eucalypt

VISITING OUR WEEDS

Thistles and brooms, ryegrass and goosegrass and vetch.

The more I learn about the weeds that infest our paddocks, the more I find myself spotting them when we travel.

Fancy names, multiple names, “Great Mullein”, “Salvation Jane”, “Horehound” and “Pellitory of the Wall”.

Some are clearly at home, well controlled by the climate, or insects or other features that keep them in check.  Others are clearly weeds to the places we visit also.

Some are surrounded by little fences, protected plants in their place of origin, hardly surviving their own onslaught of invaders, like the pine trees of the Madonie forest in Sicily, a tiny patch of grass on the old castle mount in Cambridge, or what looked like serrated tussock in a municipal planter in Malta.

Some of our Esdale weeds were Australianised by the homesick, like Scotch thistles and Scotch broom.

Some were brought for their medicinal qualities, like variegated thistles  or St John’s Wort.

Others were brought even more deliberately, as part of agricultural projects, like African Lovegrass, a contamination of Consol grass, to be used for erosion control.

Blackberries, dandelions, and nettles for food.

Hawthorn for hedges.

All necessary to people who could see no potential in the unknown Australian plants around them.

All essential so the invaders could feel at home, by bringing more invasives with them.

Left behind was the sense of living together with the land, keeping the seasons according to ancient knowledge, like the swallow return in Sicily, which helped farmers time their crop planting.

Such traditional knowledge existed in Australia too, before Europeans.

In the meantime,  Australian plants have joined the worldwide whirlwind of plant mixing, especially eucalypts planted for timber and windbreaks.

The eucalypts in Sicily looked particularly miserable, as invasives sometimes do when a single predator makes it across the big divide and begins to control them again.  Sicily certainly needs trees (the ones that weren’t chopped down by the ancient Greeks were removed by the Normans), but Sydney Blue Gums were a strange and now unhealthy choice.

At least, as we wandered the hills of Sicily, Cornwall, Tamil Nadhu, or wherever, there were some things that haven’t joined our Esdale irritations.Sicily roadside thistle Petralia

Or not yet, anyway.

Sicily roadside thistle
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OUT STANDING IN A FIELD

A few old trees make all the difference when you’re doing a bird survey.  The bare, newly planted paddocks on Carkella and Adnamira were limited to a few species, mainly parrots (galahs,red-rumps, rosellas) and a small family of magpies.

Red-rumped parrot photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org

Red-rumped parrot photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org

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WHO STOLE THE CANOPY?

For the third time in three years, many of our trees are looking like ghosts of their former selves.

Christmas beetleThe immediate, obvious, culprit is the Christmas Beetle (an anoplagnathus species of scarab), a bit of seasonal joy in a shiny suit.  If the weather’s right, it digs its way up from underground in November or December, munches its way to February, then dies.

Their larvae are called “curly grubs” around here and can be found pretty much wherever I’ve tried digging – from high up on hillsides to the sandy soil along the river, under the casuarinas.  They don’t seem to lay their eggs where they feed, necessarily.  Beetle bodies lie thickly under our eucalyptus nicholii peppermint gums that they don’t eat at all.

I hoped that meant that peppermint gums poison them, but I think they just like the shade.  The shade that they remove elsewhere by eating the leaves of the Blakeley’s and Yellow Box gums. Continue reading

TREES WITH BLING

trees with blingA late addition to the collection of trees we’ve been planting this year has been a group of trees that have just graduated from the Australian National University.

They’re now decorating the slopes of our box-gum woodland plantation with tasteful stainless steel pendants and copper necklaces identifying them.

The concept of the research (by Tricia Stewart, working with  Justin Borevitz and Jason Bragg) is to look for guidance on choosing trees for landscape restoration.

Just the thing we’re working on. Continue reading

BURNING THE HOUSE AT BOTH ENDS

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 When the wind gets above 45km/h every gap and crack in this old house begins to whistle.  The walls are two feet thick, made of rammed earth, but many of the windows are single-glazed and rattle…a lot.  Even the ones that are double-glazed seem to have gaps for cold drafts.

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