Monthly Archives: November 2008

More Flowers

As I mentioned earlier, there are thousands of species of wildflower in the Southwest corner of Australia—glorious flowers, everywhere. However, the photos I’ve shown so far have focused on specific flowers in isolation, so it’s hard to really get an idea of the wild abundance that decorates and sometimes even blankets this region. I’m not sure I can really get that across in an image, but I’m hoping these shots help. The photo on the left is simply intended to illustrate the way the flowers often grow in great, overlapping masses of vivid color. On the right, we have a burst of white clematis, which hangs in festoons from branches and climbs tree trunks and shrubs throughout the Karri forest. So there really are flowers just about everywhere.

Colorful Wildflowers

Colorful Wildflowers

White Clematis

White Clematis

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Gloucester Tree

A fire lookout station perched among the branches 200 feet in the air is said to make the Gloucester Tree the highest fire lookout tree in the world. Having never before encountered a fire lookout tree, I had no reason to doubt this claim. Of course, I’d rather imagine that such fire lookout trees (at least ones that could contend for title of “highest”) would be limited to the handful of places in the world that have forests with spectacularly tall trees. But the southwest corner of Australia is one of the places that is home to giants—the massive Karri trees, which rival North America’s redwoods, attaining heights of 250 to 285 feet. Like most trees in Australia, Karris are eucalypts.

To create access to the fire station high in the branches of the Gloucester Tree, pegs were hammered into the trunk in a spiral pattern, creating an airy stairway. I was fascinated to see how the tree had reacted to the pegs, with bark growing outward in an effort to protect the tree from the invader.

In a few places, steel pegs have replaced wooden pegs, when the wooden pegs rotted or broke off. But most of the original wooden pegs—dating to the 1940s—are still in place.

A couple of climbers were descending the peg stairway when we arrived. The two young men told us that the tightness of the spiral combined with the swaying of the tree made it a tough, scary climb. I decided to take their word for it.

Pegs in Gloucester Tree

Pegs in Gloucester Tree

Climbers descend Gloucester Tree

Climbers descend Gloucester Tree

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What’s in a Name

The names of plants, both scientific and popular, always convey information, but not consistent information. Some names tell us who discovered a plant. Some are based on words used by earlier or indigenous people to identify the plant. Other names offer descriptions—what the plant looks like, who or what eats or interacts with it, what it smells like, what effect it has on the consumer.

Sometimes, it’s obvious which of these is in play. For example, no one doubts that the stinking carrion flower is named for its scent. Discoverer’s names—as in Banksias or Sturt’s desert pea—are also often clear. But there are a few names that are tremendously misleading, as with the potato. The word potato evolved from the word batatas, which is the Arawak (Taino dialect) word for the sweet potato, which is completely unrelated to the potato. However, though the potato inherited a name that belonged originally to the sweet potato, the scientific Latin name for the sweet potato is Ipomoea batatas, reflecting the sweet potato’s true heritage.

Among the glorious spring wildflowers we were enjoying, the nomenclature seemed almost equally divided between what flowers look like and who found them, though there were a few (such as the trigger plant) named for their actions. Fringed lilies and enamel orchids both looked precisely like what their names implied. At a small shop we visited, I actually found a packet of seeds for the delightful fringed lilies, and was excited to think I might be able to grow them at home. But when I did, finally, return home, I found that these, along with other seeds I’d purchased, were very Australian in nature—that is, they were what I came to call “disaster germinated.” It was not hard to provide “floods” for some of the seeds, but the fringed lilies required forest fires, which are hard to manage in an apartment. (The packet suggested heaping leaves or shredded newspapers on the ground, above where the lily seeds were planted, and then torching the whole lot. Not readily reproducible in a window box.) So while I managed to grow some Aussie flowers, fringed lilies were not among them. But at least I had the photos.

Purple Fringed Lily

Purple Fringed Lily

Purple Enamel Orchid

Purple Enamel Orchid

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