Saturday, September 27, 2008

Critters around the house

As you will be aware by now, I live on a block of land that is basically a private nature reserve. The Trust for Nature has, over the years, assisted residents in the area to put conservation covenants on their land titles. The covenants are an agreement between the landholder and the State Government that ensures that the land will be used for conservation purposes and that it will not be cleared for other uses.

It is very fortunate that there are many of the properties in my area have conservation covenants. The land area covered by these covenants is large enough to support a wide variety of plants and animals. In previous posts orchids have featured but they in fact are a small part of the total number of species that occur here. While sorting out photos for storage, a number of photos taken out of the kitchen window or within a few metres of the house caught my attention. The majority of photos in my collection are of plants. These photos where of the other animal residents of the 'block'.

The kookaburra pictured below until recently was a visitor to the block. It, and its partner were resident to the property next door until recently. The couple that lived there feed the pair of kookaburras cheese on a nearly daily basis. Unfortunately, the wife became ill and passed away last year. The husband, also of a ripe old age and not in the best of health, started to have periodic trips away to visit relatives. While the husband was away the Kookaburras where not getting their daily dose of cheese. These tame and human habituated animals decided to try out my back door to rap on with their large beaks. Begging is such an unbecoming act for such noble animals. The husband has now moved out of the neighbourhood and the Kookaburras have taken up residence on the block I live on. They have a daily ritual of flying to certain trees around the block and singing loudly to mark their territory. One of the branches that they ritually use is positioned about 4 metres from my back door and at eye level. I can stand at my kitchen sink about an hour after sunrise and hey presto the Kookaburras appear. The picture below was taken on a winter morning a couple of months ago.

A few metres down from the woodstack next to the driveway is the burrow of the Echidna. These increadibly short-sighted animals spend hours roaming around the blocks of the area sniffing out ant nests and eating as many of their residents as they can. It is not unusual for these amusing fellows to crawl into the birdbath in summer just to cool off. One day I was sitting in my office and noticed this Echidna doing something I had never seen. It was climbing a fallen tree and ripping open the dead wood to make a lunch of the termites. It spent hours doing this and I spent hours watching it.

Not all of the creatures on the block are as conspicuous as the Kookaburra or the Echidna. One of my favourite creatures is the Jacky Lizard. It is in the Dragon group of Lizards (Water Dragons, Bearded Dragons, Earless Dragons). One day while reading a book in the Bungalow there was a bit of a commotion on the other side of the window I was sitting at. A Kookaburra had landed on something, literally less than two metres away from me, and was desperately trying to get a grip on it. It turned out to be a Jacky Lizard. The Kooka flew up to a branch with the lizard in beak and proceeded to kill the poor creature by banging it against the branch, This gruesome behaviour is normal for these carnivorous birds is even more spectacular when they catch a snake!!! Thankfully, this was not the last Jacky Lizard on the block. The little fellow below, well concealed against the backdrop of dead leaves was photographed in the same place that his fellow lizard met his fate. If your eyesight is not all that great you may have to put a magnifying glass against the screen. The lizard is smack bang in the middle of the photo. The head points to the right and its tail stretches out to the left.

Kangaroos are by far the most common large species in our area. It is not unusual to see mobs of 50 or more sleeping on the hill below the house or munching on grasses on the farmers property next door. That is until the farmers' son decides to chase them off with his motorbike. Most of the mob are fairly mobile and tend to follow well worn tracks around the place that link up good feeding grounds. A few years ago a neighbour who rescues joeys when their mothers are killed on the road, released a young female back into the wild to rejoin the mob. Unfortunately, after spending so many months in the loving care of humans she was reluctant to hang out with 'wild animals' . She moved away from the shelter and right up to the area between my house and the farmland. She loves it there and seems to not mind spending most of her time without the rest of the 'roos.

This particular female has been hanging around the house for a couple of years and sometime last spring gave birth to a joey of her own. Neither the mother or the joey are the least bit afraid of my partner or me . One sunday morning while we were making pancakes Mamma 'roo and joey were having breakfast just outside the window. They completely ignored me as their pictures were taken. You can see the wheels of my car in the background! This pic was taken in autumn so the joey is a bit more filled out (fat) and permenantly out of the pouch, compared to gangly and ungainly and still being mainly carted around in the mothers pouch. Mamma is below with a big tuft of grass poking out of her mouth.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Arachnorchis (Caladenia) rosella

When I first came to Australia over 25 years ago I had the good fortune to meet and work with one the Australia's most renown orchid taxonomists and indeed one of Australia's best overall botanists, Geoff Carr. Geoff acted as my tour guide during field work carried out as part of a year of studying orchids in the wild throughout the world. This extended field work was just one part of the three year long Eric Young Orchid Scholarship based at the Royal Horticultural Society and Kew Gardens in England. During my initial stay here in Australia, Geoff and I traveled extensively in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. On these travels we observed hundreds of species, photographing them and recording critical details of their morphological characteristics, habitat and distribution. The travels with Geoff had to be one of the most intensive experiences a young botanist could have had. This trip was so life changing that it inspired me to come back to Australia after the scholarship ended to work directly with Geoff for the next seven years.

The second day after arriving in Victoria, Geoff took me to visit a good friend of his, Cam Beardsell a extremely knowledgeable naturalist. Cam lives up in the hills northeast of Melbourne. Geoff said that we were going to check out a colony of Spider Orchids that where highly distinctive and represented an undescribed species. In 1981 the colony we were going to see was the only known colony in the world and contained hundreds of plants scattered over a couple of hundred hectares. Apparently, the plant used to grow in scattered areas in Victoria and New South Wales. It occurred from an isolated mountain range in the western parts of Victoria called The Grampians to the hills near Albury and Orange just north of the Victoria/New South Wales border. Interestingly, the final refuge of this small pink Spider Orchid was half a dozen blocks of private land on the outskirts of Victoria's capital city, Melbourne.

Geoff, Cam and I had a wonderful day looking at every plant we could find of this undescribed Spider Orchid. We spent the rest of the day wandering around most of the forested private land blocks of the area looking for other orchids which were abundant in this remnant forest/woodland. This one day trip was to be one of the most memorable highlights of my year-long trip.

Several years later, after my return to Australia, Geoff formally described the species we had observed several years earlier. He named it Caladenia rosella (Rosella Spider Orchid or Small Pink Spider Orchid). You can see from the photograph how beautiful this plant is.

Unfortunately, in the time between my first visit and Geoff describing the species, its numbers in the wild had dwindled. The site had become invaded by the introduced grass Briza maxima (Quaking Grass) which competes for the meager nutrients and water available at the site. Another threat was the locally common bird species the White-winged Chough a bird that looks superficially like a crow or raven with bright red eyes. These larrikin, slightly maniacal birds live in colonies and behave much like chickens, picking and scratching through the leaf litter eating just about anything including orchid tubers. Most worrying however was the ever increasing number of houses and people moving into the area and their fireplaces and wood stoves that needed stoking.

Thankfully, this beautiful species had a very strong advocate in Cam Beardsell. From before the time I met Cam he was recording every detail about each individual plant in the remaining colonies. Over the past 25 years this man has nearly single-handedly been the caretaker of this precious orchid. He has protected nearly every plant to ensure that the Choughs and Rabbits don't eat them. The weeds that come up anywhere near the plants have been meticulously hand-weeded. Even the small wattles that the pollinators rely on for food have been replanted. The pollinator, a small solitary bee, has an interesting story itself. The female bees collect wattle pollen and store it as small balls in their nests in the ground. They lay their eggs on the pollen balls and the larvae use them as food.

Others people have come to the help of this orchid over the years. The Australasian Native Orchid Society, in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, have carried out in vitro propagation of the orchid with the view to reintroducing it to suitable habitat in the wild. The Trust for Nature (Victoria) has encouraged local land holders to put conservation covenants on their land to preserve the habitat. Clifton Pugh and his legacy the Dunmoochin Foundation have purchased several blocks of land that have colonies of the species. One of these blocks has been donated to the Trust for Nature. The local Dunmoochin Landcare Group has done a splendid job of rehabilitating the surrounding land, planting hundreds of plants to rehabilitate the forest and getting rid of large swathes of weeds.

Despite all of this involvement from a wide range of people the species had continued to decline. This was mainly attributed to the drought that we have had for the past decade. Caladenia rosella is now listed as Endangered under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the State of Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. Both of these acts have strengthened the overall protection of the species and in association with the conservation covenants from the Trust for Nature brought much needed attention and money to help in saving this species from extinction.

Recently, a block of land that had not been built on was purchased and a house was proposed to be built on it. Needless to say the local council and the local residents did everything in their power to stop this development. Caladenia rosella was known to occur on the block of land and clearing for the house and attendant gardens, sheds and water tanks would have destroyed not only the plants but the possibility for them to come back. I might add here that the overall population of the species had gotten down to 140 or so plants in the wild. The block of land is pictured below.

The developer, not happy with a refusal from the local council took the matter to VCAT (the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal). Several of us in the local community went along and argued our case against the development but we failed. Even evoking the State and Federal legislation did not sway the decision of the tribunal. There was a slight ray of hope at the end of the hearing. The developer agreed to a range of conditions that had to be met before any building was to take place. There was also an additional push by the Federal Government in association with the State Government to put a halt to any development until it could be established exactly where on the block the plants occurred. This spring the orchid recovery team of the Department of Sustainability and Environment in association with members of the Dunmoochin Landcare Group located a thriving colony of Rosella Spider Orchid growing exactly where they had grown in the past. A couple of other plants found in the area are Arachnorchis parva (Small Green-comb Spider Orchid) and and the small shrub Leucopogon virgatus (Common Beard Heath).

The conditions on the developer have proved too great for him to meet and he is in the process of selling the block of land. The local residents, the Dunmoochin Foundation and the Trust for Nature have all expressed interest in purchasing the land. There has even been a proposal to form a consortium of the above people and groups to make the purchase of the land more of a sure thing. The only problem is that even with all of the resources pooled there is still not enough money to buy the block and manage the plants. We would dearly love to be able to save this critical part of the population but we obviously need help.

Do you think you could help us? Any monies you could contribute would be greatly appreciated. Both the Trust for Nature and The Dunmoochin Foundation are charitable trusts. You can contact either one. Lynlee Tozer at the Trust for Nature will be able to speak with you. Just mention that you have read about Rosella Spider Orchid on this blog and how you would like to help. You can visit the Trust for Nature home page to get their contact details and learn of ways of financially helping.

Thank you

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cymbidium Kusuda Shining and progeny (Part 2)

I have a bit of a reputation for going in for the 'not the usual'. This particularly applies to my choice in Cymbidiums. The most popular Cymbidiums are the large and showy exhibition style, the truly bizarre spotted or peloric ones or the densely flowered pendulous types. Less common types such as those classified as the 'Asian Style' have not really caught on in the west. The reason for this seems to be that they have a tendency to have smaller more star-shaped flowers. Some believe that they have short-lived flowers. Most however have fragrant flowers of interesting colouration on plants that are generally small and compact. The Asian sensibilities, at least in times gone by, have valued the appearance of the plant, particularly if they have variegated leaves. Fragrance of the flowers and bizarre flower forms are also greatly appreciated.

My friends are well aware of my choice in Cymbidiums and have the pleasant habit of alerting me when they see something they think I would like. My close orchid friend that has a commercial nursery is especially kind when it comes to looking after my interests. We have a fortnightly 'orchid play time' at his nursery. We spend hours wandering around assessing and discussing the good and bad points of the orchids that are flowering in his greenhouses. I usually bring along some of my plants that are in flower and we discuss them as well.

One time a couple of years ago on the night before our meeting my friend sent me a picture of a plant that had just come into flower. He said if I could identify the parents, the plant was mine. I failed miserably but he gave me the plant anyway. The one parent of the plant was C. Kusuda Shining that ever popular warmth tolerant stunner from the stable of Andy Easton. The other parent was one of the most popular species Cymbidiums in Japan, China and the surrounding countries - Cymbidium virescens (goeringii). More specifically, the parents are C. Kusuda Shining #4 and C. virescens 'Alba'. Oh, and did I mention that this cross was made by the originator of C. Kusuda Shining? Your guess is right, the prolific and ever-interesting Andy Easton!

I got so excited by the first flowering of this hybrid, the yellow flower at the bottom of the page, that I never stopped nagging my friend to find the rest of the plants and immediately turn them over to me!!! Needless to say he didn't. After a while though a couple more flowered and he started to take my interest as a signal that there might be something worthwhile in this cross. One day when I turned up we went to the area in one of the greenhouses where he thought the plants of my interest were kept. We spent the next little while sorting through hundreds of plants until we found every last pot of this cross. He didn't give me these either. We loaded them all up on a cart and took them up to the potting shed. We parted company for the day and I gave up hope of ever getting another plant of the cross.

A few weeks later when I turned up a miracle had happened. All of the original plants had been given individual numbers and were repotted. Those large enough to be divided were split and any spare backbulbs were potted up, all labelled with the number of the original plant. There was a tray of 3" pots and a few stray larger pots sitting to one side of the rest of the plants. All sported numbers that where duplicated in the main group. I wished but didn't say anything. My friend didn't mention a thing about the plants and we headed off to look at his other plants. Just before I was about to leave he said 'You better not forget your plants' and pointed to the tray and strays. So much for retaining composure! It is not very becoming for a 50 year old man to behave like a 5 year old.

Cym Kusuda Shining #4 X virescens 'Alba' has to be one of the most diverse and exciting crosses that you could imagine. All of the plants below came out of the same seed capsule. Only 6 have flowered for me so far, 5 of them pictured. The 6th is not only an ugly little runt the colour of baby poo but my supposed friend decided to name it after me. What an embarrassment. Thankfully, the ones in the photos are all great growers with tall spikes on compact plants. All are fragrant and last a reasonable length of time. My favourite is the yellow one at the bottom and the peach coloured one in the middle. Both get multiple spikes from the pseudobulb and flower at least twice a year. The little pink one (second photo) is the smallest of the cross the whole plant being just barely 15 cm tall with leaves to only 10 cm tall. The others have leaves that are 20-30 cm tall with flower spikes to 60 cm. Surprisingly, they all have about 7 flowers per spike, except for the little pink one that has only 5.

I look forward to seeing what the rest of the plants look like. If these ones below are anything to go by who knows what may come out!!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cymbidium Kusuda Shining and progeny

Cymbidium Kusuda Shining 'Geyserland'

When Andy Easton created Cymbidium Kusuda Shining he hit on a line of breeding that would start a whole new group of truly beautiful plants. Not only are the colours stunning most of the offspring have a degree of heat tolerance that allows them to be grown in areas not normally conducive to growing Cymbidium. Oh, did I mention that the offspring of C. Kusuda Shining can have multiple spikes per bulb and can flower several times a year?

The C. Kusuda Shining to make it in the bigtime early on was the clone named 'Geyserland'. It was not the only good-looking plant to come out of the original seed pod! Several other stunners including the clone 'Brick' and 'VE Day'. You can see all of the above clones on the Everglades Orchids website.

Interestingly, Andy did not stop with selections from the original pod! He crossed siblings to see what would result. The chance for albinos was fairly high as one of the parents of Kusuda Shining is the famous albino C. Golden Elf 'Sundust'. While I am not sure what happened with some of the sibling crosses I was lucky enough to procure a large number of seedlings of one of the sibling crosses. Below is one of the seedlings from the cross between C. Kusuda Shining #1 x #5. My friend and I have named it C. Kusuda Shining 'Bullseye'. The colour is extremely bright and the contrast between the bright yellow petals and the red lip is particularly striking.

Crosses with C. Kusuda Shining are making a big impact in the Cymbidium world. A friend of mine who runs a commercial orchid nursery obtained a series of these crosses from Andy Easton. These came as densely packed flasks and were promptly transfered to community pots. After several months he transplanted the faster growing ones to individual pots and reset the 'runts' in community pots to grow on until they got a bit bigger. After another few months the process was repeated. As my friends priority is to get the plants to flowering as soon as possible his interest wanes when plants are too slow growing. Luckily for me I am in no great hurry and have enough space and time to grow these second run runts on until they flower. If they turn out to be good the plants get divided and my friend and I get half each.

Cymbidium Beverly Cobb is a beautiful cross between C. Kusuda Shining and Lovely Bunny. This cross seems to have been made several times. The specific cross that I have seedling of is C.Kusuda Shining 'VE Day' and Lovely Bunny 'Othello'. I have probably flowered about 20 or so seedlings of this cross so far, many of them pretty and worthwhile as pot plants but not real standouts. Below are two that have really taken my fancy. The one is just a stunning orange with red spots and a great dark lip with heavy very dark red spots. The other is a tannish-yellowish colour in the centre of the petals darkening to pinkish-red on the edges with a good clear lip. this last one is particularly interesting as the petals have an almost translucent quality. The picture is not backlit. Would be glad to hear what you think.

I have another series of hybrids using C. Kusuda Shining as a parent but will save them for the next post!