THE SCOOP ON BUTTON WRINKLEWORT

In my short career as a radio journalist for 2XX in Canberra, I had precisely one news scoop.

That was, tah dah, the discovery of a new species of wildflower, weirdly called the “button wrinklewort”, at the Queanbeyan Municipal Dump in 1983.

button wrinklewort closeupIt seemed sort of cool that someone had found a new flower, even if it was rather modest-looking.

And located in a dump.

Mainly, I had the news first because I was present at the Queanbeyan City Council meeting where the find was reported, and no other journalists had bothered.

Anyway, I was very chuffed to be congratulated by real, grownup journalists, and the news coverage was quite significant for the day or two that such news gets attention.

I’ve since tended to think of button wrinklewort as my personal plant.  Unfortunately I’d never actually seen a live one, nor did I even know its latin name (Rutidosis leptorrynchoides).

stirling park FOG walkI finally got a chance to see this magnificent forb as part of a walk at the Friends of Grasslands Forum  (link here)a couple of weeks ago.

I realized I was one of the few people with a non-khaki coloured floppy hat.

Also, as I’d been discovering in the last few months of trying to find out more about native grasses and forbs,what would have been called “a scrubby patch of bush” when I was a kid, is now top notch native grassland refuge.

Since that first announcement, a long fight by Friends of Grasslands and others ended up securing the Crown Reserve around the dump and converting it to Queanbeyan Nature Reserve (link here)

Stirling Park, our first visit, has a spectacular setting overlooking the lake and has been the scene of big resistance against the building of new embassies and an upsized Prime Minister’s residence.

Instead there’s grass and trees, including button wrinkleworts.  Lots of work has been done by a local resident’s group,  the National Capital Authority, and the Friends of Grasslands to get rid of weeds and encourage appropriate plants to thrive.  It brought back to me even more strongly how important it is to work from a place that has the best remnants, rather than struggling with  land that’s mostly weeds.  Hardenbergia Stirling Park

everlastings Stirling Park

Lots of the plants are inconspicuous for much of the year.  But others fit any ideal of beauty, like the everlastings, while others had done their flowering for the moment such as the  hardenbergia.

I’m still puzzled about the low levels of ground cover compared to our grazed pastures.  It seems that many of the areas that are most highly regarded for native plants have big areas of leaf litter and only scattered grasses and other plants.  It seems as if weeds would find it easy to establish where there’s so much open space.  But apparently not.

Ian Lunt discusses this in his blog post on “dirt rings” (see link here) where he suggests the bare, crusty, open  patches are caused by water takeup and competition by the trees.  The hard crust, I understand from Brent Mishler at the Jepson Herbarium (link here ) is made up of lichens and fungi.  He’s in favour of lichens taking over the world.  I have more of a problem with it, since one of my aims is to work on making the landscape more permeable to water and nutrients and resilient to drought, as well as more biodiverse.    A stiff crust makes water run off erosively quickly, leaves less of it in the soil, and allows for more flash flooding.

Hmm.

Anyway, I was fascinated by Tyronne Bell’s talk about Ngunawal history (link here), including the directional markings on some significant trees in the park.  It explained why certain trees seem to have markings that have nothing to do with canoes or shields being carved out of the bark.

directional marking on ancient tree stirling park

It’s going to take months  for me to digest all the information I got from the Forum.  I felt I should have been keeping my fingers in my ears to stop the details leaking out from my brain.

A piece of information that managed to stick was Lesley Peden’s description of scribbly gum (eucalyptus rossii around here I think) as having “wrinkly armpits” .  Now that’s the sort of thing that helps me remember what a tree is.  wrinkly armpits at Stirling Parkmore wrinkly armpits Stirling Park scribbly gum

Meanwhile, on the walk someone pointed out the famous button wrinklewort.  Assuming the pretty yellow flowered plant  was far too big to be the miserable wrinklewort, I solemnly took a photo of the small weed next to it, surprised it looked so different from what I expected.   My informant looked at me, pulled up the weed and I had another try.  Next time I might recognize it myself.

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