Pruning Grevilleas

By Candice Appleby

Honey Grevillea (Grevillea eriostachya) is a local native that produces a sweet and sticky nectar, highly attractive to honeyeaters.

 

Little known fact: Grevilleas can cause skin irritation and some people can be quite allergic to the foliage and flowers. Be careful while pruning, wear gloves and long sleeves and be sure to wash your hands, arms and legs when you are finished.

One of the best times to prune your grevilleas is in spring. It can be devastating to see the beautiful blooms fall to the ground. But don’t be afraid to sacrifice a few flowers! Pruning in spring is very beneficial, as the plant is experiencing a surge of active growth. The plant will recover very quickly from the prune and you will be rewarded with thicker foliage and an abundance of flowers in no time. Young Grevilleas respond well to a tip prune, whereby you simply cut around 5 to 10 cm of newer growth from the tip. Do this every 3 months or so for the best results. Older Grevilleas may require a hard prune if they are starting to become top heavy and woody. This hard prune should be done in two stages: first by cutting back around 1/3 of the growth (October is the best time for this) then following this up two months later by cutting back another 1/3.

After pruning, be sure to give your Grevilleas a little treat of a low phosphorus native plant fertiliser. Also, why not try your hand at a spot of propagation with the left over cuttings. Head to your local nursery and grab some hardwood rooting hormone gel (Clonex red) and some propagation media – give it a try! Check out this video for a great Grevillea cutting propagation tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELH6anJdID8

~ Candice Appleby

Property Planning for Wildlife

 

We all love the plants, animals and other aspects of the natural world that we are surrounded with and want to learn how to protect them – the best that we can. You can aim as high as you like – or as humble as you like. Just do what you can. At the basic level, it could mean increasing your own awareness of wildlife and its needs. At a moderate level, it could mean installing a bird bath and providing fresh water to those in need and removing a few weeds. At the upper level, it could mean planting out your property and designing it in a way that maximises wildlife habitat.

The environment has been changed drastically with European arrival and increasing population levels. Much of the remnant vegetation has been cleared for agriculture, housing and infrastructure. In addition to habitat loss, there are many species that were introduced that subsequently became pests, causing enormous environmental and economic loss. Such species include rabbits, cats and foxes. At an invertebrate level, the European Honeybee, while providing economic benefit for pollination of crops, is a threat to native pollinators and ecosystems. The extreme changes to the environment have resulted in severe species loss, with 1 bird and 11 mammals having become extinct in the Northern Territory. In addition to the loss of fauna species, we are also experiencing a loss of plant species and erosion problems.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. With advances in research, we have come to understand the unique qualities of our native flora and fauna and the ecosystems of which they are a part. Wildlife is an asset that we should strive to retain. Landscape planning is important for flora and fauna considerations. In addition, biodiversity is important at many levels economically – environmental restoration, ecotourism, bush food cultivation, carbon credits, plant propagation and provision to the public, parks/reserves, environmental education to schools… and the list goes on!

Rural communities play an important role in protecting and rehabilitating the environment through groups such as Landcare, Land for Wildlife and other community based programs. Many parcels of land are locked up in pastoral leases, residential freehold and crown land. Remnant vegetation is often only visible on roadside verges and uninhabitable hillsides. As a result, National Parks are often preserving the extremes – ranges, gorges, valleys. The flat and degraded landscapes are often overlooked and require private landholders to get involved, especially if the land includes precious remnant habitat.

3 R’s – The priority for conserving flora is to Retain remnant vegetation, Restore the quality of degraded habitats, and Revegetate cleared areas.

There are a few general considerations when it comes to property planning for wildlife, including integration of land uses, time, space and species thresholds, and quality the habitat available.

Integration of land uses

Ensure you are meeting all your needs with respect to land use. Do you need space for working outdoors? Relaxation spaces? Active spaces for sport? Cover your needs and work with the rest.

Time

Time is required for habitats to develop, for pioneer species to be replaced by those of older stages, and for trees to develop hollows. Plan and be patient.

Quantity and Space Thresholds: Connect and Consolidate

The bigger the better! Larger and more compact areas support a greater diversity of habitats on different land systems, more species due to quantity and diversity of resources (see the species to area relationship), larger populations, and a greater chance of linkages between habitats. A space threshold is the minimum area required for a certain species to establish. If you are targeting selected species, ensure that you have the space required to support it before dedicating planting and planning activities towards it. For example, the Hooded Robin requires a territory of around 5 hectares, so many rural blocks may not be sufficient in their own right. Remember, getting your neighbours involved helps to widen the habitat corridor and larger patches are achievable with coordinated efforts. Complex large patches are integral during drought, as many bird species congregate in resource-rich sites in poor conditions, known as drought refuges.

For vegetation, compact areas are important as there is a greater core area away from edge disturbance (weeds, predators, surrounding land use). In the undergrowth, there are usually more weeds around edges, so smaller forbs and native grasses are likely to thrive in the core area of a larger patch. For larger trees, there is often more Mistletoe found in trees around edges that can put stress on large trees. Many species of fauna avoid edges due to the risk of predation and prefer core areas that provide safety. Yellow-throated Miners may dominate in linear patches of habitat and out-compete other smaller White-plumed Honeyeaters, Babblers etc, that prefer to take safety in core areas. Having some larger core areas will enable the wildlife to reach a balance.

On the other hand, edges offer a greater variety of resources for some fauna species that are able to utilise the adjacent habitats equally and can result in greater species diversity. For example, Kangaroos benefit from edges as they can take protection in woodlands and graze in open paddocks and dusk and dawn. The aforementioned Mistletoe, common around edges, is also necessary. It is native and has a symbiotic relationship with native Mistletoe Birds and the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, so don’t be hasty to remove it.

To help alleviate the effect of edges on remnant habitat, start by increasing the core area by undertaking revegetation activities around narrow areas. You may also wish to separate two differing and incompatible land uses with an intermediate complementary land use – a buffer. For example, if a portion of your property is being used for livestock and an adjacent patch of remnant vegetation has a significant edge, consider planting alongside the edge with an intermediate habitat to lessen the edge effect.

There is an increased risk of impact from random events in small and isolated patches, and limitations on dispersal of wildlife may be an issue. Therefore, if you have several small patches of habitat and no opportunity to expand them in size, you may wish to consider connecting the patches with wildlife corridors or stepping stones. Connected habitats protect area-limited and dispersal-limited species by providing an avenue for secure movement.

Remnant vegetation is represented as dark green; Edges are represented as yellow borders; Revegetated areas are represented as light green; Buffers are represented as pale orange; Movement by wildlife is represented as black arrows

 

How much you can achieve will depend on how large your property is. If you have the time, space and resources – aim high! If you have a small area and are unable to increase patch size, you can adopt alternative management strategies such as restoring cover and connectivity to improve habitat for various species. Start with realistic goals, you can always expand if time and space allows it.

Quality

The quality of the habitat, the degree of degradation, and how well it functions are all important aspects to consider. So once the major aspects have been thought through, you can make your way down to the nitty gritty. What are you aiming for? For many, a generally healthy ecosystem is the goal. A healthy habitat is one in which most of the layers of vegetation are present and dominated by native plant species typical of the region. It is also a system that is free from disturbance, including introduced weeds and feral animals. High ecosystem function includes adequate pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and birds, natural wood decay for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows, as well as the presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area.

Vegetation Layers and Habitat Diversity

Adding layers of complexity in the garden increases the diversity of life that uses it as habitat. At a large scale, complexity can be in the form of different habitat types such as woodlands (many bird species), grasslands (Zebra Finch), creek lines (Kingfisher, Frogs, Fish), caves (Bats), gullies (Frogs), and hillsides (Euros, Wallabies).

Most species are highly dependent on water availability and quality so ensure you include water courses in your plan where possible. Protect existing watercourses and avoid modifying them to allow them to remain natural. If degraded, consider revegetating with native plants to prevent erosion, enhance wildlife habitat and encourage healthy water. In areas that don’t have natural water courses, you may consider installing a bird bath that can provide a water source. A bird bath that is raised above the ground and abutting shrubbery on one side will protect small birds from predators. Ponds are also suitable water sources for reptiles and frogs. Water baths can be topped up manually, or via a drip irrigation system as part of the whole garden. Install water tanks and a method of catching excess rain water to make the most of the water available.

Within a habitat type, complexity includes the provision of large canopy trees (Parrots, birds of prey) with tree hollows (Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Bats) and loose hanging bark (Shrike Tit), complemented by a protective understorey (Rufous Whistler, Robins), ground cover, herbs, grasses and soil-crusting cryptograms. For example, a minimum of 30% tree cover is needed to maintain woodland birds. Smaller bird species are not as abundant in areas with little understorey, rather such open and scattered habitats favour the more aggressive Yellow-throated Miners. Healthy habitats include flowering trees and shrubs to support native pollinators (Honeyeaters, Invertebrates) and Mistletoe (Mistletoe Bird, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater), and provides logs (Treecreepers, Reptiles), termite mounds (Perentie), rocky areas (Reptiles, Frogs), sandy areas (Snakes, Goannas), and mulch or groundcover (Reptiles, Invertebrates).

In terms of structure, the complexity of a habitat should provide breeding and sheltering sites, foraging sites, basking and hibernation sites, perching sites, runaways and refuges, camouflage, nurseries, and leaf-litter traps.

Native Plants

In Alice Springs, there are more than 600 native plant species, distributed over 27 individual vegetation types (as classified by Albrecht and Pitts in 2004). The vegetation present at a particular site is a result of regional and landscape factors such as rainfall, temperature, altitude, and topography; local factors such as soil type, geology, slope, aspect, and prevailing weather; individual factors such as environmental tolerance; and historical factors such as fire, disease, human impact, evolution, and species introductions. Local native species are best suited for revegetation activities as the wildlife has coevolved with the plant life – they often rely on each other for survival.

In arid Australia, it’s important to conserve water. You can do this by planting wisely. Local native plant species require less water than introduced species and lawns once established. Native plants are also hardy, giving you ‘bang for your buck’.

Be sure you keep updated about when the plant sales are on and what to buy – get in early to avoid missing out on the appropriate plants of your choice. Consider propagating your own plants to save money if revegetating large areas. This requires good timing and patience, as many native plants take many years to establish. If planting young individuals, choose your timing to avoid hot days and stress to plants, avoid planting before going on holidays or have a house-sitter that can look after them.

Plant wisely – use local native species where possible, account for growth of tree roots and canopy size (some species may interfere with each other or disrupt infrastructure), avoid lawns (they are water thirsty and don’t really add to the biodiversity – consider Lippia or Creeping Boobialla as an alternative), consider irrigation planning before planting (applies water where it is specifically needed, reduces water loss through evaporation, and encourages deep root growth). It’s a good idea to include wattles (Acacia sp.) in your planting plan for their nitrogen fixing abilities.

Free from Disturbance

Weeds and feral animals can have a serious impact on native flora and fauna populations. Invasive species often out-compete native species for resources, thereby reducing their chance of survival. The removal of Buffel Grass (not a declared weed) will often result in the reestablishment of a host of native forbs and grasses that act as a food source for native wildlife. Purchase plants, soil and mulch from local retailers to minimise the introduction of weeds. Protect seedlings from rabbits and other herbivores with guards and protect seedlings from water loss with mulch. Remove feral species such as Cats and Spotted Turtle-doves with an active and ethical trapping program. The establishment of feral and pest bird populations can be prevented by enclosing chicken feeders to eliminate access to seed.

Wood Decay

Natural and termite-induced wood decay is important for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows. Avoid pruning dying branches if safe to do so to ensure adequate perching sites and to allow decay, in turn providing habitat and nesting hollows for diversity of bat, insect and avian species. Leaving fallen branches to decay naturally will not only provide habitat for native reptiles and invertebrates, but allow Termites to feed and recycle nutrients back into the system.

A Healthy System

Successful pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and nectarivorous birds will enable plants to come into fruit and seed and therefore self-generate in the system. Some seed can then be collected for propagation, and the rest allowed to fall and natural regeneration to occur.

The presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area is indicative of a healthy working ecosystem.

Help the Needy

It’s important to protect threatened fauna species and their habitats where possible. To do this, you need to know where individuals occur and what habitat they require. Resources for this include Fauna Atlas records on NR Maps and the Atlas of Living Australia, as well as the NT Government Threatened Animals and Threatened Plants pages.

The NT Register of Significant Trees has a list of some of the territory’s most significant trees, but access to AAPA can also highlight other culturally significant trees or sites that are worthy of protecting.

Summary: Make a Plan

Begin by mapping or drawing your house and block. Google Earth, Google Maps and NR Maps can help you to get an idea of the shape and layout of your property.

Identify any significant sites that need protection.

Where are the water courses and wetlands?

Identify the remnant habitat patches. Which ones can be expanded?

What is the distance between healthy patches? Where can stepping stones and corridors be placed to increase connectivity? Where can buffers be placed to reduce effects of surrounding land use?

Improve the quality of degraded vegetation. Enlarge, widen or create linkages?

Revegetate areas of concern with local native species, including endangered species where possible

What is the percentage cover as it stands? How much do you want to add and where? Plan ahead to avoid overcrowding and competition for resources.

Are the needs of the desired wildlife species being met? How can this be improved?

Consider smart fencing – allow for movement by wildlife.

Encourage Others

Display your Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife sign – this shows others in the area of your commitment to wildlife habitat preservation and restoration and helps to encourage others to follow your lead. This in turn creates a vegetation corridor or network of properties for wildlife to move between.

Tim and Jannah Leane are Land for Wildlife members in the rural area of Ross (Image T&J Leane).

 

 

 

Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife Central Australia: Celebrating 15 years of Wildlife Habitat Preservation, Enhancement and Restoration

Land for Wildlife is celebrating 15 years of the program in central Australia, and Garden for Wildlife is celebrating 10 years of the program! We hope that the two complementary programs have been beneficial to our members and we look forward to continuing to support local landholders to preserve, enhance and restore wildlife habitat on private properties in the years to come.

Thanks to our host Low Ecological Services and current funding partners (Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife, Alice Springs Town Council, Territory NRM), as well as those that have funded and supported us in the past (so many!). We couldn’t have done it without you!

Many thanks to all Land for Wildlife coordinators past and present for building the program up to be what it is and providing expert assistance to landholders throughout central Australia. Thanks also go to the local organisations and groups that have supported us over the years to get the word out and assist us with the program at large.

Land for Wildlife celebrated the occasion with an event at the end of September, held at Olive Pink Botanic Garden (a long standing LFW member themselves who were gracious to provide assistance with the event venue). The event was very successful with roughly 35 LFW and GFW members in attendance for a range of great workshops and presentations. Presentations included a summary of the program, a property planning for wildlife presentation, an NT register of significant trees update, a seed collection workshop by Charles Darwin University, a bat box building workshop by Parks and Wildlife Commission NT, and a documentary Wild Brumby Run. The event included catering for morning tea, as well as lunch, provided by the Land for Wildlife team.

Thanks to Territory Natural Resource Management for supporting the event through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. In addition, Olive Pink Botanic Garden provided in kind support towards the fabulous venue. Local groups provided door prizes as in kind support, including books from Land for Wildlife, two vouchers from Red Kangaroo Books and two vouchers from Alice Springs Desert Park. The lucky recipients were drawn at random from those present—we hope that the vouchers and books are well received (they are certainly well deserved!).

There has been some excellent feedback from the event, with many of the attendees showing great appreciation for the informative workshops and a chance to mingle with other members. As part of the 15th birthday event, we provided some background and a summary on the Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife program in central Australia (presented below).

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Land for Wildlife is a not-for-profit program that runs in various capacities throughout Australia. Land for Wildlife is aimed at assisting landholders in peri-urban and rural areas to preserve, enhance and recreate wildlife habitat.  A parallel program, Garden for Wildlife, was developed in the biodiverse hotspot Alice Springs to assist members residing on urban blocks. The programs rely on voluntary and non-legally binding efforts from local landholders.

Land for Wildlife as a brand was established in 1981 by the Victorian government and Bird Observer’s Club of Australia. Land for Wildlife in Alice Springs and its partner program Garden for Wildlife have been running successfully for fifteen years, and ten years, respectively. They have been hugely successful programs and are widely regarded in the Alice Springs region. The program was initially run through the Alice Springs Town Council on a three year federal government grant. The Alice Springs Town Council ran it for a year, with Low Ecological Services taking up the remainder of the contract and hosting the program ever since and seeking grant moneys from a variety of agencies. The program is currently funded locally through Parks and Wildlife NT and the Alice Springs Town Council remains a sponsor. The program also has funding for individual projects through support from Territory Natural Resource Management and funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare programme. Additional previous funding bodies include Territory Eco-Link, Territory Natural Resource Management, Caring for Country, Landcare, Natural Heritage Trust, Envirofund, PowerWater and Low Ecological Services with in kind support and endurance.

Many of the member properties are situated within the MacDonnell Ranges Bioregion, containing the highest number of vulnerable and rare species listed with conservation status nationally and at the NT level. As a result, preserving even small patches of vegetation is a worthwhile venture in terms of providing habitat for native fauna species (and protecting the local native flora species themselves).

The member base extends to Yulara in the south-west, Andado Station and Ross River in the south-east, Narwietooma Station to the north-west and Tennant Creek Airport to the north. Cumulative property area covered by the 103 Land for Wildlife and 156 Garden for Wildlife members is 291,531 hectares, and rising.

Collaboration with private landholders is a successful method of conserving habitats and nature corridors, to address the challenge of species decline though habitat loss. This is achieved through regular engagement activities (workshops, participation in public events and monthly newsletters), providing networking opportunities, as well as providing on-going support and management advice specific to each block.

When signing up a new Land for Wildlife member, an assessment is conducted on the property, which includes identifying the flora and checking for tracks or scats of fauna, as well as identifying special value habitats and any management issues the property may have. An assessment report is then prepared for the property owner, which includes detailed information about the assessment, property management concerns and suggested methods for going forward. Ongoing assistance in the form of support, advice, information resources and links to other professionals and specialist organisations in the region is provided. Garden for Wildlife is more informal and membership does not include an assessment or report, but rather a resource package and informal site visit to assist with development planning, any queries and plant identification.

Attention in both programs is given to encouraging landholders to plant local native plant species, as these species are self-reliant and there is a subsequent reduction in water use in our water-limited semi-arid zone. Retaining and protecting remnant vegetation is recommended to members. To allow regeneration of habitat, members are advised to fence areas from livestock and restrict the access of livestock to ephemeral rivers and drainage systems. Encouraging distribution of run-off and controlling erosion is oft-needed advice. Members are encouraged to control weed and feral species, such as removal of Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) to allow room for native grasses, and trapping feral cats (Felis catus) to limit the predation pressure on native mammals and reptiles. Protecting various elements of wildlife habitat, such as fallen wood, leaf litter and dead branches and trees with hollows are also encouraged.

While the programs have been successful for many long-term members, Alice Springs has a notoriously transient population. While this has benefits in people taking ‘the message’ with them to other regions, it also makes maintaining contact with member properties and their current owners an ongoing challenge. This challenge has been overcome through a combination of efforts, such as the use of MailChimp as an online newsletter mailing tool – bouncing emails promote impetus to contact members to clarify their current status, regular interaction with members to stay up to date with their conservation efforts and the encouragement of communication through the monthly newsletter. The small community of Alice Springs has the benefit that networking with members through chance meetings around town is a useful tool.

As well as the transient membership, the coordinator position has been run by many energetic and qualified specialists over the period of the program in central Australia.  While this can be a challenge for members with respect to different levels of engagement, each coordinator comes with a different focus, drive and experience – which can be a benefit in that the information and energy is kept fresh. A potential benefit for incoming coordinators and for LFW members is the amazing expertise and experience available amongst the LfW landholders and their willingness to share that expertise.

Land for Wildlife has been incredibly successful and is a much-loved program in the region. One of the major avenues of communicating with and engaging members and the wider community is through the monthly newsletter and social media posts. Newsletters contain relevant and current information on hot topics, which members can use to manage their properties. The newsletter also provides opportunities for members to share their experience and wildlife snapshots with other members. The website blog and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, give multi-media savvy members avenues of staying engaged with Land for Wildlife on a more regular basis between newsletters – whether it be through the posting of a photo from a member, sharing upcoming events, or posting an article relevant to the day. It also gives Land for Wildlife members the ability to interact as much or as little as they wish, without intensive moderation from the coordinator. Social media followers are steadily increasing with regular interaction. Social media also enables Land for Wildlife to engage with people that are outside of the membership network – the Alice Springs community, Australia and internationally.

Land for Wildlife collaborates with many government agencies, which provides a conduit to gain and pass on information – such as PowerWater for water conservation, Department of Land and Resource Management for weed management and erosion control information, and Parks and Wildlife for flora and fauna information. The experience of the LfW coordinators and the networks provided by the role means that the coordinator is able to handle a wide variety of issues.

Engagement with the youth of Alice Springs occurs through a range of community events, with the DesertSmart EcoFair providing one very useful lead. Land for Wildlife ran a ‘Biodiversity’ workshop to four school groups at this year’s EcoFair, with positive feedback coming from all involved. Exposure is gained from our involvement in other community events such as the Olive Pink Botanic Garden Plant Sales, EcoFair markets, Pets on Parade, Alice Springs Show and Mini Bilby Festival.

Collaboration with the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers and the Ntaria Junior Rangers on a regular basis has resulted in the development of a good working relationship with the indigenous communities in the West MacDonnell Ranges, as well as cross-cultural information transferral regarding important NRM issues of the region.

The land assessments give the property owners knowledge regarding the flora present on their block. Many members find plant identification a challenge and are hesitant to do extensive weed control at the risk of removing natives. With a little guidance regarding plant identification, members are much more willing to get active in the garden removing the pesky species, resulting in a healthy garden full of local natives. Land for Wildlife encourages nurseries to provide local native plants and encourages the nursery association to assist in spreading the word, but maintaining those connections is always a challenge due to the transient nature of Alice Springs.

Several properties are now Buffel grass free and only require minimal maintenance to keep the Buffel at bay, and some property owners have even made their way out onto the verge to clear the buffel. Consequently, many native forbs and flowering annuals have returned, providing fruit, seed and foraging vegetation cover for native birds and other fauna.

Erosion control and education has been a priority, which has been extremely helpful for members and other residents in the rural area of Ilparpa.

A long-term success on central Australian Land for Wildlife properties has been the ongoing trapping support given to members for feral animals such as cats, rabbits and spotted turtle doves. Members can borrow traps and get the information resources necessary to assist them in their trapping journey.

In the last couple of years, Land for Wildlife has been running a domestic cat monitoring project in Alice Springs. This is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. The project focuses on engaging domestic cat owners regarding responsible pet management by tracking the movements of pet cats with a GPS tracker. The project has been picked up by the local media on several occasions and has gained a huge amount of interest in the community.

The NT Register of Significant Trees was conceived in 1982 by the National Trust and Greening Australia and is now management by Land for Wildlife central Australia. It includes central Australia, Katherine and the Darwin region. Candice Appleby has been working hard to revitalise the register and convert it to an online format.

Land for Wildlife/Garden for Wildlife has won many awards over the years, including: Best Urban NRM Group (TNRM Awards 2015 and 2016), Toshiba Leading Information Award Community Group (NT Landcare Awards 2011), Community Award (Melaleuca Awards 2010), Urban Landcare Award (NT Landcare Awards 2009), and Merit Award (NT Landcare Awards 2007).

Our success has come from a combination of all efforts that have been put in, from workshops and attending events, newsletters, social media interaction to personalised engagement and advice. Overall, Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife have been hugely successful in central Australia for engaging the community regarding the importance of preserving and revegetating wildlife habitat on private as well as public lands and we look forward to another 15 strong years of the program.

National Tree Day Festivities

By Candice Appleby

To celebrate National Tree Day on Sunday 30th July, the Land for Wildlife team hosted an official launch of the new online interactive Central Australia Register of Significant Trees map. Thanks to the support from Territory Natural Resource Management, Olive Pink Botanic Gardens and Low Ecological Services P/L.

The NT Register of Significant Trees online register was launched on National Tree Day at Olive Pink Botanic Garden.

 

It was a lovely mild winter’s afternoon at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens on Sunday the 30th July. The birds were singing, the breeze was softly blowing and all the trees were celebrating happily as it was their day – National Tree Day.

Land for Wildlife was pleased to call this the setting of the official launch of Central Australia’s Register of Significant Trees interactive online map. There was a great turn out on the day with around 30 people attending. Over a cuppa and slice of delightful cake (baked by Caragh Heenan, our ever so talented Land for Wildlife coordinator), attendees had the chance to learn a little more about the history of the register and the recent work that has brought it to its new digital platform. Some great discussions took place around how the register should be presented to the public regarding retaining historical listings if the trees may be no longer present, and what actions we as a community can take to advocate for tree protection in and around the Alice Springs municipality. The latter seemed to be a major concern to those attending, with many developments proposed in the local area and Alice Springs currently having no tree protection by-laws in place.

Fiona Walsh also presented an update from the ‘Strategies to reduce loss of our Red River Gum Habitat’ meeting that took place at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens in late July. Offering some suggestions and insight as to how the community can get behind preventing habitat loss in the Todd River caused by wildfires through management and wildfire response. Thank you Fiona for your contribution!

The launch also served as an opportunity to announce an open expression of interest to members of the public to join the NT Significant Trees Committee. This committee will be responsible for attending triannual meetings to discuss significant tree matters and to conduct final assessments of new listing nominations. If you think you would like to join the NT Significant Trees Committee send an email through to lfw@lowecol.com.au and let us know!!

It was a great afternoon tea and a nice way to spend National Tree Day. Land for Wildlife would like to thank Territory Natural Resource Management for supporting this event through the National Landcare Program with a small community grant. TNRM made it possible for LFW to host the event as well as design and print a new NT Significant Trees brochure to be available at upcoming community events and downloadable from the Land for wildlife website.

We would also like to thank Olive Pink Botanic Gardens for providing the wonderful venue for the day, and the on-going support from Low Ecological Services P/L.

Head to the project page at the Land for Wildlife website to read more about the register, see a list of the trees on the central Australian register, download PDF fact sheets about the trees and even take a ‘virtual’ tour of the register via an interactive Google Map.

~ Candice Appleby

Significant Tree Register Goes Online

By Candice Appleby

As you may all recall earlier this year Land for Wildlife announced that we would be coordinating the rejuvenation of the National Trust NT Significant Trees Register. Overall, LFW are appointed to coordinate the maintenance of the register for the entire Northern Territory, however initially we have decided to focus our energy locally and revitalise the Central Australia Register.

A lot has changed in the region in the past 28 years since the inception of the register in 1989. Several listings have been removed from the register, as they have made way for town development or simply suffered the fate of nature (like fire, hail, old age and white ants). Likewise numerous listings were added in the 90’s when Greening Australia NT was managing the register.

Over the last few months we have made it a priority to get all this information into the digital age by GPS plotting each listing and getting all the information into an interactive database. After numerous site visits, sorting through old documents and culling expired listings, Land for Wildlife is excited to announce the Significant Trees Register (Central Australia Region) has now gone live!

Head to the project page at the Land for Wildlife website to read more about the register, see a list of the trees on the central Australian register, download PDF fact sheets about the trees and even take a ‘virtual’ tour of the register via an interactive Google Map.

Stay tuned for more updates to the register – next on the list to update is the Katherine- Daly Rivers Region. This is a region rich in Banyans, Boabs and historical blazes! Currently the Significant Tree Project is unfunded. Land for Wildlife is actively seeking funding to assist with the groundwork costs associated with reassessing trees and getting this information recorded on the database. Land for Wildlife would like to extend a great appreciation to our host Bill Low of Low Ecological Services for his ongoing support.

~ Candice Appleby

Significant Trees Register

The NT Register of Significant Trees is managed by Land for Wildlife Central Australia, on behalf of the National Trust NT.
The register was initiated by the National Trust NT, with input from Greening Australia NT, and coordination by Land for Wildlife Central Australia since 2011.

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 at Nicker Creek WA, 2014, from 1930s Michael Terry expedition (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) in Palmer Valley, 1979 (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 (Aerva javanica) at Alice Springs, 2017 (Image Weed Management Branch, NTG).

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) on Barkly Tablelands, 2004 (Weed Management Branch, NTG).

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

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

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

Hot Tips for Hot Plants

Claypan

As summer is creeping up on us quickly and the last of the spring days are proving to be warm ones, your plants will need a little extra attention to get them through the fiery afternoons. Here are some hot tips to protect your plants through the summer months.

Keep the plants moist

Give the plants a deep watering before the sun comes up. This will enable the plants to take up moisture and be more resistant to the heat of the day. A top-up of water when the sun goes down doesn’t go astray if the plants have suffered and are beginning to droop. Dripper irrigation systems can be put on a timer that waters automatically and delivers water straight to the ground where it is needed. Prevent watering during the hottest parts of the day to avoid scalding the leaves, or opt for afternoon fine mist sprays for the soft-leaved plants.

Mulch the ground

It is a good idea to protect the soil with a layer of mulch, which will reduce evaporation from the soil surface and reduce the temperature of the topsoil, in turn preventing desiccation. Companion planting (locating smaller plants within the cover of taller neighbours) can have a similar effect, just be sure to avoid overcrowding.

Provide shade

Protection such as white shade cloth with a minimum of 50 % shading can be the extra help a plant needs on a hot day. If you can’t spring for such extravagance, old curtains or sheets can do the trick. The shade cloth can be mounted over stakes, walls or fences (or any other structure you can find from the Alice Springs Rediscovery Centre – get creative!). Keep in mind that this time of year also brings strong winds and dust storms, so make sure you fasten the items securely to prevent disaster. The side of raised beds can be protected from the direct sun by planting some hardy local natives around the edge that have dense foliage and a height to suit the purpose (or prune them appropriately so they grow in the desired fashion), such as various Eremophila species. To give potted plants some extra shade, consider moving them under a verandah, or even inside for periods of time.

Increase Wind Protection

The summer afternoons can increase the chance of strong thermals forming and therefore wind gusts, which can dry out the garden beds. Consider installing some hedge protection or fencing that will provide wind protection, avoiding metal sheet fences that will radiate heat onto the nearest plants.

Choose the right plants

Get a head start and plant local native species, which are accustomed to growing in the harsh central Australian conditions. This will mean your efforts to protect them can be minimal and they will provide habitat that is suited to the local wildlife. It’s also wise to think ahead and group the plants according to water needs, so that plants with high water requirements are grouped together and irrigated more often.

Keep cool Land for Wildlifers!