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Parramatta and Hills District Group

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Native Plants for a Cottage Garden 18/08/2018
Brian Roach

Brian gave his usual energetic and spirited presentation on this topic last Saturday.

He outlined the parameters of cottage gardens and the type of plants that might be suited to that environment.

Then followed a breakdown by plant size and a series of excellent photos of candidate native plants and a discussion of the needs to successfully grow each one of them.

Brian’s background knowledge really shone through and he fielded a range of questions from the audience to complete this part of our meeting.

Small plants to 50cm:

Dr Michael Batley
Summary: Dr Marilyn Cross

On Saturday, 23rd June we were privileged to be addressed by Dr Michael Batley on the topic of Australian bees and other pollinators. Dr Batley is an honorary Research Associate of the Australian Museum with a special interest in Australian native bees. Let us begin with a definition of pollination from the Australian Museum:

“Pollination is the delivery of pollen to the female organs of a plant (stigma in flowers). Pollen is made by the male organs of a plant (stamens in flowers) and contains genetic information needed for plant reproduction. Pollen may be transferred to female organs on the same plant (self-pollination) or another plant of the same species (cross-pollination). As a result of pollination, the plants produce seeds. Pollen can be dispersed by wind, water and animal pollinators such as insects, bats and birds”. 

Angophora hispida and European honey bee

Photographer: AMBS © Australian Museum Business Services

Blue banded bee Amegilla (Zonamegilla) cingulata
(Fabricius, 1775)   Dorsal view Female

(Hymenoptera: Apidae: Apinae: Anthophorini)

Many plants depend on animals, particularly insects, to transfer pollen as they forage. Plants attract pollinators in various ways, by offering pollen or nectar meals and by guiding them to the flower using scent and visual cues. This has resulted in strong relationships between plants and the animals that pollinate them (Australian Museum, 2018). However, a key scientific question that is not easily answered is ‘What pollinates what?’. That question has engaged Michael over the last few decades. It is estimated that there is some degree of specialisation in ~8% of bees. One intriguing example is that of ‘inside out flowers’ such as figs where the male wasps live inside the figs and the female sometimes rips off her wings before visiting the male and incidentally pollinating the fig flower. 

Pollinators include birds, marsupials, bats, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, thrips and bees. The small antechinus pollinates toothbrush grevilleas while various honeyeaters, for example the eastern spinebill, visit Lambertia formosa, many species of Eremophila and some epacrid flora, such as Epacris longiflora.

Australia has more than 1500 species of native bees that adopt a variety of methods to harvest nectar from flowers and the flowers themselves have some degree of adaptation to attract pollinators. However, extreme mutualism is rare. In general, if one partner is a specialist, the other is a generalist.

“Convergent floral traits hypothesized as attracting particular pollinators have been described as pollination syndromes. However, the traditional syndromes described by Faegri and van der Pijl (1979) have been shown to be unreliable predictors of major pollinators in some plant communities (Hingston and McQuillan, 2000; Ollerton et al., 2009). The accuracy of these syndromes also differs across plant families (Johnson, 2013). Floral diversity suggests that the Australian epacrid flora may be adapted to pollinator type. Currently there are empirical data on the pollination systems for 87 species (approx. 15% of Australian epacrids). This provides an opportunity to test for pollination syndromes and their important morphological traits in an iconic element of the Australian flora.

Floral attributes are correlated with bird, fly and bee pollination. Using floral attributes identified as correlating with pollinator type, bird pollination is classified with 86 % accuracy, red flowers being the most important predictor. Fly and bee pollination are classified with 78% and 69 % accuracy but have a lack of individually important floral predictors. Excluding mixed pollination systems improved the accuracy of the prediction of both bee and fly pollination systems.

Although most epacrids have generalized pollination systems, a correlation between bird pollination and red, long-tubed epacrids is found. Statistical classification highlights the relative importance of each floral attribute in relation to pollinator type and proves useful in classifying epacrids to bird, fly and bee pollination systems” (Johnson, 2013).

Some species of bee favour pea flowers as they are strong enough to open the keels of the flower to find the nectar and in the process being dabbed with pollen. The blue banded bee is a buzz pollinator that vibrates its head against flowers with poricidal anthers at the rate of 350 times/second to shake free the pollen (Calyx Centre, Royal Botanic Gardens, 2018, . Geebungs - Persoonia species are visited by many different kinds of bee, but a small number of bee species have evolved modified body parts that have helped them become specialist foragers from Persoonia.

Image Cross:
Pollinator on Xanthorrhoea macronema
Image Cross:
Temptation for a Pollinator: Bearded Orchid

The frequency of specialisation by flowers is particularly high among orchids. This is possibly because they have evolved symbioses with fungi, which has the consequence that they need to produce large numbers of seeds in order that some land where a suitable fungus is present. An orchid’s pollen is held in a packet so that all the pollen is removed by a single visitor. This makes narrow specialisation much less hazardous. The mechanisms that have been evolved by orchids are varied and include the use of sexual pheromones to attract male bees and wasps and fool them into attempting to mate with orchid flowers, thereby acting as pollinators.

Our summary has attempted to give some flavour of Michael’s fascinating talk but to find out more, one could begin by consulting the publication: Native Bees of the Sydney Region. A Field Guide by Dollin, A., M. Batley, M. Robinson & B. Faulkner (2000).

Narelle Hap on 'Native Plant Foods'  24/02/18


At our meeting on 24th February 2018 we had a great talk by Narelle Happ on native plant foods. As well as being a good communicator, Narelle speaks from experience. She grows almost all the plants she describes, and regularly uses them in her kitchen when feeding her family. As well as plant photos, Narelle illustrated her talk with pot specimens from Sydney Wildflower Nursery, which were sale at afternoon tea. She also brought some delicious food for us to try. It was a warm day and we were greeted with a refreshing lemon cordial flavoured with Backhousia citriodora. At afternoon tea there were muffins made from wattle seed, and saltbush damper with lillypilly jam. During the talk Narelle handed around some delicious Strawberry Gum Bliss Balls, chocolate balls flavoured with ground Eucalyptus olida leaves.

In her talk Narelle divided plants by size, trees shrubs and smaller plants including herbs. We learned that only 6 species of Acacia can be eaten, but 2 of them grow locally, Acacia longifolia and A. sophorae (or alternatively Acacia longifolia ssp sophorae). The latter version is much smaller so better suited to suburban gardens. The seeds are roasted and ground into flour. Many food plants are from our rainforests, and happily grow in Sydney’s humid summers, with extra water in dry times. Quite a number of rainforest fruits are edible and delicious. Many grow in shade so can be planted as understory plants. Some are small trees, but Narelle advocates pruning to ensure that fruit can be easily reached. We learned that the leaves of the common Prostanthera species, rotundifolia and incisa, yield replacement herbs for thyme and sage respectively. Some Tasmannia species are called Pepper Berry, but the leaves have a much stronger pepper level than the berries. At the other end of the spectrum were the small plants like Mentha, the native mint, and the tubers of the Chocolate Lilly and Bulbine species. Narelle has now sent notes to distribute to members by email.

All in all this was a great talk.

Photo: Red berries of Linospadix monostachyos  (Walking Stick Palm)

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