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Parramatta and Hills District Group

Group News


On a sunny afternoon in March, twelve members of ParraHills APS group visited Boongala Gardens. This is an amazing native garden created over many years by Mal and Jenny Johnston. The land was previously totally-cleared farming land, and the transformation required a huge amount of work.

A large variety of native plants are featured, growing on raised elongated mounds. Visitors meander along sinuous grass areas, each corner revealing a new combination of plants. Being autumn, most were not in flower, but there was some colour particularly from the multitude of grafted grevilleas, Banksia spinulosa and Hibiscus germanioides. Grevillea ‘Golden Lyre’ was in full bloom, and many others had some flowers. Interestingly this garden exhibits many of the older, no-longer-sold hybrids discussed by Peter Olde in the recent online talk. For example, Grevillea ‘Ivory Whip’ was flowering well. There is no need for masses of flowers to make a garden interesting, not if you have bottle trees, Eucalyptus ficifolia covered in large gumnuts, and specimens of Dorianthes excelsa with huge flower spikes.

Scattered around the garden are old farm implements, rusting sedately. Mal is very interested and knowledgeable about early Australian history. He has constructed a little slab hut displaying more historic wares, convict bricks, photos and so forth. He also has hives of native, stingless bees.

After a break and afternoon tea, Mal took us for a walk through their rainforest, planted on the slope behind the gardens. Many of the trees are over 30 years old, and again there is a huge variety, along with ground covers, ferns and orchids. All this time, Jenny was serving in their shop. In the past Mal and Jenny ran a native plant nursery, Annangrove Grevilleas. They again sell plants during their open garden times. Obviously, the group browsed and purchased there, before we went home. Look out for the opportunity to visit this magnificent garden. Their next open season will be in spring 2021.


Australian King Parrot [male] at nest hole Woodford 22/07/2020

On Saturday 27th February Doug Meredith gave ParraHills a very interesting and informative talk with the above tittle. He concentrated on the Cumberland Plain, a large area of fairly flat land between Windsor and Picton, and the Nepean River and the inner west suburbs of the city, excluding higher ground such as the Hills District. Most of the remaining uncleared land is dry sclerophyll woodland. For the birds, vegetation supplies shelter, food, water, roosts, nesting sites and nesting material. For the plants, birds act as pollinators, disperse seed and help with insect pest control.

Shelter is provided by dense foliage in which birds can hide, or spikey foliage through which little birds can fly but their larger predators can’t. The wings of many small birds are different from those of larger birds, and allow the little birds to accurately fly through thickets of branches. Shelter can be by camouflage when the bird’s colourings are very similar to the foliage. Quail can hide in long grass and be very hard to see, because their speckled colouring perfectly matches the patchy grass colours.

Nectar feeding birds have long thin beaks to reach into flowers for nectar. As they do, the flower’s pollen falls onto the feathers of the head and elsewhere. When the bird goes to another flower some pollen falls onto that flower’s stigma, and the flower is fertilised. So the bird feeds and the plant’s flowers are fertilised at the same time. Other birds eat seeds and fruit. The seeds pass through the birds and are deposited elsewhere, along with a suitable dollop of fertiliser to aid a young plant’s growth. Mistletoe provides shelter for the mistletoe bird, which also eat the mistletoe fruit. The seed has a sticky substance on it which makes some seed stick to the bird’s beak. Later the bird tends to rub off the seed on a tree branch elsewhere. That bird also has a digestive system, through which the seeds pass very rapidly, and remain viable. Larger birds like the yellow-tailed black cockatoo have strong beaks which can crack open the hard casuarina fruit to access the seed. Birds also get water from trees, especially in the early mornings when dew drips off the leaves. Water also collects in the forks between branches. Some acacias have glands on their leaves containing a sugary liquid and birds can access this, particularly the nectar-feeding birds.

Insect-feeding birds are very important to plants to reduce plant damage from insects. Birds eat lerps, caterpillars, aphids, and flying insects like moths, flies and bees. Some birds catch their prey on the wing. Others, such as a tree-creeper, hop along a tree trunk, probing cracks and crevices in the bark for insects. Others can tear off strips of bark to find insects beneath. Most birds feed insects to their young offspring in the nest. Large birds like black cockatoos have sharp strong beaks with which they tear into branches to find wood borers. How the bird can accurately detect just where in a branch it will find a borer is not yet understood.

Grey Fantail

Most birds nest in trees where height above the ground gives increased protection from predators. Nesting materials include bark, moss, leaves and twigs, grass, roots, cobwebs, mud and feathers. Most birds chose a nest site very carefully. Many have nests which blend in with the surrounds, and often the colouring on the bird’s head and back is good camouflage making them harder to spot by predatory carnivorous birds, while they are sitting on their eggs. Some species nest on hollows on old growth trees. It can take 100 years for a tree to have hollows created when dead limbs fall. This is why retaining old-growth forest is so important for birds, and why replanting trees will not adequately replace old trees for a very long time. In most species the male finds a suitable nesting hollow and then will call and/or display to advertise it, trying to attract a female partner. Nest boxes are not adequate replacements for tree hollows, as they lack the insulation provided by a tree branch. Eggs and nestlings are very sensitive to changes in temperature and easily killed if the nest is not insulated adequately.

Doug’s talk was crammed with specific and very interesting information. We now know that the lady yellow-tailed black cockatoo is more heavily coloured than her male mate, having a splash of bright yellow on her head. This is most unusual in birds.  In all except a small number of species, it is the male which is the more brightly coloured.

Wategora Reserve Duck River Walk - 22nd August 2020

Wategora Reserve  Melaeuca woodland

On Saturday 22 August seven Parra Hills members and three visitors walked through the Duck River track through Wategora Reserve at South Granville

Duck River is about 7 km long. It stretches from the catchment area of Regents Park in the south, flowing north to its mouth at the Parramatta River in Silverwater. In February 1788, Governor Phillip entered the mouth of the river while exploring the Parramatta River. Seeing a group of wild ducks taking flight from a reed bed, and thinking it might be a breeding ground for ducks, Governor Phillip named the waterway Duck River.

To-day the reserve is surrounded by suburban streets on one side and a golf course on the other. It is a relatively intact 11 hectare bushland reserve. Botanically it is the richest area in the eastern part of Sydney’s Cumberland Plain with some 264 species recorded. Cumberland Plain communities grew on the fertile soils cleared in the Sydney Basin for farming and later suburban developments. The NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (2002) estimated that prior to European settlement the vegetation community covered an area of almost 130,000 ha.  It now covers less than 9,000 ha which equates to a loss of 93% of the entire woodland community. For this reason it is known as an endangered community.

The timing of our walk coincided with the flowering of Acacia pubescens The Downy Wattle, a plant which is listed as vulnerable but which flourishes in the reserve. We were not disappointed. There were several stands of very healthy plants all flowering beautifully.


Acacia pubescens

We were fortunate to have a list of the plants identified as occurring in reserve prepared by Tony Price, a retired school teacher and member of the Friends of Duck River. IN the 1970’s he spent three years surveying and collecting plants in the Auburn area particularly the remnant vegetation of Rookwood Cemetery and Duck River Reserve. He compiled an extensive list of the existing plant species, recorded ecological observations, and interpolated them into a picture of the landscape and vegetation of the district at the time of European settlement.  At a time when field botany was inaccessible to many, and the focus of conservation was largely on the broader scale, Price’s local scale work at these sites was unusual and important. Though never formally published, Price’s 1979 account ‘The Vegetation of Duck River and Rookwood Cemetery, Auburn’ has been cited in all subsequent work of consequence for the area. Tony Price passed away in 2010.

As well as the Acacia pubescens plants we also identified the following plants:

 Acacia binervia
Acacia decurrens
Acacia longifolia
Bossiaea prostrata
Calotis cuneifolia
Calotis lappulacea
Cheilanthes sieberi
Clematis aristate
Daviesia ulicifolia
Dillwynia juniperina
Eucalyptus fibrosa
Eucalyptus moluccana
Eucalyptus punctata
Eucalyptus tereticornis

Eustrephus latifolium

Exocarpos cupressiformis
Hakea sericea

Hardenbergia violacea
Indigofera australis
Leucopogon juniperinus
LIssanthe strigose
Melaleuca linariifolia
Melaleuca nodosa
Meleleuca styphelioides
Notelaea longifolia
Notelaea ovata
Pandorea pandorana
Pittosporum revolutum
Pittosporum undulatum

Eustrephus latifolium

Lissanthe strigosa

 Dillwynia retorta

Pandorea pandorana

My thanks to Tony Maxwell for sourcing the following article about Tony Price.

Alison Hewitt “Revisiting Tony Price’s (1979) account of the native vegetation of Duck River and Rookwood Cemetery, Western Sydney” in Cunninghamia 17/6/2013

Jennifer Farrer 

Group Bushwalk on Saturday 25th July to Glenorie

    A group of eleven set out on this walk along the fire trail from the end of Neich Road, Glenorie. To be on the safe side, we all wore face masks. Because of the doubtful weather forecast, the time was changed from afternoon to 9.30am – just as well – and we enjoyed a very pleasant morning in the bush. The main aim was to inspect the endangered species, Acacia gordonii, which is known to grow there. This little acacia, usually about 1 metre high, has single, very bright gold flower heads on long stalks.

Acacia gordonii in typical habitat

 We were hoping that other species would be starting to flower this early in native plant spring. We were certainly not disappointed. The fire trail runs along a rocky and sandy sandstone ridge top. The sparse tree cover was mostly Corymbia eximia. Large areas of rock shelf, with cracks and cervices, spread out on both sides of the track. This is the usual habitat of Acacia gordonii, and there was lots of it in small patches, now very obvious amongst other heath species. Out of flower it is hard to pick because most of the local heath plants there have small, thin leaves. One difference is that, on feeling the leaves, A. gordonii has hairy, very soft foliage, especially when young.


Rocky sandstone ridge habitat with Corymbia eximia

 Boronia ledifolia was flowering in abundance. We even found a white-flowered form, and took only photos. Other species well in flower were Acacia suaveolens, Zieria laevigata, Hovea linearis, Gompholobium minus, Lissanthe strigosa and Woolsia pungens.
A great many other species were in full bud with the first one or two flowers bursting out. These included Leucopogon muticus, Calytrix tetragona, Micromyrtys ciliata, Leptospermum parvifolium, Kunzea capitata, various pea flowers and three Grevilleas, G.mucronulata, buxifolia and speciosa. The latter species was the low, spreading form with smaller leaves found in Marra Marra and Dharug National Parks and Maroota.


Boronia ledifolia white form

Boronia ledifolia

Hovea linearis

At one point the track passed through a more heavily-wooded area, with Eucalyptus punctata and heamastoma, Angophera bakeri and even Syncarpia glomulifera. This is not Acacia gordonii habitat. Further on, the trees petered out to open onto a large area of low heath. Again the golden pompoms appeared, and these A. gordonii plants were especially healthy. It was good to see this species flourishing in a number of areas. One previous area, off the beginning of the track, had been burnt about 18 months ago, probably illegally. It had contained a large localised patch of A.gordonii in the past. Now there is just one surviving flowering plant and a few small seedlings. Hopefully more will germinate from old seed in the sand. The area had also previously contained a beautiful mauve form of Philotheca salsolifera. We found a plant of this further along the track.

Acacia gordonii detail

Philotheca salsolifera mauve form

In all this was a very enjoyable and informative activity. It is to be hoped that our little, endangered plant survives the climate and the activities of man. Our propagation group intends to grow some, if possible, to ensure it survives in captivity as well.
                                                                                     Pip Gibian

Zieria laevigata

Bossiaea scolopendria

Species seen with flowers to see

 Acacia gordonii  Epacria microphylla Lasiopetalum ferrugineum
 Acacia suaveolens  Epacris pulchella Leucopogon microphylla
 Acacia ulicifolia  Gompholobium minus Leucopogon muticus
 Banksia ericifolia  Grevillea buxifolia Lissanthe stringosa
 Banksia spinulosa  Grevillea mucronulata Philotheca salsolifera
 Boronia ledifolia  Grevillea speciosa Pimelea linifolia
 Boronia pinnata  Hakea sericea Tetratheca glandulosa
 Boossiaea scolopendria Hovea linearis Zieria laevigata
 Calytrix tetragona   Kunzea capitata 

Native Plants for Pots and Containers  27-06-20  

On 27th June we had our first group meeting via Zoom. Our guest speaker was Brian Roach, from Westleigh Native Plants. With decreasing size of house blocks and increasing numbers of people living in units and retirement villages, this topic is very relevant. It is also possible to grow some of the difficult-to-grow species in a pot because you can control the growing environment more easily than for plants in the ground. There is the chance to grow some of the desirable Western Australian species. Having plants in pots means that you can move them around, to take advantage of sun and light, or move them out of the strongest sun in summer. You can also move that beautiful plant in full flower to a spot where you can see it better and show it off to visitors. Maybe a difficult plant can be left where you can check on it easily and control the watering more closely. There are other containers you can use instead of pots, eg lengths of old clay piping left over from a plumbing job. These can be partly buried to stabilise them.

Crowea saligna 

Brian had some practical advice about pots. He especially warned us to avoid the urn-shaped pots which curve in at the top. The curve makes it almost impossible to tip the plant out in order to repot it when it outgrows its pot. He advocated purchasing a native pot mix then adding perlite and cocopeat. Some plants have larger root systems and eventually outgrow any pot. They need to be pensioned off or planted in the garden if appropriate. In general the smaller growing plants are the most suitable.

 During the talk Brian showed great photos of the plants he has grown in pots. These included Pimelea linifolia, both Crowea exalata and saligna, some boronias and Lechanaultia biloba with its brilliant blue flowers. The latter demonstrates that pot culture can be successful for this prized Western Australian plant, which regularly dies in the ground in Sydney. Other species he featured were Darwinia taxifolia ssp macrolaena, the native Rhododendron viriosum (formally R. lochiae), Billardia leumanniana and Conostylis aurea. The last two species are also examples of floriferous Western Australian plants. Brian has registered some new names with the Australian Cultivar Authority for different and desirable variants of some species. One example is Homoranthus prolixus ‘Golditops’ which has masses of brilliant gold flowers. This form was found in northern NSW. More recently he has named a natural hybrid between Grevillea fililoba and hirtella found by Peter Olde in Western Australia. He called this small plant Grevillea ‘Butterfly Beauty” because the flowers look like crimson butterflies in the bush.

As usual Brian was an interesting and very knowledgeable speaker, much appreciated by those who logged in via Zoom.

Pip Gibian

Rhododendron viriosum

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