On Eucalypts and two books by Dean Nicolle

Smaller Eucalypts & Taller Eucalypts for Planting in Australia

Eucalyptus is an important genus of the world’s plants. It is significant that Australia is the only continent in the world whose vegetation is dominated by a single genus of plants, namely Eucalyptus. In addition, this particular genus is almost unique to our continent (with just a few species occurring on islands to its north, including New Guinea). Some species grow almost to the tops of our tallest snow-capped mountains, others down to the surrounding seas, and others again, from the edges of rain forest to the depths of our deserts. They are THE outstanding living feature in most natural Australian
landscapes and the key element that impart identity to an Australian scene.

Yet the majority of us don’t know the names (i.e. the botanical identity) of more than a few. The prime reason being that Eucalyptus is a large, diverse and complex genus, with widely scattered species, some growing in as yet seldom visited locations and undoubtedly with a number as yet to be discovered. It has been difficult for botanists to comprehend the whole assembly; and quite a number of species have until recently not had their botanical names determined. Into the bargain, even when named, it hasn’t been easy for an average person to work out what name applies to ‘their particular plant of interest’. And it is a fact that when an object doesn’t have an identity, it is almost impossible to advance your interest and knowledge pertaining to it, apart from what you observe at the time. Even if you are initially strongly motivated, and desperately wanting to further your quest, there is sadly no meaningful mechanism for storing/recalling information so that it relates to an unnamed object, i.e. until it has a name, there is nothing to attach information to. This situation has been an impediment from the beginning of the landscape development of our settlements in this continent. It is a pivotal factor that has detracted from the use, as well as the recognition, acknowledgement and understanding of the value and importance of this unique and inestimable natural asset, ‘our Gum Trees’.

It is thus not surprising, that as a consequence, up until now, eucalypts have sat in both the amateur’s and the professional botanist’s ‘too hard basket’, with only the occasional ‘tackling by taxonomists of a few species,’ or ‘of a segment of this genus’. We have thus had to wait for a very long time for this large group of our Australian plants to be recently taxonomically unravelled as a whole, and for many of the individual species to be named. Eucalypts (our widespread, ‘national tree’) have suffered a great disadvantage as the result of this situation. To a large degree they have been neglected, underestimated and often even ignored; as without a name, it is impossible to assemble, transmit or retain pertinent retrievable information related to a particular species or even to individual trees.

Dean Nicolle has now completely changed this situation for us. It is a joy and a revelation, to at last have to hand, such a lucid and pertinent pair of books on the “Gum Trees” that we grow and also on others that we would want to grow now that we have more information about them, and can find out what their names are. Due to his diligent research, and now with the publication of this beautifully illustrated pair of companion volumes, he has provided us all with a readily accessible means of identifying the gum trees we grow. A facility that we, as members of the Australian public, have needed and
been seeking, ever since we first began to take notice of the trees that are growing around us. With the assistance of these manuals we will now, at long last, be enabled to determine their correct botanical names, and to record and consult data about them.

His information for each species is written in simple English, lucid and to the point. The plant’s botanical name is followed by its common name, (if it has one). Then the origin of these names and what they mean or refer to. Next comes a clear, concise description, covering pertinent points and distinctive features. Then successively: Natural distribution & habitat; Cultivation & uses; and Management, followed by notes on Similar species (these are most helpful in making a diagnosis). This text is accompanied by clear, informative photographs that illustrate the pertinent features that immediately help to
identify the plant of interest; a chart of the plant’s (cultivation) Preferences and a map of its natural distribution.

The major additional benefit from this publication is the fact that once a plant has a botanical name, information about that plant such as special attributes, capabilities and potential under a variety of conditions, will accumulate. This species information will be of help in future choices made for planting in specific situations.

This is a treatise that was well worth waiting for and will prove to be the tool to familiarise us all with a most interesting selection of our nationally dominant genus of plants.

So, all you Wildflower People, the field is now open to find out what you’d like to grow that fits your particular situation. Go to it. Dean Nicolle has opened the door for us to embrace and begin to understand what is probably our most significant living National Asset.

-Marion Blackwell, convenor of the Society Publications Committee

Plants in Science fiction and Fantasy

Plants are everywhere, always in the background, never really having much focus drawn on them. But often creating the sense of place and atmosphere of the area they are in. An example of this is when we in Australia see eucalyptus, we instantly think of our Australian outback. Or when we see boreal forests and Cacti. We are reminded of where they are.

This is true when we think of plants in works of fiction and at that especially in science fiction where these places are limited only by the individuals imagination. Usually when we think about plant life on another world we tend to resort to analogues within our own. Many early science fiction works, when written imagined lush tropical forests filled with plants that had giant man-eating flora.

A common theme for plants in science fiction is just that, an antagonistic force either actively hostile to human life as in the Day of the Triffids, (1951) or as parasitic vegetation. Other themes of plant life in sci-fi include human form flora, an example of this is the plant Groot from Marvels Guardians of the Galaxy series of comics. Opposite to the first theme, some fictional plant species are intelligent and benevolent towards the human race. We encounter this in Clifford D simaks, All Flesh is Grass (1965) when a planet wide intelligent plant proclaims the brotherhood of all species (albeit ruthlessly enforced). Intelligent plant life is no stranger to science fiction with Kevin J Andersons Saga of Seven Suns Verdani trees.

In other works of fiction plants are not active things but instead serve to create a unique background from which the main story takes place in. Of course some of these are dangerous carnivorous plants. But others are similar to the Tesla tree’s from Dan Simmons Hyperion cantos series (1989) which store electricity and release it to scorch nearby competitors. Another is the Red weed from H.G Wells War of the Worlds (1897) which invades earth along with the alien tripods. Or James Camerons Avatar (2009) where upon the alien planet, almost every flora has bioluminescent  foliage.

Plant life on earth is often what we use to try and imagine what plant life in these science fiction and fantasy stories might look and behave like. Of course with a little bit of imagination thrown into the mix. This imagination is not limited to recent times, the concept of fictional flora is rooted in antiquity being a subject of imaginative fascination for many people at the start of fictional writing and even today.

In conclusion Plant life in science fiction and Fantasy writing can be just as important as the aliens and the spaceships that are far more popularised.

 

Author Mathew Woods. Murdoch branch.

 

References:

http://visual.ly/garden-fantasy-flora-80-plants-fiction

https://bigpictureeducation.com/plants-rooted-science-fiction

http://www.tor.com/2011/03/14/talking-trees-and-killer-spores-the-flora-of-science-fiction-and-fantasy/

http://www.usrbin.ca/damon/plants.html

http://ezinearticles.com/?Intelligent-Plants-in-Science-Fiction&id=813730

Southwest Wildlife – three new important books

Over a little more than a year a wealth of books about the Southwest has been published for a variety of interest and knowledge levels these being: Laurie’s The Southwest: Australia’s Biodiversity Hotspot by (University of Western Australia Press, 2015), Groom and Lamont’s Plant Life of Southwestern Australia. Adaptations for Survival and Plant life on the Sandplains in Southwest Australia. A Global Biodiversity Hotspot edited by Hans Lambers (UWA Press, Crawley 2014. 332 pages).

The Southwest: Australia’s Biodiversity Hotspot by Victoria Laurie is for the most general readership. This book is a beautiful homage and introduction to the Southwest’s wonderful plants and animals. A reader commented to a Wildflower Society member that it was an excellent book to keep at hand and read and enjoy, chapter by chapter while learning about the Southwest.

The other two books are focused on the review of plant species level research and how they survive and proliferate in the Southwest. These books are: Groom and Lamont’s Plant Life of Southwestern Australia and Plant life on the Sandplains in Southwest Australia (Kwongan book). The Kwongan is a vegetation type which occupies about 40% of the land surface of Southwest.

The Kwongan book has contributions from a range of authors who have a detailed knowledge of their topics. The book is an update for Kwongan Plant Life on the Sandplains (1984) produced some 30 years ago and aims to assemble current knowledge on particular topics…identifying gaps or inadequacies in knowledge and future research needs of the sandplain (Kwongan).

The book benefits from contributions from a range of authors but at times the diversity of topics means there is lack of unification of some of the themes. While there is some overlap with Plant Life of Southwestern Australia a number of the topics in Plant life on the Sandplains are only found in this publication these being: origins of the sandplains; mammal digging; detailed reviews of plant species conservation and genetics; fluoroacetate containing plants; honey possums; and human usage.

All three books have originated in Perth and principally by Perth based writers and research workers. For the Wildflower Society this is a cause to celebrate as each book raises the profile, knowledge, and (we trust) the conservation of the state’s wildflowers. Each author and editor has kindly shared their work with Society members through talks at a number of Society organised events, and we trust, will continue to do so. All three books deserve a place in our libraries and we suggest several more could be written on the roles of Fungi and Invertebrates in the Southwest.

-Greg Keighery

 

Plant Life of Southwestern Australia: A Review

Plant Life of Southwestern Australia. Adaptations for Survival  by Byron Lamont and Phillip Groom

Over more than 40 years the knowledge of the biology of our native plants for life in the Southwest has hugely benefitted from the work of a group of research botanists trained by Byron Lamont (then at Curtin University). One of these students, Phillip Groom, who has been pivotal in much of this research for 20 years has worked with Byron on producing  Plant Life of Southwestern Australia. Adaptations for Survival  (De Gruyter, Berlin 2015, 258 pages). This book commenced in 2010, focuses on plants of the Southwest.

It is clear that Plant Life benefits having two such knowledgeable authors in Phillip and Byron, demonstrated in more than 100 papers authored by either or both in the reference list. They have assembled a diverse range of information and generalised comment about the outcomes of this information on a single group of organisms, vascular plants.

The book expands on the Southwest’s recognition as Australia’s only biodiversity hotspot, one of 25 recognised internationally (biodiversity is the variability in genes, species and communities). Each of the Southwest’s major environmental constraints is discussed alongside particular plant adaptations. The constraints include: a flat landscape, nutrient impoverished soils, drought and fire. Other related topics include the plant-animal interactions related to the unique range of pollinators, and intensive herbivory (general plant eating) and granivory (seed eating). Particular plant groups, such as the Proteaceae, have met these challenges have proliferated to a remarkable extent, resulting in the Southwest’s species richness and endemism.

Strategies and morphologies plants use to cope with the above factors are covered in 11 chapters: Evolution and Diversity of the Flora; Fire Adaptations; Drought Response; Carnivory; Parasitic Plants; Specialised Nutrient uptake; Pollination Strategies and Syndromes; Leaf Properties; Seed Release and Dispersal and Seed Storage; and Germination and Establishment. Each topic typically has a case study to illustrate the generalisations. An intriguing example of a case study is that on dispersal of fungi by marsupials and, briefly, by native dung beetles. We found the particular strengths of the book (a focus of Phillip’s and Byron’s research) are the sections on fire adaptations, seed biology and the biology of leaves.

Overall the book is an excellent introduction to what makes our plants successful at home and unique at a world scale and leaves one desiring to understand more. Plant Life is available from the Wildflower Society Bookshop and online as an Open Access book at the De Gruyter website.

– Bronwen and Greg Keighery

 

Plant Life of Western Australia

Plant Life of Western Australia by John Beard 2015 edition, edited by A.S. George and N. Gibson.

Since 1990 when John Beard’s Plant Life of Western Australia was first published, it has been an indispensable part of my trips around the state and I suspect with many other plant lovers and those who want to understand the vegetation along with the flora and landscapes of Western Australia.

John Beard’s book is an amazing summation of his work across a third of Australia all done in the days before computerisation and air-conditioned four wheel drive vehicles.

Unfortunately the book has been out of print for many years and this has been a source of frustration to many. Fortunately this has been remedied with the  publication of a second edition of Plant Life Of Western Australia with Alex George and Neil Gibson as editors. They have made few changes in this new edition, keeping to the spirit of John Beard and the changes they have made are explained in their preface. In appendices they have named where possible the people in the photos and in another, plant name changes adopted for this edition. An index of place names is also included after the main index. There was one printing error with captions missing from four photos. A loose leaf errata has remedied this.

Whilst the Department of Parks and Wildlife published an updated Vegetation Map of WA in October 2013, this was based on John Beard’s initial work and his “Plant Life” is as relevant today as when it first came out. It is very fitting that the state’s floral emblem Anigozanthos manglesii has been used to illustrate the front cover of this new edition.

I very much welcome this new edition and I am sure it will become a useful addition to many people’s travels. It is so much more useful in the field than sitting on a book shelf.

– Brian Moyle