27 January 2008

Rubus Brambles of the Central Coast, NSW

Rubus is a world-wide group of prickly, shrubby, scrambling plants. They use their thorns to protect themselves from herbaceous animals and also to enable them to scramble through other shrubs. They are very easy to propagate as they grow readily from stem cuttings and root suckers. There are approximately 250 species of Rubus, including many well-known edible fruits such as raspberry and loganberry, but only about seven species native to Australia. These too have edible fruits, though accounts of their taste vary widely; they have been described as both tasteless and sweet and juicy - perhaps it depends on how hungry you are.

They nearly all have flowers with 5 broad petals and 5 persistent sepals with numerous stamens. The fruits are segments clustered together into an aggregate fruit, which ripens to either red or black depending on the plant.

Possibly the most well-known to Australians is the introduced Rubus fruticosus or Blackberry, which is now a serious pest in many parts of Australia. Less well known are our own native varieties.

Weedy Varieties first
Rubus fruticosus complex (native of Europe). Many very closely-related introduced plants are grouped under this one name because of the difficulty in distinguishing between them. They include:

R. cissburiensis Barton & Riddels
R. laciniatus Willd
R. polyanthemus Lindeb
R. procerus Muller
R. rosaceus Weihe & Nees
R. selmeri Lindeb
R. ulmifolius Schott
R. vestitus Weihe & Nees

Regardless of which name you choose to use they are all erect woody shrubs; up to 5m high, with scrambling prickly stems up to 6m long. They can quickly cover vast areas of the bush, creeks and river banks, road-sides and pastures in temperate high rainfall areas of all States.

They achieve this growth rate because wherever the long shoots touch the ground they are capable of rooting. They grow rapidly and are notoriously difficult to remove. Each piece of root or stem left behind can re-grow in one season.

They have compound leaves of 3 to 5 evenly or irregularly toothed leaflets with prickly petioles. The flowers are white but may shade towards pink, and cluster at the ends of branches.

The ‘berries’ are globular and ripen from green to red to black in late summer.

Our native raspberries turn red when they ripen. These are not yet ready to eat. They will turn black when fully ripe.

The native Rubus species are not quite as troublesome, they include Rubus nebulosus (bush Lawyer) and some which seem quite tame by comparison, for example R.rosifolius ,R. moluccanus var. dendrocharis (syn R. hillii), R. parvifolius.

Rubus rosifolius – Rose Leaf Bramble

This is the one most likely to be mistaken for the introduced blackberry as it looks quite like it until you look very closely. R rosifolius has light-green pinnate leaves of five to seven toothed leaflets (one more set of leaflets to Rubus fruticosus).

It has very prickly stems and backs of leaves

Like R fruticosus (blackberry) it has spreading rhizomes which may produce dense thickets of arching branches up to a metre high. The flowers are quite large and very attractive with five or more large white petals. R. rosifolius flowers and fruits all year round.

Its fruits are more strawberry than raspberry shaped. The fruit is edible but insipid; however it is enjoyed by many native birds.

Again, like the introduced blackberry, this is a very hardy plant which may become invasive if moved from its natural areas. It grows in all soils and conditions, particularly on the margins of rainforests and is an important food source for native birds.

Rubus moluccanus var. trilobus

This plant could not so easily be mistaken for weedy blackberry, though it has the same scrambling habit and long prickly stems. It has similar flowers and fruit, but is a much more genteel plant and is nowhere near as prolific at covering vast tracts of ground.

Its leaves are broadly ovate to heart-shaped, 6 to 10cm long and wide, with finely toothed margins and is rusty-hairy underneath.

Flowers are pink (occasionally white). Fruit is a red globular berry, about 12mm across.
The fruits were part of the diet of the Aborigines and a medicinal drink to relieve stomach upset was made by soaking the leaves in warm water.

The leaves are eaten by a variety of creatures.
Rubus moluccanus var. trilobus grows in sheltered forest and rainforest margins or clearings along the coast zone from Queensland to Victoria. They flower November to February.

Rubus nebulosus
Bush Lawyer

Another one which looks like its relative the blackberry. This one is an extremely prickly plant as the branches and leaf stalks are all covered with numerous prickles. White flowers are borne in loose clusters from the leaf axils and the ripening fruit is dark red. It enjoys similar conditions to the other Rubus and is widespread along the East coast in sheltered forest and margins of rainforests. It flowers October to January.

Rubus parvifolius

Native raspberry, Small-leaf Bramble

A very tiny species, (growing on the Central Coast of NSW the largest terminal leaf is only finger nail size).
It can be a prostrate or a scrambling shrub with finely thorny canes to 60cms long; nowhere near as vigorous as most other Rubus species.
The leaves are compound, with 3 or more leaflets, 5 to 30 mm long, deeply wrinkled and often deeply toothed, silver on the underside. The terminal leaf is larger.
It has papery, persistent sepals and short, pale pink, mauve or red petals. The fruit is edible, small and sweet, again similar to a cultivated raspberry.

It flowers October to December.

20 January 2008

Dioscorea transversa

Dioscorea is a family of about 630 species, most of which grow in the tropics. They are herbaceous climbers with annual twining stems up to 4m long, and tuberous roots which are generally deep underground.

The Australian Dioscorea transversa is one of our native edible yams. The tuberous roots were eaten by the aborigines, either cooked, or in the case of young tubers, raw. As the roots are deep underground they must be good to be worth the effort of digging them up, without the aid of metal tools. They grow in warm temperate rainforests and moist schlerophyl open forests; mostly along the eastern seaboard of Australia.

They may first draw themselves to your attention with their large papery seed capsules that hang on the plant for many months, maybe even years. They just become more and more old parchment-papery like as time goes by. Of course the actual seed is long gone, just the housing remains.

They have beautiful simple alternate heart-shaped leaves which vary enormously in size and colour, usually 5 – 12 cm long and 2 – 8 cm wide. They have 5 – 7 deep veins along the leaf which help to identify Dioscorea transversa from the other heart-shaped leaves growing alongside them in the rainforest.

The leaves are a real feature of the plant for most of the year as new leaves emerge a bronzy pink and change to a very attractive apple green as the weeks of summer pass.

Male and female flowers are carried on different plants with the flowering season generally from August to November; both male and female flowers hang down in long racemes that blow about in the wind, which presumably aids in the pollination process

The male flowers begin to appear a month or so earlier than the female flowers. .

Male flowers are tiny, with anywhere between 1 to a dozen racemes per axil. Some racemes are very short and others are up to 40 cm long. The flowers last for at least 6 weeks and look like little green seed pearls spaced evenly along the stalk.

In contrast the female racemes have fewer flowers per axil and so they are much shorter. The colour too is quite different. The flower stems are a purplish pink and the tiny little flowers more yellow than green. Close inspection reveals the triangular shape of the coming seed pod already there in the female flower; it just awaits pollination from the male.

Seed pods are formed very quickly once pollination takes place and they swell almost before your eyes into the greeny pink capsules you see in the photograph. The colour merges extremely well into the bush and unless you are searching for them it is surprisingly easy for the eye to glance over and not see them at all.

As they age they become more obvious with a colour change to resemble a sandy, parchment paper

Next time you are walking through or near rainforest look out for Dioscorea transversa.

17 January 2008

Native Bees

On my daily walk around the garden, camera in hand, I spotted something a little odd about a grass head hanging out over the dam. I knelt down to take a closer look - I could see a lot of bugs, shield bugs maybe, clustering on the tip of a paspalum flower stalk. I leaned it close, perilously, as the edges of the dam are soft and the stalk was over the water. I thought I was snapping another shot of common orangy bugs which seem to spend their lives locked in a loving embrace.
Fortunately nothing untoward occurred and I was able to snap a lot of photographs; my actions didn't seem to bother the "bugs" at all.
When the photographs were download I was very surprised. They were bees!

Tiny little bees, difficult to see properly even with the aid of my glasses, with sweet little sheep-like faces. I was so excited I made my husband stop what he was doing and come and see. He, long suffering fellow that he is, joined me and then

became just as excited. They were just so appealing, clustered along the stem as they were.

By the time I had rounded him up some time had elapsed and they had begun to disperse. He relieved me of the camera and took a couple of shots (the one with only three bees is one of his).

I don't know where all the bee experts have their information on the web, because I've searched, and had no luck identifying these little fellows. I read somewhere that there is a species of native bee that congregate together overnight and then disperse once they warm up in the morning, and I suppose that is what my bees were doing.
Sadly I have never seen them again.

That is why I walk around the garden at least twice a day, camera in hand - you just never know what you will spot.

12 January 2008


Has it really been six months since I posted a Blog? No excuses. We are all busy, all side tracked etc etc.

What I've been doing is sewing, (making quilts actually), working for money, travelling, hosting interstate relatives and gardening of course. That never stops unless you wish to be over powered by weeds. Those of you following the weather will know that the eastern coast of Australia, or at least parts of it, has had some decent falls of rain in the past six months. So we've had the rain, floods, pestilence but not yet the famine, here on my block, though that may follow if the areas where food is grown in Australia don't have some rain as well.

In my little patch we have had lots of rain and the bush has responded with the most amazing outpouring of flowers. I've have taken hundreds of photographs, spent hours poring over books and on the internet trying to name them all, and have catalogued the lot, all in plant families. Hours and hours have been spent prowling around the bush photographing every bit of colour, every nuance of leaf change and of course anything that moves.

The more of that sort of thing you do the more you learn how little you know. Factor in computer crashes, lost files and maddeningly inefficient systems and suddenly not just hours have gone by but months too. I now have a huge catalogue of photographs of all the native plants in my little patch of rainforest, and many of my street and neighbourhood as well. Many of them I can now recognise from a leaf or a seedpod, which impresses my husband no end, but alas no one else is much interested.

Australian native flowers are often very small and here on the east coast often white as well. If I were to publish a blog of photographs of native flowers, which are tiny and white, that would not be very interesting viewing, but as I've been doing all the photographing and labelling and simply knowing the names of things for my own sake that doesn't matter I suppose.

It would be really nice to be able to make some money from one's hobbies - but I haven't yet figured out how.