Saturday, 9 June 2018

Moggill plants: a learning journey

Last Wednesday, I visited Moggill Conservation Park in Brisbane’s western suburbs for the very first time, and conducted a plant survey up on one of the hills there.

To do this survey, I mentally created a small quadrant (about 25 square metres) between four trees and shrubs, and then set to work identifying each of the herbs, grasses, vines, shrubs and trees present on the perimeter and within.

I ended up determining that there were approximately twenty species of trees and plants growing within that little patch of forest floor, a space so small I could cross it in about six or seven strides.

In this blog entry, I will share ten of these plants, and also explain the different ways that I arrived at an identification for each of them.

Native indigo (Indigofera australis)

Native indigo, Anstead.

One of the points of the quadrant was formed by a small shrub with compound leaves that I had never encountered before.

It was covered in seed pods that reminded me of other plants I knew to be from the Fabaceae family (ie. peas and legumes), and there were a few minute purplish flowers still present on one branch.

Using this information, I searched my ‘Mountains to Mangroves’ field guide for plants in the pink and purple flower sections, within the habitat chapter of ‘dry eucalypt forest’.

When I narrowed it down to being a type of Indigofera, the height of these shrubs clinched the ID for me. 

There were quite a few more of these lovely plants within the quadrant, and I imagine the hilltop looks quite spectacular in spring when they are in bloom!

Wombat berry (Eustrephus latifolius)

Wombat berry, Anstead.

This was a common species throughout much of the forest; within the quadrant, the vines were small, but just outside of it and elsewhere in the park, they were thriving and in fruit, so I am sharing a picture I took of one of those plants.

This species is one I am familiar with and highly fond of.

The berries are very distinctive: the first time ever saw them was in Toohey Forest many years ago, and I instantly recognised it from pictures I had seen in ‘Wild Plants of Greater Brisbane’.

Corky passion vine (Passiflora suberosa)

Glasswing (Acraea andromacha) caterpillars feed on both introduced and native passionfruit vines.

This is an introduced ‘baddie’, one of several exotic passionfruit species that now run rampant in our bushland.

All parts of a passionfruit vine are fairly distinctive, so the genus is easy to place.

Because this particular vine was so vigorous and dominating in growth form, I got a ‘weedy’ vibe from it, and had a fair idea about which species it was already.

Looking up weed identification sites later on and referring to the leaf shapes confirmed my suspicions.

Small matrush (Lomandra confertifolia subsp. pallida)

Small matrush, Anstead.
I have learned how to identify the large lomandras (most people—even if they don’t have a name for it—would recognise the Lomandra longifolia used by Brisbane City Council in its landscaping), but the smaller ones in the bush are still fairly unfamiliar to me.

Luckily, there’s a great illustration of the leaf-tips of our local species in ‘Mountains to Mangroves’, and this is an easy way to tell them apart.

The photo shown is of a matrush at a lookout about twenty-five metres away from the quadrant, grown large and robust in the full sunlight.

Forest sedge (Cyperus enervis)

Forest sedge, Anstead.

This was an obscure ‘grass-looking-thing’ that was hard to identify.

The flower and seed structure looked different to normal grass, and I suspected it was a species of Cyperus, which are barely featured in most field guides.

Rather than spend too much time on it in the field, I decided to take detailed pictures and do more work on the internet later to get close to a species level ID.

That work involved looking at the cyperus species recorded on the Moggill Plant List, and then slowly narrowing down my options based on habitat, leaf and stem size/width/cross-sectional shape, and the appearance of the glumes.

I ended up considering it to be a forest sedge called Cyperus enervis (arrived at by way of the whitish edges to the glumes), but that ID is tentative because it was my first attempt at looking into this tricky plant family.

Berry saltbush (Einadia hastata)

Berry saltbush, Anstead.

Within the quadrant was a groundcover that was quite widespread.

Leaves that were greater in width than length seemed like an important ID feature, as were the fact that many of them were bright red.

Flipping through my field guide, I wondered if the plants were Portulaca bicolor, but the leaves weren’t succulent enough for me to be entirely happy with that ID, so I resigned myself to further research later.

I subsequently pursued an idea that they might be exotic, and came up with a shortlist of options from a wonderful weed app.

It was in the description of one of these options that a native plant was mentioned as a ‘look-a-like’, and this lead me to an ID!

Called the berry saltbush, there seems to be some disagreement between my book resources and online information about this species, with the former saying it is a plant of the saltmarshes, and the latter suggesting it is found in a variety of habitats.

It is on the Moggill Plant List, however, and I am satisfied with the identification.

Flannel weed (Sida cordifolia)

Flannel weed, Anstead.

This plant was one I recognised from my occasional bushcare volunteering, which is one of the best ways to get educated on weed identification and local natives alike.

It is named after the texture of the leaves, a feature taught to me by lovely volunteers at a bushcare group in Kippa-Ring several years ago.

Slender grape, Anstead.
Slender grape (Cayratia clematidea)

Some plants are so unique that you only have to see them once and you’ll always remember them.

With its pretty hand-like leaf arrangement, slender grape is one of those plants for me, and my first encounter with it was a few years ago on King Island, out by Wellington Point.

Little spurflower (Plectranthus parviflorus)

In the dry leaf litter was a fragile husk of a plant that I knew to be a species of Plectranthus thanks to other encounters with the genus, but nothing more.

Reaching out later to a brilliant Facebook group, some discussion was had around Plectranthus parviflorus, a common but variable plant, which this specimen appeared to be.

Little spurflower, Anstead.

Known as the little spurflower, apparently there are a whole variety of genetically and morphologically distinct populations of this plant that are lumped together as the one species; no wonder why I didn’t recognise it as ‘my’ plant when I searched through Google images!

One participant in this Facebook group also commented that this plant can turn a purplish colour in times of stress, and as I couldn’t find any mention of that in any resource, I thought it worth repeating here.

To me, this illustrates how ‘unknown’ so many of our plants (and animals and fungi) are, and also how the knowledge of mentors can often surpass that of published resources.

Blue trumpet (Brunoniella australis)

Blue trumpet, Anstead.

I did not even know where to begin with this plant, and it was the last one I puzzled over in the quadrant.

When I reached out to the afore-mentioned group, a helpful member correctly identified it as the blue trumpet, a dainty little native that I’m sure I could’ve placed if it were displaying its namesake flowers, but without which, I was totally stumped!

When someone helps me with an identification, I feel it is important to then learn the features of that organism myself, so that I can confidently recognise it next time I see it.

With this plant, the opposite leaves of unequal length and the papery brown canoe-shaped seeds, both visible in the photo above, will hopefully do the trick if it isn’t in flower.

WEDNESDAY 6th JUNE 2018, 10:00-12:00

Spotted gum (Corymbia citriodora subsp. variegata)
Narrow-leaved ironbark (Eucalyptus crebra)
Maiden’s wattle (Acacia maidenii)
Soap tree (Alphitonia excelsa)

Native indigo (Indigofera australis)

Wombat berry (Eustrephus latifolius)
Corky passion vine (Passiflora suberosa) *
Slender grape (Cayratia clematoides)
Twining glycine (Glycine clandestina)
Tick-trefoil (Desmodium sp)

Small matrush (Lomandra confertifolia subsp. pallida)
Pastel love flower (Pseuderanthemum variabile)
Berry saltbush (Einadia hastata)
Flannel weed (Sida cordifolia) *
Native cobbler’s peg (Glossocardia bidens)
Narrow-leaved cotton bush (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) *
Little spurflower (Plectranthus parviflorus)
Blue trumpet (Brunoniella australis)

Grasses and grass-like plants
Wiry panic (Entolasia stricta)
Forest-sedge (Cyperus enervis)