Sunday, January 25, 2015

Travel Story--Botanists Touring Victoria, Australia

Acacia, Victoria, Australia
After the International Botanical Congress in Melbourne Australia in late July 2011, I took a tour across Victoria, Australia. A botanical tour, offered to the Botanical Congress attendees. Consequently, this tour was busload of botanists and their families--14 tourists, two guides and a driver. The tourists were an international mix: Americans, Germans, Austrians, an Estonian, an Australian from Sydney, a Colombian. We found the  native plants enthralling.

For example, here (above and below) are two different species of Acacia. Acacias is a big genus in the pea family, Fabaceae. Australia has many many species of acacia, often called wattle, so it was fun to see the variation. In fact the majority of the world's acacias are found in Australia (tho the group is being split see previous post on acacia LINK). 

Acacia, Victoria, Australia

Then there was the wonderfully bizarre native Australian plant, a grass-tree, in the photo below. It is probably Xanthorrhoea australis, the austral grass-tree. The plant family is the Xanthorrhoeaceae. I don't think I had ever seen one before, certainly never growing wild. The 28 species of the genus Xanthorrhoea are found only in Australia. Other members of the family occur across the Old World (particularly to the south) and South America. It is a monocot, related (but not closely) to irises and amaryllises. It was one of the unusual native plants that the guides made an effort to show us. The site where we saw them--and many were flowering--had burned the year before. This grass-tree flowers especially profusely after a bush fire. (You can't tell from the photo but its about 5' tall to the tip of the flower stalk.)
grass-tree, Xanthrorrhoea, Victoria, Australia
grass-tree (Xanthorrhoea) in flower, Victoria, Australia
We hear on the news about devastating fires in Victoria, and they are. And yet, before settlement, the native vegetation burned periodically and many plants adapted to take advantage of post-fire conditions. It is a serious and complext problem, not just in Victoria but in many parts of the world, to figure ways to keep fires from hurting people and burning buildings while allowing them to rejuventate natural areas.

So we saw wonderful plants you can only see in Australia.

BUT -- the botanical tourists each also had botanical specialties. Functionally, what that meant was that the leaders couldn’t let us out of the bus without the group scattering as each person found plants of interest. And virtually every plant was of interest to one of us. 

Native Australian plants, of course. 

But also weeds…”we have dock in Germany but it doesn’t look like this.”

"Is that some kind of pea?"

 “Oh! a dandelion!” 

“Look here in the ditch, what is that reed?” 

“Funny that the oak is flowering now.”

Plants that bored me drew the attention of others and delayed our departure. But sometimes I was the last one ready to get back on the bus.

It was an natural response of visiting botanists, but I still smile in memory. 

In particular, we stopped to use the public restrooms in a spot that looked like a botanical desert—a couple of street trees, a parking lot, sidewalks. Of course I don't have a photo, it was distinctly unphotogenic.—And still the botanists wandered away. One found the street trees intriguing and walked down the block to see more. Another squatted down to identify the tiny weeds growing in the cracks in the pavement. Another found a couple of tall gangly plants along the wall behind the restrooms and vanished from sight behind the building to identify them. And, oh-no! across the road on the far side of the parking lot was a sandy path through an undeveloped lot with a mix of herbs and shrubs…more botanists scattered down that path, seeing noteworthy plants that had previously been invisible behind a slight hill. The 10-minute break stretched toward an hour before the botanists could be lured back into the van with the promise of greater treasures down the road. 

Do I sound like I'm making fun of my fellow travelers? 


But I was part of the story:  "Look!!! an oxalis! .. just a minute..."

oxalis, Melbourne, Australia
Oxalis (wood sorrel), Victoria, Australia

Comments and corrections welcome

Hope, C. and S. Parish. 2008. A Wild Australia Guide. Native Plants. Steve Parish Publishing, Archerfield, Queensland, Australia.

Kathy Keeler


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