23 June 2009

Astrotricha latifolia (Broad leafed Star hair)

The name Astrotricha comes from Astro meaning star and tricha meaning hair - from the dense woolly star-shaped hairs covering the stems and underside of the leaves of this plant.

You can clearly see the dense mass of white hairs covering the leaf stalks, stems and branches of the shrub. The new leaf shoots and tiny new leaves are also covered in hairs.

Notice the long leaf stalks, (often as long as the leaf is wide). The length of the stalks is one of the major differences between A. latifolia and its close relative A. floccosa (Woolly Star-hair). This is a useful aid in identification when the shrubs are not in flower as there are many similarities between the shrubs.

Astrotricha latifolia is a mid to large shrub, 1 to 3 metres high, with lax spreading branches. Leaves are about 15 cm long and 2 – 8 cm wide, broadly oval to lanceolate in shape with a slightly drawn out tip, dark green above, sometimes glossy, and woolly beneath with a leaf stalk roughly 4 - 8 cm long. The leaves are held horizontally radiating around the woolly (floccose) stems. The leaves are heavily veined with an obvious indented mid vein and clearly defined lateral veins.

Flowers are typical of the Araliacae, individually tiny but clustered in branched umbels at the ends of stems.

Although each individual flower is small when grouped in large umbels on the ends of the branches they are very noticeable.

Each tiny flower consists of five strongly reflexed petals with 5 stamens attached to a disc which surmounts the ovary. They are yellowish green in colour.

Even the buds are covered in white hairs

They flower late spring to summer (October to January). Note the longicorn beetle visiting the flowers.

Astrotricha latifolia are an understory shrub of wet schlerophyll forest or rainforest margins along the east coast of Australia from about Bega in the south right up the Queensland coast. They are not fussy about soil types being found on shale, quartzite, sandstone, basalt and clay based soils.

Personal Observations

The leaves of Astrotricha latifolia are always chewed. At any time of the year you will find leaves with holes in them and generally an abundance of visiting insects, particularly spring and summer.

Note turned down leaf sheltering a caterpillar

It is not only the leaves that are popular, the flowers too have their share of visitors. Spiders lurk waiting for flying insects to visit and beetles fly in, from longicorns to little round ladybird like creatures.

Early in the flowering season a little iridescent green beetle visits.

Here a tiny yellow flower spider waits amongst chomped leaves for its dinner to fly in.

A robber fly is doing the same thing and there is another brown beetle top left corner.

I have noticed other plants with many insect visitors but this is one of the few which had sustained visits of many different insects for months on end.

One of my most exciting finds was to photograph a caterpillar on a leaf of Astrotricha latifolia. To my naked eye it looked like a bit of twig on the leaf as it is very tiny indeed, it would be lucky to make 10mm in length. It looked just like a tiny dark skinny elongated blob, not a caterpillar at all, but I had my suspicions.

Only blown up on the screen can you see that it is a caterpillar. I believe it belongs to Imbophorus aptalis
which I also photographed on the same shrub and flying nearby.

And my best photograph for last.

Imbophorus aptalis is very tiny, about 1-2 cm wing tip to wing tip. Photographing it was made easier by the fact that it kept quite still and allowed me to approach very closely. Perhaps it was willing itself invisible.

This little moth is so delicate and beautiful, with its feathery wings and tiny form, that were a little girl again I would think it a fairy and would spend my days searching for its fellows and my nights dreaming of their adventures.

My favourite book for attempting to name the plants on my 10 hectares of rainforest and dry schlerophyll forest is Native Plants of the Sydney District An Identification Guide by Alan Fairley and Philip Moore, published by Kangaroo Press and readily available. It is a great book because almost every plant has a photograph, particularly of the flowers, which is what I always notice first in any plant.

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