And they’re off

Acacia iteaphylla

Acacia iteaphylla

The recent bout of cold weather and rain has seemed to kick start life in the district.

The first off for the acacias is the Flinders Range Wattle (Acacia iteaphylla), a foreigner to these parts but beautiful none the less.

And for the fungi, appearing at the same time and in the same place as last year is the Spectacular Rustgill (Gymnopilus junonius).

Let the games begin

Gymnopilus junonius

Gymnopilus junonius

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They’re back

… is a famous line from the movie Poltergeist II, in which a young girl answering her toy phone in the middle of the night declares the evil spirits have returned. Then the action really gets spooky. Yesterday, the line represented something completely different.

Clover Glycine

Clover Glycine

Last year we discovered to our complete surprise two populations of Clover Glycine (Glycine latrobeana) flowering on our property. Surprise, because the plant is listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. According to the Victoria Biodiversity Atlas, ours is the first record of this plant in the Murrindindi Shire and one of only ten sightings in the Goulburn–Broken Catchment. We fenced off the area surrounding the plants with chook wire, and because of work commitments we missed the opportunity to collect the seed.

For the last 12 months there has been an anxious wait to see if the plants would flower again. Yesterday a yell of ‘They’re back’ echoed around the hills. The Clover Glycine on one of the northern slopes is in full flower, and the plants on a more shaded eastern slope are healthy but not flowering yet.

The next task is going to be trying to collect the seed. I plan to sleep outdoors just so I don’t miss the event (shades of queueing for KISS tickets a long, long time ago!).

Fairy-ring

faery ring-001I recently was sent this photo from Shaunna and Chris in the Strath Creek valley and even though it is a couple of months old it is worth sharing. If you look carefully there is a large circular arrangement of mushrooms in the middle of their paddock.

Mushrooms are the fruit of a fungus (analogous to an apple and an apple tree). When the mushroom disappears the fungus is still growing, in this case underground, as a network of mycelia.

A single fungus grows from a single point. In areas where there is no interruption by rocks or plants, the mycelia will grow out from the centre in a radial pattern and in fruiting season, the mushrooms will develop at the outer edge of the mycelia, hence forming the classic ‘fairy-ring’.

Where did you pop up from?

For the past decade I have been scouring our block looking for new things to find. I think I’ve found most of the ‘big things’, so then I look for smaller and smaller things—hence recent blogs on tiny springtails and fungi.

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Ploughshare Wattle (Acacia gunnii)

Sometimes though, nature throws up a surprise. Last week I found not one but four Ploughshare Wattles (Acacia gunnii) all huddled close together. This wattle is known in the district though is not very common. The plants were in a location that I often walk past and if they had not been flowering I would not have noticed them.

Up on the roadside another not so common wattle is also now conspicuous by its flowering. Snake Wattle (Acacia aculeatissima) is a prostrate form of wattle. Before this year, I had only known of one plant in the roadside reserve. So far this year I have located six of them.

Snake Wattle (Acacia aculeatissima)

Snake Wattle (Acacia aculeatissima)

Up on our hill, both plants are prostrate bushes that seldom get higher than half a metre. They both fix nitrogen in the soil. Given the lack of soil on our property, there must be a whole lot of nitrogen looking around for a place to live.

Spewin’

DSCN8727Walking down our driveway I observed something on the ground that looked like it had been left by a wallaby after a big night out (see picture left). After flicking through the books, I decided it looks like a slime mould.

Slime moulds fit into neither flora nor fungi categories. They have characteristics of both animals and fungi and exist as single-celled DSCN9301organisms that feed on other microorganisms living in dead plant material and fungi. However in times of stress, if the food supply is scarce or if the temperature is unsuitable, slime mould organisms cluster together to form a larger, visible ‘blob’. This mass can then move towards light or hunt for food. Slime moulds reproduce by producing spores. When mature, the spores are dispersed and new ‘amoebae’ are formed.

Along our road recently I noticed this orange slime mould (pictured right).

I have a great idea to use these to produce a B-grade horror movie. It will obviously have to be done in Technicolor. (Yawn.)

Kissy stuff

DSCN9083Not much is flowering at the moment. Some of the purple Fabaceae are starting to make their move (Common Hovea, Austral Indigo, Native Sarsparella) and on our hill the Drooping Mistletoe (Amyema pendulais) is looking stunning (see picture left).

Mistletoe is the common name applied to a group of parasitic plants that attach themselves to trees and shrubs. Mistletoes are often seen in the bush hanging in large clumps (of a different colour green) from eucalypt trees. The plant is native to Australia, non-poisonous to humans and an important food source and nesting site for birds.

The roots of the mistletoe are adapted to tapping into the host plant to obtain water and minerals. Given that the mistletoe derives some of its own sustenance through photosynthesis, it is regarded as only partially parasitic, or DSCN9196‘hemiparasitic’. Sometimes the mistletoe root system totally takes over the water and mineral supplies of the host plant, resulting in that part of the plant beyond the mistletoe dying (see photo right).

Birds such as the Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), discussed previously, are important for the plant’s propagation. Such birds eat the mistletoe berries and quickly digest the fruit, then pass the seed out the other end. The seed has a sticky coating that adheres to plants when it has gone through the bird’s gut. It germinates within a few days and the roots begin to penetrate the host plant.

In Europe the mistletoe is a symbol of fertility – because often in winter it is the only leaved plant in a deciduous forest. The tradition is that kissing under such a plant transfers that fertility to the kissees. It is lucky we don’t follow that tradition around here. With so much mistletoe around I’d never get any work done.