Plant Scent: What’s That Smell?

The production of a scent by a flower is well-understood by many as a method of attracting birds, bats, butterflies, beetles, ants and various other invertebrates to the flower. The smell produced by a flower acts as an attractant, which is generally combined with a reward of nectar, and has the primary function of assisting the plant with reproduction via pollination.

For some plants, the floral scent can be a delight, with each flower producing a distinctive scent that is attractive to a certain faunal assemblage. For other flowers, the scent can be less appealing to the human nose, but attracts the correct pollinator none-the-less. Flowers that smell like carrion have evolved to attract flies and beetles that would normally lay their eggs in rotting meat and faeces. They are often tempted to the carrion flowers by the smell and their visitation to the flower inadvertently pollinates it, before they depart for a more suitable place to lay their eggs.

But what about the strong scent emitted by leaves, bark and other plant tissues when no flowers are present? The roots of many Acacia have a strong foetid smell when being handled, which is produced by nitrifying root bacteria nodules, indicating that they are active and performing their task. But often, the scent in plant leaves is produced by complex chemicals. The complex chemicals that give plants their odour are often the by-products or waste components of plant metabolism, or photosynthesis. These secondary metabolites are known as volatile organic compounds. They are known as volatile, because they evaporate quickly from the liquid state and enter the air as gas, which causes the sudden detection of a scent. The largest groups of volatile organic compounds are the terpenoids (compounds with an isoprenoid structure) and green leaf volatiles. For other plants the odours are a result of other secondary metabolites called flavonoids and phenols, which are composed of hydroxyl groups attached to an aromatic ring.

Green leaf volatiles are best known as the smell that is produced by freshly mown grass, generally resulting from 6-carbon aldehydes and alcohols. When grass is damaged (e.g. cut by a lawnmower) it triggers enzymes to start breaking down fats and phospholipids, leading to the formation of linolenic and linoleic acids that are oxidised and broken down by another enzyme. The process splits the molecule into fragments that lead to the cut grass smell.

Terpenoids are responsible for contributing to many scents produced by plants. The smell of Native Pine (Callitris glaucophylla) comes from pinene. The smell of native lemongrass (Cymbopogon ambiguus) is a result of limonene and α-terpineol (both commonly found in citrus), as well as eugenol and elemicin (found in nutmeg and clove). Species of Eucalyptus contain a terpenoid called cineole, which gives the leaves their characteristic fresh scent. Cineole can also be found in other local native plants such as Striped Mintbush (Prostanthera striatiflora). Sticky Bluerod (Stemodia viscosa) contains terpenoids such as caryophyllene (pepper-like scent in rosemary), fenchol (found in basil) and limonene.

Some other strongly scented natives are Apple Bush (Pterocaulon sphacelatum), Gidgee (Acacia cambagei), and Curry Wattle (Acacia spondylophylla).

While Sticky Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa) has a distinctive scent and flower capsules that are visually similar to Hops (Humulus lupulus), used in the production of beer, they are not botanically related. Hopbush (D. viscosa) gets its name, as is was used to make beer by early European Australians, yet there are no taxonomic links to Hops (H. lupulus). Sticky Hopbush produces a scent from a combination of flavonoids such as isorhamnetin, hyperoside and a citrus flavonoid rutin, whereas Hops produces its scent from  myrcene, beta-pinene and alpha-humulene (a sesquiterpene). Their scent is, however, somewhat similar despite the difference composition. On a side note, Hops and Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) have similar organoleptic properties (taste and smell), as they have similar aromatic compounds, owing to their taxonomic relatedness.

Volatile organic compound emissions are affected by factors that include temperature (determines rates of volatilization) and sunlight (determines rates of biosynthesis). Emission occurs almost exclusively from the leaves, the stomata in particular. Hence, the Gidgee around town will smell to varying degrees, depending on the weather. There is a stand of Gidgee near Billygoat Hill in Alice Springs, which commonly will stink out the region on a rainy, misty and high humidity morning during a period of weather depressions.

The production of volatile organic compounds can require extra energy by plants and therefore can come at a cost. So why bother? Strong odours emitted by plants may also be a way of deterring browsing herbivores or insects. Volatile terpenoids released by plants when under attack from herbivorous insects allows predatory insects (or insect parasitoids) to locate prey secondarily through infected hosts (E.g. Pine trees). Volatile organic compounds may even be produced to help kill off other plants in the vicinity, in order to thrive themselves (E.g. Eucalyptus sp.). Some plants give off scent when crushed that induces defence mechanisms in neighbouring plants or promote production of new cells at the site of the wound to repair the damage. Some compounds even act as antibiotics to prevent infection at the site of the crush.

So if you start smelling something strange on the wind following a change in weather, you may be able to sniff it out to a plant upwind!

Plant Stowaways in Camel Harness

By Marg Friedel

Back In March, Marg gave a talk to the Alice Springs Field Naturalists Club, which she called “Where did they come from and how did they get here? Examining the evidence for some familiar weeds of arid central Australia”.  As part of her rummaging in the records of Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (AVH), and lots of follow-up reading and discussion, she found evidence for camel harness being the source of a surprising number of invasive plant species.

Not so surprising was the evidence for Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris), which was first recorded in AVH south of Wyndham in 1897, near the Ord River.  Camels were in use, supplying the goldfields at Hall’s Creek, and the cameleers commonly rested at waterholes and creeks.  From the 1880s, camels were sourced from India to modern Afghanistan and were brought into Western Australia via Fremantle predominantly, as well as Geraldton, Port Hedland and Albany. They serviced the pastoral industry and mines both inland and along the WA coast.  Joe Moore, storekeeper at Port Headland, persuaded school children to collect the seeds from buffel grass growing around the town from about 1910, and distributed it to stations in the district.

Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) was first recorded in 1897 (Image M. Friedel).

Buffel grass also came with camels via Port Augusta from the 1860s, and camel trains and Ghan towns were a feature of much of inland South Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales, as well as WA. The first herbarium record for NT is Woodforde Well in 1931, but we know from Walter Smith that cameleers were deliberately spreading buffel grass well before that.

Fountain Grass (Cenchrus setaceus) first appears in AVH in 1903 at Eurelia, near Orroroo, South Australia. Cloncurry Buffel (Cenchrus pennisetiformis), supposedly introduced by General Birdwood after WWI, appears in 1915 in the Geraldton-Greenough area. Birdwood Grass (Cenchrus setigera), appears at Roebourne in 1932, in keeping with its introduction by General Birdwood.  Hence it’s likely that three of the Cenchrus species, including buffel grass, came with camels initially, and that subsequently there were deliberate introductions.

Rosy Dock (Acetosa vesicaria) was first collected by naturalist Richard Helms in Perth in 1892, after he left the Lindsay expedition in the Murchison district.  Rosy dock is native to north Africa, southwestern Asia and the Indian sub-continent, so it’s a likely accidental inclusion in camel harness arriving in Fremantle.

Rosy Dock (Acetosa vesicaria) is native to Africa, Asia and India but has since spread through much of Australia (Image M. Friedel).

Kapok Bush (Aerva javanica) was found in 1937 on the de Grey River and Roy Hill Station in 1938, according to AVH.  The Ord River Regeneration Project was undertaken from the 1960s, using seed sourced from existing populations on Anna Plains station in the Pilbara and Fitzroy Crossing in the West Kimberley.  These populations were understood at the time to have come from camel harness, and kapok bush was known to be used historically by Arabian people for cushion and saddle padding.

Kapok Bush was used for cushion and saddle padding by Arabian people (Images M. Friedel).

Perhaps more surprisingly Rubber Bush (Calotropis procera) is likely to have arrived with the camels that serviced the railhead at Mungana, in Queensland, for the nearby copper mines.  A railway operated from Mareeba to Mungana from about 1900, and Mungana was the focus for camel teams for about six years. Rubber bush was first reported in AVH in 1935 at Mungana.

Rubber Bush (Calotropis procera) was used in copper mines in Queensland (Images M. Friedel).

And of course the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was distributed by cameleers, all up giving us quite a substantial list of species likely to have arrived with cameleers and their camels.

Marg would like to hear from anyone with any additional information – whether in support or counter to her story.

~ Marg Friedel

Book Launch: Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs

Land for Wildlife launched the second edition of Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs by Nic Gambold and Deborah Metters at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre this month. The launch was attended by 20 keen Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife members, who were treated to a presentation by Rex Neindorf on the biology and habits of legless lizards (Family PYGOPODIDAE).

Legless lizards at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre

Rex explained how members can identify the differences between some of the common legless lizards and small venomous snakes. He showed an example of an Excitable Delma or Excitable Snake Lizard (Delma tincta), which can often be confused with a baby brown snake. The two reptiles have a similar colour, both lay eggs and both slither along the ground. However, there are some clear differences, which were explained in detail and shown to those attending the event.

When the Excitable Delma was released onto the ground, the reason for its name became obvious. The legless lizard launched its body around on the ground with a huge amount of excitement. This was a great way to distinguish the difference between this particular legless lizard and snake. Rule 1: Snakes don’t jump. They do slither along the ground and they can launch their head and front third of their body, but they are not jumpers. Excitable Delmas are able to jump several centimetres off the ground, using their whole body.

Legless lizards have ears and some have eyelids and snakes do not have either. This is an easy way to tell the difference between the two types of reptiles, if you can get close enough without putting yourself or others in danger. Snakes can’t blink, instead they have a thin transparent scale that covers the eye, which are known as spectacles and are replaced when the snake sheds its skin. Snakes don’t have visible ear openings, but rather their inner ear is connected directly to the jawbone, which senses vibrations. Many legless lizards have small ear openings behind the jaw. Legless lizards may have lost their legs as large extensions over evolutionary time, however they do possess small residual nodules to the rear where the hind legs would have been. Keep an eye on the tongue of the reptile when it licks the air. Snakes have a very distinctly forked tongue, which is quite long and slim, whereas legless lizards have a fatter tongue that lacks a defined fork.

Legless lizards have the ability to drop their tail as a life-saving protection mechanism from predators, known as caudal autotomy. Many land owners are tricked this way when they are frightened, thinking they have found a snake and take to the individual with a shovel, only to find the animal does not die (quite the opposite for a snake, but we do not recommend testing this theory as we are pro-life for all reptiles!). Many legless lizards have a very small body and a large tail and hence are not killed when sliced in half. The tail will then regenerate given enough time and cause no discomfort to the individual. The regenerating tail has a slight colour difference in comparison to the rest of the body and so a shearing point can be found on some legless lizards that have undergone regeneration. Snakes do not regenerate a tail and therefore similar patternation can be found down the length of the body.

Some other distinguishing characteristics are less easy to identify in a hurry. For example, if you can get the reptile to roll over (good luck), you can check the ventral pattern of the scales. In venomous snakes, the ventral scales are wide, extending along the width of the belly and continue in such a way down the length of the body. In legless lizards, the scales on the underbelly are much like those on the rest of the body. Snakes are able to use their belly and side scales to move in an S-shape along the ground, whereas legless lizards can only use their sides. This means that if a legless lizard moves onto a completely smooth surface, it will lose its ability to move (important to note if you see one on the road – take care and drive around it if possible). If you happen to keep an eye on it long enough to find it feeding, legless lizards are not able to unlock their jaws to swallow large prey so they will generally go for smaller food items than snakes will.

Differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes include the size of the body scales (large in venomous snakes and small in non-venomous snakes), patterning of the body (non-intricate in venomous snakes and intricate in non-venomous snakes), tail movement (non-prehensile tail in venomous snakes, prehensile in non-venomous snakes) and loreal scales (no loreal scales in venomous snakes, loreal scales in non-venomous snakes).

Rex also explained about the snake catching service provided by the Alice Springs Reptile Centre.  He noted that they have caught fewer snakes than usual this year since there has been a lot of rain so the snakes can’t be seen amongst the grass as easily, though the catch levels were still higher than we expected.

If you notice a venomous snake on your property, you can call the Alice Springs Reptile Centre call-out number on 0407 983 276. Keep an eye on the snake and they will attend to collect it as soon as possible. Snakes are then released at several sites around Alice Springs in the rural area, depending on the required habitat of the caught individual.

The Alice Springs Reptile Centre is selling snake bandages that have indicator boxes to determine the correct application of tension to prevent the venom spreading. If you are updating your first aid kit, you may wish to visit Rex and his team to discuss suitable bandage options.

Thanks go to Rex Neindorf for launching the Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs booklet and providing such an informative presentation!

Land for Wildlife host Bill Low opens the launch, which included a presentation by Rex Neindorf

The Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs booklet can be purchased from Land for Wildlife Central Australia for $15 at any of our upcoming stalls at local events. You can also grab copies from Arid Lands Environment Centre and Red Kangaroo Books.

A Selection of Grasses from Central Australia

For those that attended the Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs, you may be familiar with the booklet that we have been developing—A Selection of Grasses from Central Australia (yet to be formally titled). The information used was sourced from an excellent online resource called AusGrass2, in combination with 30 grass samples collected from Land for Wildlife member properties.

Cymbopogon ambiguus

We have been able to seek permission from the Queensland Herbarium, who now manages the site, to use the information to develop a regional grass guide for central Australia. This will help our members to identify the invasive grasses and distinguish them from the local native grasses, as well as learn about the diversity of grasses in central Australia.

To help us along with producing a complete booklet, we are still seeking samples from the following native and exotic species (For the plant experts among you, let us know if you know where to find any of them):

Blowngrass Agrostis avenacea
Grey-beard Grass, Long Grey-beard Grass Amphipogon caricinus
Aristida arida
Cane Grass Three-awn, Two-gland Three-awn Aristida biglandulosa
Needle-leaved Three-awn Aristida capillifolia
Bunched Kerosene Grass, Mulga Grass Aristida contorta
Jericho Three-awn Aristida jerichoensis var. subspinulifera
Feathertop Wiregrass Aristida latifolia
Rock Three-awn Aristida latzii
Flat-awned Three-awn Aristida nitidula
Brush Three-awn, Brush Wiregrass Aristida obscura
Weeping Mitchell Grass Astrebla elymoides
Barley Mitchell Grass Astrebla pectinata
Austrostipa centralis
Austrostipa feresetacea
Rough Speargrass Austrostipa scabra subsp. scabra
Wild Oat Avena fatua
Desert Bluegrass Bothriochloa ewartiana
Birdwood Grass Cenchrus setiger
Comb Chloris Chloris pectinata
Feathertop Rhodes Grass, Furry Grass, Feather Finger-grass Chloris virgata
Feathertop Rhodes Grass, Furry Grass, Feather Finger-grass Chloris virgata
Golden Beard Grass, Ribbon Grass, Weeping Grass, Spear Grass Chrysopogon fallax
Northern Barley Grass Critesion murinum subsp. glaucum
Silkyheads, Lemon-scented Grass Cymbopogon obtectus
Sheda Grass Dichanthium annulatum
Dwarf Bluegrass Dichanthium sericeum subsp. humilius
Silky Umbrella Grass, Spider Grass Digitaria ammophila
Umbrella Grass, Finger Panic Grass Digitaria coenicola
Comb Finger Grass Digitaria ctenantha
Echinochloa crus-galli
Japanese Millet Echinochloa esculenta
Conetop Nine-awn, Clelands Nine-awn Enneapogon clelandii
Jointed Nine-awn, Limestone Oat-grass, Jointed Bottlewasher Enneapogon cylindricus
Enneapogon eremophilus
Rock Nine-awn Enneapogon oblongus
Curly Windmill Grass, Umbrella Grass, Spider grass Enteropogon acicularis
Eragrostis A51007 Limestone
Swamp Canegrass Eragrostis australasica
Neat Lovegrass, Clustered Lovegrass Eragrostis basedowii
Fairy Grass, Cumings Lovegrass Eragrostis cumingii
Mallee Lovegrass Eragrostis dielsii
Clustered Lovegrass, Close-headed Lovegrass Eragrostis elongata
Small-flowered Lovegrass Eragrostis kennedyae
Purple Lovegrass Eragrostis lacunaria
Drooping Lovegrass Eragrostis leptocarpa
Eragrostis olida
Weeping Lovegrass Eragrostis parviflora
Small Lovegrass Eragrostis pergracilis
Neverfail, Narrow-leaf Neverfail Eragrostis setifolia
Knottybutt Neverfail Eragrostis xerophila
Three-awn Wanderrie Eriachne aristidea
Woollybutt Wanderrie Eriachne helmsii
Pretty Wanderrie Eriachne pulchella subsp. pulchella
Eight Day Grass, Common Fringe-rush Fimbristylis dichotoma
Fimbristylis microcarya
Bunch Speargrass, Black Speargrass Heteropogon contortus
Rough-stemmed Flinders Grass Iseilema dolichotrichum
Bull Flinders Grass Iseilema macratherum
Small Flinders Grass Iseilema membranaceum
Red Flinders Grass Iseilema vaginiflorum
Umbrella Canegrass Leptochloa digitata
Small-flowered Beetle Grass Leptochloa fusca subsp. fusca
Brown Beetle Grass Leptochloa fusca subsp. muelleri
Beetle Grass Leptochloa fusca subsp. uninervia
Natal Red Top, Red Natal Grass Melinis repens
Winged Chloris Oxychloris scariosa
Giant Panic Panicum antidotale
Hairy Panic Panicum effusum
Pepper Grass Panicum laevinode
Bristle-brush Grass Paractaenum refractum
Clements Paspalidium Paspalidium clementii
Knottybutt Paspalidium, Slender Panic Paspalidium constrictum
Warrego Summer Grass Paspalidium jubiflorum
Bunch Paspalidium Paspalidium rarum
Kikuyu Pennisetum clandestinum
Pennisetum pedicellatum subsp. unispiculum
Comet Grass Perotis rara
Annual Beardgrass Polypogon monspeliensis
Katoora Sporobolus actinocladus
Australian Dropseed Sporobolus australasicus
Sporobolus blakei
Sporobolus scabridus
Tall Oat Grass, Oat Kangaroo Grass, Native Oat Grass, Swamp Kangaroo Grass Themeda avenacea
Window Mulga Grass, Mulga Mitchell Grass, Mulga Grass Thyridolepis mitchelliana
Spurred Arrowgrass Triglochin calcitrapum
Hard Spinifex, Lobed Spinifex Triodia basedowii
Hard Spinifex, Lobed Spinifex Triodia brizoides
Buck Spinifex, Bull Spinifex, Giant Grey Spinifex Triodia longiceps
Five-minute Grass, Rye Beetle Grass Tripogon loliiformis
Hairy Armgrass, Hairy Summer Grass, Green Summer Grass Urochloa piligera
Large Armgrass, Large Summer Grass Urochloa praetervisa
Sandhill Canegrass Zygochloa paradoxa

Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour Video

Land for Wildlife assisted Arid Lands Environment Centre to run a Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour on the 18th of February 2017. You can read more about the event at our Blog:

Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs

Land for Wildlife were there to assist the Land for Wildlife properties to showcase the natural values of their properties, identifying plants for those on tour and we had a camera to capture the day. It was quite a windy day, according to the camera, so we have learnt that a microphone is sometimes a necessary tool (we must never stop learning!). Apologies for the windy moments towards the start, but it’s worth persisting. I’ve included some subtitles in places to help you out. It includes some presentations by the Buffel Busters on the day, photographs of the event and some of the wildlife spotted at the Buffel-free sites.

You can view the video below, and share it through the link: https://youtu.be/xzyi6D1OZFE

Still want to learn more about Buffel Grass? Head to our Resources web page for links to a range of handy fact sheets.

Thanks to the supporters: Arid Lands Environment Centre, Territory Natural Resource Management, Desert Knowledge Australia, Alice Springs Landcare Inc and Olive Pink Botanic Garden. Thanks to everyone that came along to the event and especially to all of the Buffel Busters that shared their experience, knowledge and wisdom (Peter Latz, Bruce Simmons, Debbie Page, Jude Prichard from Alice Springs Landcare Inc, and Doug McDougall from Olive Pink Botanic Garden).

World Wildlife Day Nature Journal Competition

The 3rd of March marks World Wildlife Day, which was proclaimed by the United Nations in 2013 as a day for the celebration of the world’s wild animals and plants. The theme for 2017 is “Listen to the Young Voices”, as there is a need to encourage young people, as the future decision makers of the world, to protect wildlife. Land for Wildlife encourages youth of central Australia to become aware and engaged about the major threats to wildlife, which includes habitat change at our local level, among other threats.

To celebrate, we’re asking the younger generation of Alice Springs to get outside and observe some wildlife in your local space and get to know it a little.

  1. Take your pick of wildlife subject. It could be anything from the tiniest of invertebrates (Caterpillars, Beetles, Butterflies), to reptiles (Lizards or Snakes – keeping your distance), birds (endless species!), and mammals (Roos, Euros and Wallabies).
  2. Download Paula Peeters’ resource ‘Make a Date With Nature: an Introduction to Nature Journaling’ from our website. Paula Peeters also has a website Paperbark Writer, on which you can find a host of fun activities where Australian nature meets science and art. This will give you some tips and hints about how to create a nature journal.
  3. Record your observations and make an A4 one-page journal. This can include your observations, images of what you see, drawings, anything that inspires you about the subject.
  4. Send your entries through to us at Land for Wildlife: You can email scanned copies to lfw@lowecol.com.au or send the original to PO Box 3130 Alice Springs NT 0870. This competition is open to Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife members, but also the wider community so feel free to share this with your networks. If you are not a member and are submitting an entry, please provide contact details so that we can chase you down if you win. We will be taking entries up until March 29th for winner announcement in the March Newsletter. Note that there is no actual age limit to entries – if you are young, or just young at heart, you are welcome to enter the competition!

The best nature journal will win a copy of our newly released, Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs by Nic Gambold and Deborah Metters.

Want to know more about World Wildlife Day? Check out the World Wildlife Day website for more information.

In the Garden

By Candice Appleby

All the rain we have been having of late has bought with it a burst of growth around the garden, which is great! But at times this can lead to unwanted over-hanging limbs, smaller shrubs becoming crowded or just an overall scruffy looking yard. Correct pruning techniques are essential to plant health and growth. Here are some easy soft pruning tips to keep your garden looking sharp, whilst staying healthy.

  1. Pruning cuts should always be placed just above the growth node and done on no more than a 45 degree angle facing away from the node.

2. For larger, over-hanging, branches first take some weight off the branch by pruning off the smaller lower hanging branches. Often, the main branch will spring up out of way and you will avoid excessive pruning that can destroy tree shape.

3. To promote bushier plants, regular tip pruning of soft new growth is the best option. This should be undertaken after flowering and during the growing season.

4. It is best not to prune in winter as the fresh new growth can easily become damaged by frost.

5. If you are pruning to repair broken limbs, or branches attacked by insects (damn grasshoppers!), the branch needs to be pruned back to clean and undamaged wood. Once again, prune close to a limb or node. Infection and dieback can easily occur if the limb is left in a damaged state.

Remember, cuts in tree branches are much similar to a cut on your arm. The wound will provide an entry for bacteria and diseases, and will result in the plant using up lots of energy to heal. Keep pruning cut sizes to the minimum to avoid stress.  I also like to treat the plant with a little Seasol after a prune to say thank you to my plants for being such good sports! Happy gardening!

~ Candice Appleby

Snakes Taking a Dip

By Jeremy Snowdon-James

On a recent Low Ecological Services P/L field trip, out west of Alice Springs, we were lucky enough to come across two beautiful young snakes, a Desert Death Adder (Acanthophis Pyrrhus) and a Little Spotted Snake (Suta punctata); though at first glance we may have missed them both! We were alerted to their presence by staff at the facility we were inspecting.

“Couple of snakes in the pool for ya’s if you want to check them out”

“Ah really?” We asked, “what type?”

“Not sure, one looks like a death adder and the other is more slender, darker. We got them out a few times, but they keep going back in!”

It was early afternoon when we received this information, so after a meal we went to investigate! On first assessment, there were no snakes to be seen in the now largely empty pool. Our disappointment was evident and we figured they must have escaped, not returned or perhaps we had been sold a furphy! But then, just as we were about to give up, we spotted the small reddish brown colour of the Death Adder! It was half hidden beneath leaf litter, pressed against the bottom step; a quarter of the size we were expecting. Quickly our fearless leader picked up a small twig and jumped in to grab it out; highlighting the importance of undergoing some basic snake handling training! After several photos and close inspection, we released the snake up in the surrounding hills, sufficient distance to deter re-entry to the pool trap.

We returned to the pool and looked a bit more, but were unable to find the second snake.

That next morning over breakfast we relayed the information about the Death Adders’ transportation and our lack of luck in finding the other.

“No, it’s in there,” they confirmed. “Saw him just last night, hiding under the drain cap”.

With a belly full of breakfast and fresh morning enthusiasm, we returned to the pool for one last inspection before we headed home. Alas, nothing under the drain cap.

There was a fair amount of leaf litter in a small amount of water caught from rainfall in the bottom of the pool; so, we stirred it up with a stick. And whip, there it was, sneakily hiding within the brush, filling up on frogs and tadpoles! This Little Spotted snake was far less corporative than the Death Adder, as it constantly wiggled and curled its body out from under the stick. Finally, after a 20-minute snake/stick dance, we managed to get it stuck and transported it to the hills!

We installed a fauna ladder (branch, pole, house ladder, whatever is lying around that an animal will be able to use to climb out) into the pool, so that if it happened again, the little creatures can make their own way out. With so much water around after the summer rains, and frogs a plenty, it makes for perfect conditions for snakes to be out hunting. And an out-of-use pool makes for an ideal hunting ground; however, also a perfect trap.

Quite often in the desert when out walking, concern about snakes can get subdued, as you rarely see them. This experienced reminded us all that sometimes we only think about the big snakes, King Browns or Carpet snakes over a meter in length! We probably come across far more snakes than we think, we just have to take the time to look out for the smaller ones; a good local ID book is paramount!

It was a thought I carried with me the following weekend as I took a walk out behind Stanley Chasm. I came across a great little waterhole, with hundreds of tadpoles and small frogs jumping about; thinking this would be a perfect place for a snake. And there it was, subtly hidden beneath the water at first, a beautiful King Brown! Slowly it made its way up out of the water and back into the safety of rocks!

~ Jeremy Snowdon-James

Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus)

 

Death Adder (Acanthophis pyrrhus)

 

Little Spotted Snake (Suta punctata)

 

Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs

Land for Wildlife kicked off last weekend with its first collaborative workshop for 2017 – a Buffel Busters inspiration tour of Alice Springs. Arid Lands Environment Centre hosted the event as part of their Biodiversity Matters initiative, with Land for Wildlife supporting the tour to a range of Land for Wildlife properties and other local landcare properties. This was supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, Desert Knowledge Australia, Olive Pink Botanic Garden and Alice Springs Landcare Inc. The workshop was attended by 25 keen Buffel Busters, seeking inspiration for the removal of the pesky introduced Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris). The drive gave the workshop participants several chances to compare Buffel-laden versus buffel-free sites, including identification of some of the native grasses, forbs and shrubs that can germinate in the absence of Buffel.

Buffel Busters getting inspired on the Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour

The first stop on the tour was made to the property of local botanist and grass expert, Peter Latz. Peter has spent many years on his eight hectare plot, removing Buffel Grass, Couch (Cynodon dactylon) and invasive Lovegrasses (two of the Eragrostis sp.). Peter, along with several neighbours, has removed Buffel from adjacent drainage lines, which he says is one of the main incoming sources of seed to his property. Buffel Grass has resulted in several large fires incinerating some of the old Ironwood (Acacia estrophiolata) trees, one of the main problems with this introduced grass, according to ‘Latzi’. The effort to remove Buffel Grass, which has been a ten-year task, has resulted in greater plant and animal diversity on his block.

Peter Latz (AKA Latzi) explains how he took on Buffel Grass head first.

The removal of Buffel has been accomplished by spraying large patches, chipping out smaller pockets with a hoe or mattock. He suggests that you should never spray Buffel once the seeds have fallen, as they are tough enough that they become resistant to herbicides. The Buffel should be sprayed twice and then removed by mechanical means (hoe or mattock). Peter states that they key to effective Buffel removal is to be present during the active growing season (following heavy rains), so that the plants and seed heads can be removed before they are released from the plant.

Peter argues that while Buffel Grass is invasive and responsible for promoting more intense fires, it isn’t as bad as some of the other grasses that are taking hold in the area, such as Couch and African/Stinking Lovegrass. Buffel Grass may be helping to keep some of the other invasive weeds at bay. Buffel makes good mulch and growing plants stabilise the soil in areas of erosion concern, however the seeds must be removed to prevent the spread of the grass. Buffel grass also acts as a nutrient recycler, putting carbon back into the soil, and increasing soil fertility for when the natives regenerate. However this isn’t long-term and so nutrition declines over time in grass-dominated ecosystems, requiring phosphate to strike a balance (or the growth of legumes).

Peter recommended a book ‘Where Do Camels Belong’ by Dr Ken Thompson, which suggests that invasive species vigour declines after 50 years and becomes part of the landscape. This suggests that Buffel grass populations will eventually diminish in areas of early establishment. However, the native seed bank needs to be replenished in order for the natives to regenerate, and hence Buffel control is still needed in the meantime. This seed stock also provides food for a range of local wildlife, keeping populations of invertebrates, birds and native mice well-fed.

The second site visited was the verge of Schaber Road, where Bruce Simmons has focused his Buffel bashing efforts for many years. Originally, Bruce was concerned about the effects of erosion when removing Buffel but went ahead with some advice from the experts. He convinced his neighbours to get involved, with many others in the street taking part in the Buffel Grass removal quest.

Bruce Simmons explains how his Buffel busting excursions made their way out onto the verge and neighbouring yards.

Bruce helps out at the Alice Springs Community Garden, an Arid Lands Environment Centre initiative and Garden for Wildlife property located in Eastside. The Buffel Grass pulled by Bruce and others is used to create compost for the gardens, but he states that the Buffel can also be placed directly under the base of fruit trees as mulch. He reinstates the suggestion that Buffel Grass removal requires persistence but once the bulk has been removed, maintaining the native verge requires minimal effort.

Buffel Grass seeds wash in from neighbouring areas in the drainage lines and so the recent rains have been a challenge, germinating a host of Buffel seeds along the verge. The native forbs that have returned to the verge, include Variable Daisy (Brachycome ciliaris complex), Woolly Oat Grass (Enneapogon polyphyllus), Erect Kerosene Grass (Aristida holathera) and Golden Everlasting (Xerochrysum bracteatum), among others. These natives provide habitat and foraging space for a range of birds, with birds such as Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) and Sacred Kingfishers (Todiramphus sanctus) calling the street home.

Debbie Page is a keen Buffel  Buster with a Land for Wildlife property in Ross, and this made for an inspiring third stop. Debbie is eager to motivate and inspire land owners to remove Buffel on their own properties. She claims that effective Buffel control is about awareness, which Debbie gained through seeking advice from various contacts around Alice Springs. Debbie’s journey to a Buffel-free property came from three catalysts: Land for Wildlife and the technical support provided by the nature conservation program, Rosalie Breen and her efforts spraying Buffel at OLSH in Alice Springs, and some friends in the area, Carmel and David Leonard (also a Land for Wildlife property in the day). With some inspiration from others and the phrase ‘Dream, Believe, Create, Succeed’, she took up the Buffel removal challenge, though found it daunting at first. Debbie doesn’t attempt to convince her neighbours to remove Buffel, though she confesses that she has been known to jump the fence and spray clumps of Buffel in the early hours of the morning, and she can see that they have become Buffel Busters through watching her actions.

Debbie inspires the keen Buffel Busters about how she removed the invasive grass from her patch through hard work and determination.

Debbie started her Buffel Busting efforts with a small spray pack, Glyphosate 360 and the appropriate safety equipment. Debbie suggested that a small amount of eco-friendly detergent can be placed in the spray pack to act as a surfactant, and Peter Latz added that sulphate ammonia can also be added to increase potency of the mix.

Debbie would find a window of opportunity after rain when the conditions suited spraying and would do an hour or two of spraying in the morning on her two hectare property. She states that the task has taken her four years, but the reward of native birds such as Splendid Fairy-wrens (Malurus splendens) and Quails (Turnix sp.) returning to her block is worth the hard work and she has enjoyed the challenge. Debbie recommends getting in touch with your property and becoming aware of the value that Buffel-removal can provide, as selectively spraying and watching the native understorey returning gives her a sense of accomplishment. Debbie’s property is now home to a huge variety of native grasses, such as Woolly Oat Grass (Enneapogon polyphyllus), Erect Kerosene Grass (Aristida holathera), Wiregrass (Aristida arida), Silky Bluegrass (Dichanthium sericeum subsp. sericeum), Native Millet (Panicum decompositum s.lat.), Silky Browntop (Eulalia aurea), and Curly Wiregrass (Aristida inaequiglumis).

The Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs made its way to Ankerre Ankerre, also known as the Coolabah Swamp, in Eastside. Jude Prichard and Alice Springs Landcare Inc has been working to remove Buffel Grass and other natives from the area for approximately four years, with amazing results. The Coolabah population has slowly started regenerating, with a few seedlings becoming established in recent months. They have managed to establish the native flora in the area, which is contributing to a solid seedbank, which they feel they are custodians of for future generations. Jude confirmed that the maintenance effort required is now minimal, so long as the landcare group can remove the plants before they seed.

Jude Prichard tells the Buffel Busters about how Buffel removal has worked on sacred crown land for the Alice Springs Landcare Inc.

Jude explained how the large trees were protected from fire as the first strategy and once the main areas had been cleared of Buffel, the location site-lines were opened up to change perception of the area from a wasteland to a place of beauty and significance. She suggests setting goals, with small areas dealt with at a time and expanding from there.

The final stop of the tour was to Olive Pink Botanic Garden, where Doug McDougall showed the participants the hard work that the Green Army team (and other volunteers) had been doing to remove Buffel Grass on Nurse’s Hill. The Buffel Busters in the garden use a bio-friendly food dye in the spray pack so that they can clearly see the areas that have been sprayed to prevent waste of chemical. Visitors to the botanic garden are now met with an array of beautiful flowering native plants, as well as birds, Euros (Macropus robustus) and Black-footed Rock Wallabies (Petrogale lateralis).

Doug McDougall showed the group how the Green Army team and other volunteers have removed Buffel Grass from sensitive sites within Olive Pink Botanic Garden.

Many thanks go to the participants for taking part and to the Buffel Busters for opening your homes and gardens to the eagre Busters-to-be – providing so much inspiration. Thanks go to the Arid Lands Environment Centre for hosting the event and all of the supporters for making the event such a success.

A video of the day is in the making and will be released soon, so you can get up to speed with the inspirational words of the Buffel Busters (Stay posted).

Frog Frenzy for World Wetlands Day

Simpsons Gap: These Waterways are home to a range of amphibians, invertebrates and other fauna.

Simpsons Gap: These Waterways are home to a range of amphibians, invertebrates and other fauna.

Land for Wildlife went along to the Territory NRM World Wetlands Day Event on February 1st at Simpsons Gap and were delighted to see all the frogs that have emerged following recent rains. Three species were present at the TNRM hosted event, including the Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni), Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella) and Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri). The Centralian Tree Frog is distinguished by its green colour and white spots on the back, while the Red Tree Frog is much smaller, can be grey to brown in colour and possesses a broad black stripe running down the side of the body. Spencer’s Burrowing Frog has large and irregular splotches of dark brown on a lighter fawn body, and has a somewhat distinctive shield or plate behind the back of the head.

There are two main lineages of frogs in Central Australia, the first two species observed belong to the Family Hylidae (or tree frogs) and the third belongs to the Family Limnodynastidae (the Australian ground frogs). While Spencer’s Burrowing Frog spends most of its life underground to avoid dehydration, and emerges only for short periods after rains, the Centralian Tree Frog and Red Tree Frog are unable to burrow and climb into humid microhabitats such as crevices and tree hollows close to permanent water.

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

 

Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella)

Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella)

 

Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri)

Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri)

 

Tadpole

 

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

 

Parks and Wildlife NT are running a host of Frog Nights throughout February – get along to a session to see the diversity of amphibians in our local waterways.

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To learn more about World Wetlands Day (2nd February 2017), head to http://www.worldwetlandsday.org/

Are there frogs in your yard? Want to identify them? Pick up a copy of the Land for Wildlife production ‘Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs’ by Nic Gambold and Deborah Metters at any of our upcoming stalls and events. To find out more about this publication head to our Books for Sale webpage.