Tag Archives: wildflowers

September 9, Part 2

The weather was beautiful, the sky was clear, and it was, again, a lovely drive. Galahs, eagles, corellas, crows, ruins, flowering gum trees, mistletoe, sheep, horses, an ostrich farm. Always something to see.

Arriving in Quorn, we spent some time admiring the handsome, antique steam train that would take us on our tour. There is something evocative about its appearance and even more so about the sounds—the hiss of the steam brakes, the chuff, chuff, chuff of the engine. This is an important train-preservation location, so most of the people here are real enthusiasts—and those running the operations, from engineers to conductors to ticket sellers, are all volunteers.

The train was full, so they put us in the guard’s van, the car in which guards and break men traveled, in order to have a good view of any problems that might occur on the train. The open half-doors on both sides actually gave us a better view than the windows in the passenger cars.

And we were off on a brilliant one-hour ride to Woolshed Flat that took us through fields of wildflowers and among rolling hills.

The conductor said that, if I’d seen the movie Gallipoli (I have), I might recognize some of the countryside. I already knew from my last trip that Quorn, especially its train station, had appeared in Gallipoli, as well as numerous other Australian films, but learned that Pichi Richi Pass and parts of the Flinders Ranges also appeared in the movie.

We stopped in Woolshed Flat for tea and scones, then reboarded the train for the return trip to Quorn. (Different seats this time, so different view from and of the train.)

And then it was time to head for home. However, Richard took us by back roads, rather than the highway—more inland, and more scenic. Saw a few new places and some familiar from previous trips, and loved it all. Wilmington, Melrose (still lovely and charming, with old, well-kept buildings and massive river red gums), Murray Town, Wirrabara, Stone Hut, Laura (boyhood home of C.J. Dennis), and Gladstone—the point at which, at the beginning of our trip, we had turned toward Port Pirie. Charming old railway town, with wonderful Victorian hotels and train station. Through Georgetown, not stopping this time, retracing the beginning of our little trip.

We enjoyed an amazing moonrise—full moon hanging, huge and yellow, on the horizon.

Into Clare just before 7:00 p.m. We stopped for dinner at Bentley’s Bistro, in the wonderful, old, 1865 Bentley Hotel. Enjoyed our meal, but didn’t linger, as we still were an hour and a half away from the Barossa Valley.

Pulled into Richard and Nikki’s driveway after 9:00 and quickly unpacked the ute. Then we relaxed for a while, chatting, and looking at books about Australia, until we could stay awake no longer.

2 Comments

Filed under Australia, Geography, History, Nature, Travel

Underground Orchid

It kind of sounds like the name of a rock band–underground orchid–but it is, in fact, a real plant. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know that while I was in Western Australia, I visited the town of Babakin, which is located in the modest range of this rare flower. Rhizanthella gardneri is its scientific name, and, as its common name suggests, this orchid lives underground.

For a long time, if one saw an underground orchid, it was by accident. Then, once people figured out that these orchids grew among the roots of a specific plant (broom bush), they could be searched for with some hope of finding them. However, scientists have now found that they can locate the orchids using radioactive isotopes–which in turn led to the discovery that these odd little orchids are even rarer than original imagined–only about 50 known plants left in the wild. (When I was in WA, I only saw photographs, as these orchids are too rare to dig them up for the amusement of tourists.)

I imagine you’d like to see an underground orchid, so I’ll send you to a site with a photo (and more info), as I don’t like “borrowing” photos that are not my own or given to me by their owners. The tiny, white flower is remarkably pretty, so while I hope you’ll come back here to explore further, I do also hope you’ll go check the photo.

Western Australia’s Underground Orchied, at Science Daily.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, Nature, Travel

Featherflowers and Grevilleas

Though I have photos of hundreds of flowers from the botany tour, I’m going to spare you from having to see them all. (Though I do hope you get to see them all in person someday.) But I thought I’d show you a couple more before moving on, out of the splendid wildflower fields of the southwest corner.

Among of the most stunning of the flowers we saw were the Verticordias, also known as featherflowers. It’s not hard to see how they got their common name, when you look at their delicately feathered blossoms (see the photo on the left, below). These flowers, which come in a wide range of colors, grow in luxuriant masses, like large, dense bouquets. They are a delight to the eye from a distance, but they are better appreciated up close, where you can see the feathery structure of the small blossoms.

The bright, red Grevillea on the right is just one of more than 300 species (some estimates top 360 species) of this flower. Though wild specimens are abundant, Grevilleas are widely cultivated, as well. Aside from being visually appealing, their abundant nectar attracts members of the large and diverse group of birds known as honeyeaters. (The nectar is so abundant, in fact, that some species of Grevilleas were traditionally gathered by Aborigines as a sweet treat.)

Grevilleas exist primarily in Australia, but can also be found in Papua New Guinea and a few other islands to Australia’s north. The plants occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and the flowers come in numerous colors: red, pink, orange, gold, white—and probably others I didn’t see. Grevilleas were named for Charles Francis Greville, who in 1804 helped found the Royal Horticultural Society.

Featherflower (Verticordia)

Featherflower (Verticordia)

Grevillea

Grevillea

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, History, Nature, Travel

The Stirling Range

On the move again, we headed northeast from Albany, bound for the Stirling Range. These low, rolling mountains are the location of flowers that are astonishing even for this astonishing corner of Australia. Here, there are flowers that grow nowhere else—some of which, in fact, won’t grow anywhere else. One species, the Darwinias, or Stirling bells, are so specialized that each variety of the species has its own specific mountain in the Stirlings.

But it is not just the rarity of the flowers that is remarkable—it is the abundance. The flowers spread in unbroken blankets for miles around us, on all sides. In places, they were waist deep, and in others, they actually reached overhead. The scarlet Banksias (see the Oct. 22, 2008 post for more on Banksias, including a photo of the scarlet Banksias) were present in stunning numbers—miles and miles of them. Color undulated in waves across the landscape, breaking at the foot of the dark mountains. It was intoxicating.

All the flowers delighted me, but the one I thought I’d share with you today is the smokebush. The puffs and clusters of smokebush shimmered amid the dense, dark foliage surrounding me. The smokebush I was admiring was the Conospermum distichum variety, which grows to about three feet in height and has fuzzy, blue-gray flowers that don’t look much like flowers.

Smokebush

Smokebush

1 Comment

Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, Nature, Travel

Happy 2009

Well, it has been a busy couple of months. I spent a couple of weeks in Japan over Thanksgiving and into December. Then I headed off to mom’s for Christmas for a week. But now I’m home, so I can get back to serious blogging, and posts will be more regular again.

The wildflower tour had stopped for a few days in Albany, Western Australia, where we enjoyed history as much as botany. But we had not left the flowers behind. This entire corner of Australia is blanketed in wildflowers in the spring, so no matter where we went, we were still accompanied by the beauty of the myriad and often-unique botanical offerings of this corner of the country.

Many of the flowers that we saw originated, and often only grow, in this corner of Western Australia (that became a recurring theme, actually—not just flowers unique to Australia, or even unique to Western Australia, but flowers unique to tiny, specific areas within this southwest corner). Among the local delights we encountered was Boronia, shown below. It is actually a small evergreen shrub, with needle-like leaves. Not only is Boronia attractive, it is wonderfully fragrant—actually a flower from which perfume is made. It has been successfully grown in gardens in other parts of Australia, and even outside Australia where climates are mild enough, but this is where it got its start.

Boronia

Boronia

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Book, Nature, Travel

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

2 Comments

Filed under Australia, Nature, Travel

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, History, Nature, Science, Travel

Joseph Banks and Banksia

I had read about Banksias, seen pictures of tiny marsupials lapping nectar from Banksias, but it was on the wildflower tour that I first came in contact with this odd, fascinating, iconic Aussie flower in the wild. There are 76 species of Banksia, all but one of which are indigenous to Australia—and most of those species (60 of the 76) are found in the corner of Western Australia through which I was traveling.

Banksias are wonderful plants with tough, spiny evergreen leaves and pillar-like flower spikes that are made up of hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of tiny flowers grouped together in pairs. The flowers’ colors range from yellow to red, but include rust, brown, orange, gold, and even purply gray.

The genus Banksia was named for botanist Joseph Banks, the first European to collect specimens of the plants. That was in 1770, and Banks was one of the scientists traveling with Captain James Cook on the voyage that first charted Australia’s east coast.

Banks was only 25 when he set off with Captain Cook on what would be one of the most important voyages of discovery in history, a voyage that would last from 1768 into 1771. However, he was already an experienced and respected scientist, and this was not his first voyage.

Banks was wealthy, and he poured a great deal of his personal fortune into outfitting Cook’s voyage. He also rounded up a formidable group of scientists and artists to help him with the task of keeping track of everything. While the primary purpose of the voyage was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun (James Cook having been selected for the mission because of his skill in astronomy), it was the voyage’s secondary purpose that motivated Banks’s participation. They were to explore everything they could in the South Pacific, and record everything they learned about the plants and animals.

Banks excelled at this task. Even while under sail, he was busy recording everything he saw: birds, fish, porpoises, and even seaweed hauled onto the ship. Everywhere the ship made landfall—South America, Tahiti, New Zealand—Banks would write about the birds and animals and collect every plant species he could possibly get on the ship, while others drew or painted his discoveries. But it was in Australia that Banks would make some of his most famous discoveries. Nowhere else had they seen so many unfamiliar plants.

The ship pulled into a bay on the coast of what is now New South Wales, and Banks and the other scientists traveling with him went ashore. In a relatively short amount of time, they had collected such huge numbers of specimens of plants never seen before by Europeans that Captain Cook decided to call the spot Botany Bay. In eight days, they amassed one of the greatest collections of plants ever made.

When they at long last returned to England, the extent of Banks’s research and collecting was so great that his fame almost overshadowed Cook’s for a while—though only in scientific circles, not in naval ones.

Banks would not have the opportunity for another adventure of such magnitude, but his life remained remarkable—and his influence was wide ranging and rather surprising. He was a friend of both King George III and Benjamin Franklin. His belief that the breadfruit he’d seen in Tahiti could provide a good, cheap source of nutrition led to his backing the ill-fated voyage of the H.M.S. Bounty, known almost solely for its mutiny. (A second voyage, also championed by Banks, was successful in collecting breadfruit and establishing it in the Caribbean.)

Banks was one of the eight founders of the Royal Horticultural Society. He built up the royal pleasure grounds at Kew into to one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens. And he played a key role in recommending and establishing Australia as a prison colony (which may sound unkind, but compared to the horrific conditions of prisons of the day, was actually viewed as an improvement, and an opportunity for people to start over.)

Sir Joseph Banks died in 1820, leaving his library and huge collections of specimens, engravings, drawings, botanical paintings, and manuscripts to London’s Natural History Museum, where many of them may still be viewed today.

Scarlet Banksia

Scarlet Banksia

Banksia grandis

Banksia grandis

2 Comments

Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, History, Nature, Science, Travel

Chasing Flowers

After New Norcia, we headed for Perth, arriving in the early evening. We had a brief reintroduction to coping with civilization, but then I was off again. Saying farewell to Jo and Nikki was hard, but I had booked a wildflower tour for early the next morning.

So next day, I was with a completely new group, plunging off into the wilderness once again, but this time, into a gentler, greener wilderness. The southwest of Western Australia is considered to have one of the most dazzling spring floral displays in the world, with approximately 8,000 species of wildflower running riot over the landscape. And I was soon in the midst of this floral wonderland. Flowers were not the only thing we would see, but we saw them in astonishing variety and almost overwhelming profusion. It was glorious.

Within a few hours of leaving Perth, we were surrounded by fields, forests, and wildflowers. It was time for our first photo stop. Fortunately, in addition to having a botanist traveling with us, many of those in my group were very knowledgeable, and whoever was closest to me eagerly pointed out anything they discovered that they thought I might miss.

We photographed dozens of flowers at that first stop, but I’ll offer just two today. The yellow cowslip orchid and the coral vine.

Yellow Cowslip Orchid

Yellow Cowslip Orchid

Coral Vine

Coral Vine

1 Comment

Filed under Australia, Book, Nature, Travel