Saturday, 17 May 2014

Wild Plants of Ipswich

I've never really taken much notice of plants until recently, regarding them usually as just the thing that a bird perches on while you're watching it. This week I decided it was time to change that attitude by trying my hand at plant identification in Denmark Hill Conservation Park, located in the centre of Ipswich. The park is just 11.5 hectares in size, but preserves a patch of bushland that acts as an 'island refuge' in a sea of suburbia. I did my best to focus on the trees and not be too distracted by birds or the resident Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) population, and came up with nine interesting trees and plants seen on the Water Tower Circuit.

Grey Gum (Eucalyptus propinqua)

Grey Gum
These impressive trees were one of three dominant species along the walking track. Their most notable feature is that lovely salmon-coloured trunk, but the tree is nevertheless known simply as a Grey Gum. This more accurately reflects the tree colour for most of the year, as the prettier tones are seen only as the tree moults and grows new bark.

When in flower, the Grey Gum provides nectar and pollen for flying-foxes, honeyeaters, rosellas and butterflies, and is a Koala food plant.

An earlier version of this blog had mis-labelled this tree as a Rusty Gum (Angophora leiocarpa) due to the trunk colour. This tree also occurs at Denmark Hill, but has a dimpled trunk and very fine, oppositely-paired leaves.

Black She-Oak (Allocasuarina littoralis)

Black She-Oak
This was a much less common tree in the park. The photographed specimen was found up on the hill near the water tower, and I saw another one growing by the pond at the bottom of the slope.

She-Oaks are unusual trees in that they resemble conifers (pine trees) but are actually a kind of flowering plant. 

In the photo on the left, you can see the seed cones, as well as what one naturally assumes are the leaves. This assumption would be wrong however - the leaves are just tiny minute scales, and what you are looking at instead are fine branches.

The cones of Allocasuarinas form almost the entire diet of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami).

Wild Passionfruit (Passiflora suberosa)

Wild Passionfruit, INSET: Glasswing
Not all the plants in the Conservation Park are native species. One of the first weeds I spotted were Wild Passionfruit vines, growing around a native Soap Tree (see below). 

The native range of this species extends from Florida and Texas in the USA, through the Caribbean, Mexico and down into South America. 

Australia has a native Passionfruit (Passiflora herbertiana) that prefers wetter forests and rainforest margins. The caterpillars of the Glasswing (Acraea andromacha) feed on both native and introduced Passionfruit leaves.

Other introduced plants along the Water Tower Circuit include Mother-of-Millions (Bryophyllum delagoense), Lantana (Lantana camara) and a dense grove of Easter Cassia (Senna pendula). 

Pink Bloodwood (Corymbia intermedia)

Pink Bloodwood
This was another one of the three dominant tree species along the walking track, though not as prolific as the other two.

The Pink Bloodwood is a type of eucalypt, identified by its rough bark that extends from the trunk to the top branches. Its leaves are in an 'alternate' arrangement off the stem, but only just, and they can appear as almost 'opposite' when looked at from a distance. 

This species seems to tolerate a variety of soil types. Smaller specimens are common on the shale deposits at Denmark Hill, but truly massive Bloodwoods also thrive on the sandy soils of Bribie Island.

The leaves form part of the diet preferred by Koalas, and the white flowers provide food for flying-foxes, parrots and honeyeaters. When fully-grown, this species also forms trunk hollows that provide valuable nesting spots for a variety of wildlife.

Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus)

Brush Box
This was the other dominant tree in the woodland, and its presence indicates that the gully in this side of the park receives a lot of water run-off. Trunk-wise, it has a rough, peeling bark until halfway up the tree, but it's the leaves that easily identify it as a Brush Box. See how they are arranged in a whorl, all springing from a central point?

Soap Tree (Alphitonia excelsa)

Soap Tree
In the Conservation Park, this tree mostly grew as a mid-level shrub. The leaves of this species help identify it - long, elliptical and dark glossy green above; silvery-white and with a velvet texture below. 

The name of the tree comes from the way in which the Indigenous people used it. When the leaves are crushed between your hands and a little water is added, a soapy lather is created that can be used for hygiene purposes. But the Indigenous people also used it for hunting, where they would drop the mashed up leaves into a waterhole to kill nearby fish, which would then float to the surface and become dinner for the tribe that night.

Narrow-leaved Ironbark (Eucalyptus crebra)

Narrow-leaved Ironbark
This tree wasn't common along the walking track, but there was one particularly impressive specimen that stood out halfway down the hillside. It was hard to capture its magnificence however, so the photo here is of another example that I saw later in the day, at Purga Nature Reserve. 

The tree is aptly named for its bark, which looks as metallic as iron and almost as strong! 

I have been studying a related species on the coastal lowlands of Brisbane, named the Grey Ironbark (Eucalyptus siderophloia). As far as I can tell, the difference between the two trees is in the canopy, which looks finer and more wilting in the narrow-leaved variety.

Both trees attract wildlife with their feathery white flowers, but the Grey Ironbark starts flowering in the winter, while the Narrow-leaved type waits until spring.

Queensland Silver Wattle (Acacia podalyriifolia)

Queensland Silver Wattle at pond's edge.
Unfortunately, I didn't exactly pick the best time of year to go on my 'plant walk', because not much vegetation seems to flower in May. This is particularly annoying in the case of the Silver Wattle, as I could see flower buds forming on them that will burst into glorious golden colour in just another week or two. 

Even minus the flowers however, this is still a lovely tree thanks to its silvery foliage. I found four examples of this tree on the Water Tower circuit, one alongside the woodland track and three by the Quarry Pond, pictured here. 

Despite its name, the range of this species straddles the New South Wales / Queensland border and it does cross it here and there. Its beauty has ensured its introduction to places far outside of its range however, including such far-flung locales as Africa, India and South America. 

Blue Flax-Lily (Dianella caerulea)

Blue Flax-Lily
This perennial herb is quite common throughout Denmark Hill, though the wild examples growing sporadically on the forest floor are smaller than the landscaped clumps near the car park.

This beautiful strap-leaved plant grows through Eastern Australia and is a popular choice for native and ornamental gardens - I have two growing by my frog pond!

The three berries in the above photo are all in various stages of ripening. They are apparently edible in small quantities, and the leaves can also be used for weaving.  

Purga Nature Reserve

After I had finished my 'plant walk' at Denmark Hill Conservation Park, I couldn't help but drive out to one of my favourite nature reserves nearby. Officially, Purga Nature Reserve is special because it the only protected Swamp Tea-Tree (Melaleuca irbyana) forest in the world, but I enjoy this woodland because it is unlike any other in the region. It seems almost arid in some parts, with lots of stones, dead branches and bare earth beneath the gnarled tea-tree limbs. It is also a good place to see uncommon wildlife like Lively Rainbow-Skinks (Carlia vivax) and Pied Lacewings (Porismus strigatus). Surprisingly, the area doesn't seem particularly rich in birdlife, so the forest is quiet enough to hear the creaking of old branches swaying in the wind. All of the above results in a very strange 'vibe' to the area, especially given that it is somewhat in the middle of nowhere. I'll finish this entry with a video I took of the woodland - see if you can pick up on the unusual feeling in this place:


  1. enjoyed the botanical walk Christian and your video too. It is a little eerie when you walk these places and there is no bird song to be heard. I love walking by the casuarinas on a windy day on the shore-line of the lake-their sound is quite unique isn't it. The passiflora you found I note is a differing species to one I found at Booti-Booti NP recently. It had the tri-lobed leaf form but it seemed softer texture to yours. I sent image to Royal Botanic Gardens and they ID it as Passiflora subpeltata - a native of Brazil. I really like the ironbarks, and of course many other tree forms; they are beautiful to observe in their differing styles. You mention the flying-foxes and today I saw a large size bat (so I don't expect it is a 'fruit-bat' as I think they're only in small size?) -------- but I assume it had been electrocuted when it flew onto the telegraph wire. It was just hanging there with wings slightly opened up. I didn't want to take a photo of it, poor thing had met a bad fate. From what I thought - birds don't get electrocuted because both feet hit the wires at the same time - if they don't then they must meet the fate of the bat?? Have you ever heard of this before with the bats? I wondered why it mightn't occur more often, or do they inherently know NOT to fly to a telegraph wire? Over to you Christians :).

    1. I LOVE the sound of the wind through the Casuarinas too, Carole! I used to find a secluded patch of them in a reserve when I was a teenager and nap beneath them on a sunny day.

      I thought my Passionfruit might have been P. subpeltata, but I used an ID key I found online that said 'subpeltata' has leafy spicules (?) along the stem. After looking up what a 'spicule' was and then checking a number of my Passionfruit photos, I realised mine didn't have them and the ID key led me to P. suberosa instead. Plants! What a headache! Birds are so much simpler! :)

      You would have seen a Flying-Fox I'd say. I've never seen any other kind of bat electrocuted. I'm not sure if this is correct but I've always assumed that an animal can touch one live wire, but if it is already making contact with one wire and then reaches out and makes contact with another one, it's toast. The way that birds perch protects them but bats swing like monkeys do and it catches them out. For some reason, possums aren't as affected though? I mostly see possums running along one wire at a time like trapeze artists, rather than moving across multiple wires, so maybe they are naturally smart about these things too!

  2. wow! that video is awesomely spooky! :) loved the gum tree. and the ironbark.

    1. Yes it was a bit 'Blair Witch'! The fact that it's the last forest of its kind makes it a little ghostly too.

  3. The pinky coloured tree is so unusual. Never knew that such a coloured tree exists and the name fits it perfectly. It's a wonderful story about how the indiginous people used the soap tree for hunting. Necessity is the mother of invention?

    An interesting walk through the deserted forest and rather unusual to see no undergrowth, perhaps one of the reasons for the lack of birds?

    1. Yes Phil, I loved the Soap Tree story too when I first heard it last year! Funny how those Rusty Gums would've been invisible to me if I had been focussing on birds.

      I need to go back to the "deserted forest" in the morning as that may reveal more birds, but yes, the lack of understorey may play a part!

  4. Great range of trees - I love the colour of gums (and such like) when they are wet.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

    1. Yes, i've overlooked their beauty until now to be honest, but I'll pay 'ready attention' from now on :)

  5. That Rusty Gum is unbelievable - I've never seen anything like it! Great post Christian - as ever.

    1. Thanks Em. Yes it was lovely to walk through a whole forest of them! :)

  6. Hi Christian, and thanks for visiting my blog - I really enjoyed reading this post and like how you've spent a lot of time researching our beautiful trees. I do love the trunks and bark (we used to have an Argyle Apple -Eucalyptus cinerea) in a previous garden and I just loved the peeling trunk and round leaves which I always included in homemade flower bouquets).
    It's beaut that the Swamp Tea Tree Forest has been acknowledge and protected. A lovely spot for reptiles to exist with the not so heavily presence of birdlife I'm thinking. Loved the video too - a little world of its own :D)

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Susan! Nice to see someone else with an appreciation for our beautiful native flora. I just checked out that Eucalyptus species you mentioned and it's a beauty!