants

Frank Zich, Jodie Umback, Bruce Clarke and Nola Sloan

The Plant Records Team, ANBG

The Gardens' living collection is a dynamic and ever-changing one and a challenge for record keepers. The ANBG Plant Records team strives to maintain an accurate and useable system and a well-labelled collection for the benefit of all Gardens users.

In August this year the Plant Records team completed the stocktake cycle after more than three years of work. Staff who participated in Stocktake 15 were Lisa Kerr, Amy Jorgensen, Dan Marges, Laura Vallee, Jodie Umback, Anne Phillips, Nola Sloan, Bruce Clarke and Frank Zich. While that sounds like a lot of people, there are usually only two people working on stocktake at any time.

Stocktake is the process whereby the plants in each section of the garden are checked for tags and labels, and database information is updated. It's a continuous cycle because after all sections have been checked and completed the process starts all over again.

With a collection of about 90,000 plants, each with its own accession number and tag, its important to keep the database as accurate as possible so we know what we have and where it is in the collection.

Stocktake has a number of stages. The first involves printing a list from the database of the plants in a section and printing a map of the section that shows the borders, paths and other features. The next stage involves working as a team of two people through the section. One person finds the tag on each plant and the other person checks off the plant on the printed list and marks the position of the plant on the map.

During this stage we check that the scientific name is still correct. Names can change as a result of taxonomic research or re-identification of herbarium specimens. However, sometimes the herbarium specimen collected from the wild may be inadequate for proper identification and a new herbarium specimen has to be collected from plants in the Gardens when they flower.

During stocktake some plants are found without tags, so the next stage is a problem-solving one to try and discover whether they were registered but have lost their tags, or whether they are self-sown seedlings and so should be removed.

Throughout the stocktake process many plants are recorded as needing new tags or labels, so next we produce new tags and labels and place them out. New tags and labels are needed for a variety of reasons - they may be lost or damaged or the plant name may have changed.

The final stage of stocktaking involves updating the database.

A range of coloured markers are used during stocktake :

  • Red tags are used to help relocate plants when some further action is required (e.g. a new tag or label is needed).

  • Yellow tape is used to help the horticulturalists locate plants that need to be removed - usually self-seeded plants.

  • Blue stakes indicate that a herbarium voucher is needed from a plant when it next flowers or fruits. You can help us by letting us know when you see marked plants in flower.

Plant records is also responsible for the larger engraved aluminium labels so that plants can be easily identified. Not every plant in the Gardens can be labelled, but we strive to ensure that each plant species or cultivar that is established can be identified by a label on it or a nearby plant of the same kind. Priority is given to plants along the main path and other prominent areas such as the Rock Garden, Sydney Basin, Rainforest Gully and Eucalypt Lawn.

What next? Stocktake cycle 16 has now started in the Eucalypt Lawn area (Sections 34 and 35).

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Wattle Day

Nola Sloan

A.N.B.G. Plant Records Team

Wattle Day is a celebration about being Australian, it's about the beginning of spring and, of course, about the wonderful genus Acacia, one of which is our National Floral Emblem Acacia pycnantha). But Wattle Day is also dear to the hearts of many Japanese people and especially the Acacia Appreciation Society of Hiroshima. It is thought that Acacias were the first plants to bloom in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II.

Each year the Acacia Appreciation Society of Hiroshima construct little bows out of yellow ribbon with stars to be sent to the ANBG as a gesture of peace and friendship between our countries. They convey the message "to wish you a happy life, with fulfilled dreams. When a wattle starts to bloom, make wish and your wish will come true."

This year one of the events to celebrate Wattle Day was a visit by Madam Emi Ueda, the wife of the Japanese Ambassador to Australia, and members of the Acacia Appreciation Society of Hiroshima, including Ikebana expert Ayako Maehara. As part of the visit there was a demonstration of flower arranging by Madam Ueda and origami and ikebana by Ayako Amaeharri.

Members of the Plant Records team at the ANBG eagerly collected an assortment of flowering plants for the ikebana demonstrations. There were many plants to choose from and the Japanese were particularly interested in specimens of Hardenbergia violacea, Phebalium coxii, Isopogon cueatus and a Hovea sp.

Participation was encouraged at the demonstrations with expert tuition for those brave enough to get up and have a go. Rod Atkins from Public Programs was one such person and the only man with the guts to try ikebana. While his arrangement was excellent, it required a balancing touch from Ms Maehara, which provided a giggle from the crowd.

It was great for staff and friends of the ANBG to finally understand why the Acacia Appreciation Society of Hiroshima has for years sent hundreds of the little yellow bows, and to meet some of those people responsible.

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Orchids in the Gardens

Barbara Corsini

A.N.B.G. Staff Member

Located in the glasshouses next to the Sydney Basin area is a large collection of orchids. They are a research collection used for classification. A large number of the orchids are Australian species, but to be completely thorough in the research it is necessary to include species from overseas.

With this collection, this usually means orchids from the Gondwana continents. Orchids originally determined as the same species, though perhaps one coming from PNG and the other from the tip of Cape York Peninsula, can be compared.

Our researchers tend to be 'splitters' rather than 'lumpers', and this is often frustrating to people trying to keep up with the Latin names. Recently an entire genus, Dendrobium, had its name changed and was also split up into several genera.

The public can view some of these orchids in our cool/temperate corridor in October when the back of the Display Glasshouse is opened up to show off large flowering specimens of Thelychiton speciosus (syn. Dendrobium speciosum). Flowering orchids from the collection are displayed all year round in the Display Glass house and special tours can be arranged for the other glasshouses with varying climates of monsoon/dry tropics, montane/intermediate, tropical lowlands/wet tropics, and mountain mist/cloud forest.

Dendrobium phalaenopsis
the Cooktown Orchid,
floral emblem of Queensland.

Photo : Murray Fagg

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A Chinese Brush in the Gardens

Janet Twigg-Patterson

Member of the Friends of the ANBG

The Australian National Botanic Gardens is a very inspiring place for many, including artists, poets, writers, musicians, thinkers and walkers. In this case I shall focus on the art of the Chinese Brush, a technique which has a philosophy of thousands of years inspired by nature and the environment; it has a special technique simply referred to as "The Way of the Brush".

Chinese painting is often not fully appreciated by the 'West'. Viewers often believe that the technique is very linear, very simple and has not much depth, and is therefore very easy to do. The brush technique is learnt through a technique of very few brush strokes. This could be equated to learning the alphabet before you write a poem or learning the notes on a piano before being able to play.

In this form of painting there is no drawing, no outline and no scope for mistakes to complete the painting. This style of painting is called "Mo Ku" style or "boneless method". The reader might ask how could a painting be if this is the case. To learn and understand this style of Chinese painting one must study, absorb, contemplate observe, appreciate and understand nature from the clouds in the sky to the smallest beetle in the universe. When nature is observed then painting comes through the universe, the mind, the body, and the brush and on to the paper.

Why am I writing about Chinese painting in relation to the Australian National Botanic Gardens? The Chinese Brush technique, even though thousands of years old, is very adaptable and can be very modern in its application. As an artist in this technique I thoroughly enjoy painting scenes, native plants and animals. The Gardens have so much to offer in colour, line and texture. I can see the brush strokes as I observe the flowers, bark of the trees, the leaves, the rocks and the grasses. I can see as I stroll around the paths, the brush strokes and the colours.


Sometimes three colours on my brush at one time brushed onto the paper produce the shape and the tones of the leaves and flowers of the waratah, some wattle, a paper bark, a black duck, some water and rocks. Above and on the branches are the wonderful birds I see, with the soft textures of the feathers as the birds preen their feathers after a ruffled bath in the stream. I see in all these experiences the brush strokes I need to complete the painting.

I could go on and on in describing the wonderful variety of subjects in the Gardens and the way in which I would use the brush. I hope I have provoked curiosity and a desire to know and see more on this subject.

Next year I will be giving an illustrated talk at the Gardens for all to learn about the Chinese Brush in the ANBG.



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