Trip to Australia

Mary Sue Ittner
Wed, 24 Oct 2007 21:45:38 PDT
Dear all,

My husband and I returned from four weeks in Australia last week, but still 
haven't caught up with everything yet. I look forward to reading all the 
messages when I have time about what promotes blooming. We came back to 
early rains in northern California so we have been so much more fortunate 
that people who live in our state in southern California. Our fire season 
has been declared over. It's heartbreaking what it happening to the south. 
I hope that members of our group who live there are not in danger.

Before I left I got all my Oxalis planted and watered. A long time ago on 
this forum Lauw de Jager remarked that if you didn't start winter growing 
Oxalis late summer it sometimes didn't bloom or skipped a year. Whether it 
was starting it earlier or the early rains, I don't know, but I have a lot 
of Oxalis looking really wonderful and blooming well. Yesterday I was 
amazed to see three flowers on Oxalis melanosticta 'Ken Aslet' which I 
obtained in 1999 but has never bloomed before. Oxalis livida is blooming 
too which it often doesn't and I have a beautiful new mauve Oxalis hirta 
that Ron Vanderhoff gave me that is covered in flowers. Also after 
experimenting I have found that a number of species do better in deeper 
pots and need some nutrition to flower well. I know some people grow them 
in sand feeling they retain their tight form, but that means you have to 
water more and I've had better luck with soil mixes that are quite so lean.

But back to Australia. We visited areas in southern Australia (Western 
Australia and Victoria). The southwestern part of Western Australia had 
received about average rainfall and there are parts of it that  area that 
are considered rainforest and get year round rainfall we were told. I 
though most of Western Australia had a Mediterranean climate so that 
surprised me. Most of the rain that occurred while we were there happened 
at night so we had good opportunities to hike and see plants during the 
day. This was our third trip to Australia and I have always found the flora 
fascinating. Although there are a few thinks that are like our California 
flora (viola for one thing), most of the families are even different and 
there are plants unlike any others. The forests were wonderful. In WA there 
is a beautiful and amazing understory of flowering plants. In Victoria the 
ferns in the forest are equally beautiful.

There are a lot of interesting monocots. I don't suppose that some of them 
qualify as geophytes. Many of them have very intriguing underground root 
structures. I found looking some of the things up we saw on the Kew Monocot 
check list that they are hemicryptophytes . This was a new term for me. 
Stems are herbaceous and often die back after the growing season with 
shoots at soil level surviving and buds just on or below soil level. I 
guess that is a fancy term for perennials. Many of the monocots, even some 
in the Liliaceae family, are given this label so they must not have bulbs, 
corms, tubers, or rhizomes.  So I don't know if they should be included in 
the wiki although we sometimes include some of the related things even if 
they aren't really geophytes and just label them accordingly. Apparently 
Sowerbaea falls in this category as does Calectasia (sometimes referred to 
as the tinsel lily). Even if I don't include these related genera, there 
are still a lot of things that qualify for the wiki that would be new as 
there are a number of geophytes with tubers or rhizomes that we do not have 

The really thrill was seeing all the terrestrial orchids. We had a book 
that we brought along published in 2000 (A Field Guide to the Native 
Orchids of Southern Australia) by David and Barbara Jones. In this book it 
is said that there are 1200 species of native orchids in Australia and more 
than 100 genera. This book just covers those south of latitude 27 degrees 
south. Even with that limitation a lot of the species that could be 
represented in the book had to be left out. We saw a lot of some of the 
common ones that we could clearly identify, but others kept us puzzling. It 
was always exciting when we found them, even if they weren't very big. My 
husband is a great plant spotter and a number of times he'd find a 
single  plant when we were hiking that we never saw duplicated. Other times 
once you found one and got your eyes accustomed to what you were looking 
for you saw a lot more. I was also fascinated by a lot of the Drosera we 
saw. Many are tuberous so would qualify for the wiki.

One plant we saw almost every day we were out was Romulea rosea which is 
from South Africa. It has naturalized everywhere. There was also a fair 
amount of Allium triquetrum and Watsonia meriana (the weedy form with bubils).

Since Australia has had a number of years of drought and a fire dependent 
ecology some of the areas we visited had burned this year and the year 
before. We saw grass trees (Xanthorrhoea), once classified in Liliaceae, 
but now in its own family and not a geophyte, blooming in mass. This is a 
very amazing sight as each flowering stem has hundreds of flowers and they 
were usually full of pollinators. They are sporadic bloomers that are often 
triggered to bloom after a fire. The forests are burned regularly to keep 
the fuel load low, but even so fires occur. It was heartening when we 
walked in one national park that had burned in February to see all the 
trees resprouting. Tree trunks were black, but there was new growth already 
quite tall and a lot of plants had sprouted and grown so well that you 
wouldn't have known there had been a fire in the vicinity if you just 
looked at them. Unfortunately houses that burn don't recover so quickly.

We were able to arrange a visit with Don Journet, a member of this pbs 
list, who grows Lachenalia. We were traveling with four friends at the time 
and he and his wife kindly led us on two hikes, one to a gorge that 
impressed us with how physically fit he and his wife are. As always it is 
so nice to meet members of this group in person and we really had a great 
time. Where he lives was suffering more from the drought than any place we 
visited however. He can only water outside two hours from 6 to 8 a.m. twice 
a week and the worrisome thing is that this is nearing the time when 
normally rainfall would be less. He sacrificed one of the days we were with 
him as he met us at 8 and it was one of the days of the week when watering 
was permitted.

Our last day in Australia my husband and I drove to Menzies Creek in 
Victoria to visit Will Ashburner (not quickly as driving through Melbourne 
we made a number of wrong turns.) We wish Australia would have the names of 
the streets on both corners as when you get on the wrong street from the 
round abouts there is no way of telling what street you are on. Some of the 
members of this list may remember Will Ashburner from the old IBS forum. We 
had visited him in Australia once before and he had made a trip through 
California following that staying with many of the other forum members 
throughout the state and there had been a couple of meetings where he was 
present. In Northern California he gave a lot of us a lecture on air filled 
porosity in soils and concluded that the potting soil that most of us could 
purchase in the garden centers was suitable for bogs. He claimed the soils 
in Australia had much better porosity. Will and his wife purchased a bulb 
business a number of years ago and moved to the property. It is in a 
beautiful area of Victoria and the previous owners had planted a lot of 
shrubs, native and exotic and many were in bloom. Will says that they get 
enough rain there that much of what he is grown in the ground needs very 
little extra water. He took us on a tour of his daffodil beds. Some were 
still blooming. He rotates where he grows them and is doing a little 
hybridizing too.  He grows a lot of what he sells there, but trades 
daffodils for some things like tulips with a grower in Tasmania where it 
gets colder. We very much enjoyed seeing him again and he wished to be 
remembered to the friends he made in the past. He says he doesn't have a 
lot of time to participate in the Internet these days. For those of you who 
are interested this is his web site:
And if Bill Dijk is reading this, the Cyclamen he grew from seed you shared 
has grown well and was looking good.

I never finished adding all the pictures of bulbs and corms I took in South 
Africa more than a year ago to the wiki and now I have pictures from 
Australia to be added some day. I'm not sure when I'll get around to it, 
but check the recent changes pages every now and then as I'll try to work 
on it as I can find the time.

Mary Sue

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