Friday, April 29, 2011

Thunder, Lightning and Big Rain, Again

Two Mosses and Epiphytic Fern
That's what we're having again. Inches of rain. Electrical storms, very unusual for April. My computer off a lot of the time and me writing by hand.

Though I did manage to weed in the garden today. Easy to pull out. But sloppy underfoot, you wouldn't believe. I was only explaining the other day how it feels to live on a flood plain. Gum boots on every time you step out of the door.

Of course when it does rain I am immediately conscious of the beauty of the mandarin tree. I don't think I've shown you this shot yet? The moss is particularly green when it is sodden. Here, two sorts, maybe even three. A bit of grey lichen at the top right.

That yellowish patch to the lower right looks like a cross between moss and lichen. The leaves belong to the fern. Very non-fern looking, I know.

I think now that the combination of the extremely wet weather for the last couple of years and the swimming pool built in the next yard during the dry, is preventing the water in the ground from draining away to the river and the tree probably began to rot from the roots up.

It is the lowest area of the yard and water is now ponding there, having had about a hundred mm of rain in the last few days and the air not being warm enough to evaporate.  I shall have to move a recently planted Blue Tongue, a native tibuchina, as it is stressing with its feet in the water. Though where is there space where it is also drier?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weeding by Plastic

Plastic Treatment
You may remember the shot to the left. I put that plastic down on March 1. It was canna lilies I was trying to get rid of, and Paterson's Curse.

I ended up leaving the plastic down for over seven weeks.

After plastic treatment
Apart from the bricks ;) there's not much left.

And now, another week later, it is being colonised by nasturtium.

Which for now is all right. It's easier to get rid of than most other weeds.

Overseas you'll probably be surprised to read that even nasturtium is a weed here. We have a saying here, anything you stick into the ground will not only grow, it will flourish.

From now on until spring in September, this are will be in shade and therefore probably not much use trying to grow any shrubs.

I want eventually to grow native sennas there, to encourage the white and the yellow migrant (two distinct species) butterflies.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Beetle Larva

Beetle Larva
Back in my bad old days I used to feed creatures such as this to my chickens.

I'd meet a grub while I dug in a wood chip pile and toss it into the poultry yard. The chooks would come running.

As large as approximately the upper two joints of my pinkie finger, all that this poor creature wanted to do, was dig its way back into the dark of the soil.

This could be the larva of a christmas beetle or rhinoceros beetle and I would be proud to see either one digging its way from the soil after spending from two to seven years in its larval stage.

Christmas beetles usually metamorphose around Christmas time as suggested by their name. When I was a child I used to think they were named so due to their colouring. That creamy gold with glints of reds and yellows. Good enough to use as an tree ornament.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New Stink Bug

The little tree below is the host to the amazing, new to me, stink bug pictured in the shot to the left.

I first saw it only because it moved. It's perfectly camouflaged being the same shape and colour as the bottom half of a leaf with a shining bronze tail section that looks just like the drop of water that hangs from a leaf when it rains or after heavy dew.

I don't know its name and it does not feature in the Wildlife of Greater Brisbane. It might be specific to the type of tree. I've often read that every tree in the forest has its specific insects that live only on their own species of tree.

For instance there is the hoop pine beetle that only lives on the hoop pine. The bronze stink bug, featured elsewhere on this blog was specific to the native finger lime but is now naturalised to introduced citrus and has become a great pest.

Which in a way is a small irony, considering we've introduced so many exotic species that have become pests in the wild.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Habitats in a Dying Tree

Caterpillar of Dainty Swallowtail Butterfly

Although the caterpillar, of a Dainty Swallowtail Butterfly, may give you the idea the mandarin tree it is eating, is still a verdant tree going strong, this is not the case. 

The tree began to die long before last year, but I read up the problem and decided to try and extend its productive years by giving it a 'skeleton cut' -- where all the foliage is cut off and only the main branches are left, the ends painted white with acrylic paint.

The friend helping me with the cutting was full of doubts but I insisted. It was, as I said, beginning to die and the orchardist I consulted said he did it all the time ... to get a couple more years out of a tree at the end of its life.

Apparently mandarin trees live about forty years and this one had well and truly passed those years. It's another tree I will miss. Its crop was tremendous in the last five or so years before it wilted.
White Insects and Moss on Mandarin Tree

Amazingly though, it has been putting out twigs and leaves all summer. We had all that rain and I thought it might recover. Might do the magic. But now, going into Autumn, there's trouble. Large areas of dead bark curling off the dead wood underneath. Though there are still the leaves.

But also a burden of a great many insects. Probably an orchardist would have sprayed the tree to prevent insects even settling on it. The photos alongside shows moss growing in a crack in the bark and a vast cloud of miniscule white bugs.

I can't imagine them getting any sustenance through the bark, surely their mouthparts would be too small and too weak to pierce the bark?

These are only three of the many species living on the tree. I've collected two types of fungi. The usual complement of bronze stink bugs and orchard butterfly caterpillars.

At least four different mosses. Lichens. A bug (sap sucking insect) looking like Zorro, with white eyes and a black cape, that never sat still enough to have its photo taken and that doesn't feature in my field guides, and an epiphytic fern.

There's a foam bark sapling already a metre and half tall wanting to take its place in the sun. I'm going to have to cut that down. Foam barks grow far too fast and too big for a small back yard. I've planted a blue tongue, a native tibouchina, a much more manageable size.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Weed 1, Broadleaf Paspalum

Weeding Paspalum
Broadleaf Paspalum was introduced in this region as a pasture plant for its ability to grow luxuriantly in the shade. Naturally it does rather well in gardens, too.

Autumn, now, is the time paspalum grass sets seed and I have various places around the yard with an overgrowth. All the rain we've had. In the pic, the paspalum is at the back against the fence. Nasturtium is the pale green stuff in the middle ground, only slightly weedy, with cheery flowers.

Paspalum can be pulled out by single plants. Pulling a tussock is impossible. You'd need a mattock. I like pulling. A tussock can contain anything up to twenty individual plants.

I heard recently that paspalum seeds stay viable for three years! So its definitely worthwhile to get rid of as many seeds as possible. Saves a lot of weeding down the track. So I'm trying something new this year, instead of tossing the whole plant in the compost.

I cut, with the secateurs lying there by the plastic bag, the plants from the bunch of seed heads which I put in the plastic bags. The plants with a bit of dirt still attached to their roots I'll drop anywhere, they won't regrow and when rotted down provide mulch. The bag of seed heads I'll try to compost in the bag, in the fiercest heat of a heap, and see what I get.

In this area, beside the fence, I'm covering the weeded patches with bark chips. Working my way down the strip. It was the strip of ground where all the past residents, and me too before I became a born-again conservationist, threw their building rubbish. So there's plenty of old cement in the ground there, fibro, brick rubble, tiles, all kinds of stuff. And very difficult to grow native plants there. I hope the bark chips will rot down and do some good.

What's your worst weed? And what do you do about it?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Micro Climates = Micro Habitats

Walking around in the early morning, on bare feet because the grass is wet either with dew or rain and I don't want to get my shoes wet, I realised the west side of the house is usually the coolest place in the yard, at least at ground level. I imagine because the cool night air blowing from under the house and across the moist ground. Any fungi I see there are always small.

And then, in the last week or so, there have been many sightings of all sorts of small and delicate fungi in the very back of the yard, near to the fence, where before I only ever found Lysurus mokusin, a variety of stinkhorns, there. Large strong fungi. (And no photo of that anywhere that I can find, I'll redress that in the morning.)

The most recent fungi have been smaller and weaker, more easily affected by heat and direct sunshine. Of which, I realised, there is not much now that the shadow of the back fence reaches further into the yard - due to the sun being lower in the sky.

Troop of delicate fungi on stump

Which is like a new habitat forming, just for the cooler part of the year. Makes me think that all habitats are probably changing all the time. Certainly all the ones affected by rain. The path along the west side of the house is often sodden for a few days. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stinkhorn Fungus

Phallus hadriani

This stinkhorn is Fungus Number 25, or thereabouts, to come up in my back yard. I am absolutely gobsmacked at the number of different species I have recorded. And they still keep coming. Or should I say, they still keep coming up?

This beauty is so ostentatious, I had no trouble identifying it by comparing it with its description and photo in the A M Young book I have mentioned before, A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia.

It is one of only four species that I have managed to identify. So far.  I just go out every day before breakfast and make notes as to what has come up, where. I take their photos, every angle possible. Some, not this one, I pick and take indoors for further study.

This one, when fresh out of the ground, stinks like a rotting bone from a couple of metres distant. A couple of days later, the top part has turned a beautiful rich yellow and the stink has gone. But it is known to be extremely poisonous and I don't really even want to breathe in the spores. I can live it rotting, and melting back into the ground, into its constituent parts because I'm not about to eat dirt.

At this point it is still attracting the blowies (blow flies) that will spread its spores. It is suspected of causing deaths in pet dogs and I can understand why with the pong. A dog would think all its Christmasses had come with a stink like that in the yard.

Have you seen any weird fungi lately?

Monday, April 4, 2011

April Does What She Wills

Storm Lily
The above is a translation of part of a Dutch rhyme about the months of the year. A way for kids to learn them. "April doet what hij wilt."

While it refers to April's changeability in the western European spring, it is equally applicable to the eastern Australian autumn.

April is doing what she wills where the weather is concerned. It's cooler but still raining. But it means we get such pretty and cheerful flowers such as the storm lily sprouting.

I'll admit I have no idea whether they are native or introduced. If I had to guess, it would be introduced, since they usually come up in exotic pastures and grasslands.

They stand about 30 cm high, nodding in the wind and they do come up after rain, and in autumn through to winter. I've never seen them in the heat of summer, in the rains then.

Since they are so ephemeral, not to be seen at any other time, I let them be and enjoy them. They're a bright thing in dull autumn weather.

Have any of you seen it around? Or have something growing that is similarly cheering?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Water Snails

Water Snails and Unidentified Creatures
The most amazing trick I've seen by any water creature is the way water snails work their way upside down across a stretch of clear water, seeming to slide along on the under-side of the meniscus of the water.

Unfortunately neither of my cameras is able to record this behaviour or I'd be able to show you. The two snails in the picture are helping clean the side of the bath/pond.

My reference, The Wildlife of Greater Brisbane, shows nine pond snails, none of which match my little snails, but mentions that Australia has about 170 species of freshwater snails. Must be one of them.

I think I've mentioned that I use baths for frog ponds, because cane toads, a serious pest here,  can't get into them. It's the overhanging lip I think that stops the toads and their lack of sticky pads on their toes.

The little black dots all jumped out of the water-wort I was harvesting/weeding - an overgrowth - that was shutting the sun out from everything else. At first I was under the impression the dots were spores from the nardoo (water fern) Or perhaps spores from the water wort.

Then the little critters moved. Swam around. They're smaller than pin heads and by the next day were gone. Eaten by the giant 3 cm fish? Eaten by the ginormously fat tadpoles? Hiding under the vegetation? Eaten by the dragonfly larvae?

I'm very tempted to search out a microscope. Though when I started this blog I told myself I should be able to go for at least a year recording things visible to the naked eye. And that year is not nearly over.