Bush peas and friends ablaze in the forest

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This year the various pea species in the region are putting on a wonderful show. The Large leaf bush peas in my local forest are covered in huge, healthy looking yellow and orange flowers.  The peas are a very important plant group in our local forest – and surpass even the wattles in their variety of form and colour. There are orange and yellow peas – known colloquially as egg and bacon, and also peas with purple, yellow and red flowers.  They occur as small shrubs, large shrubs,  ground covers and as creepers – both large and small.

The flowers are pollinated by a variety of tiny native bees and flies, which then provide important food for insect eating birds. The seeds are eaten by birds, reptiles and insects. The leaves are browsed on by Black Wallabies and also hares and deer.

There are bush peas, bitter-peas, flat peas, parrot-peas – which are known b y their common names, and then in some cases the common name and the Latin names are the same –Bossiaeas, Hoveas, and Austral Indigo or Indigofera. I believe it is much easier to learn the Latin! This walk through the pea family in Daylesford and surrounds will therefore be a little Latin heavy.

Large leaf bush pea

Large leaf bush pea on my bush block

The bush-peas are Pultenaeas – the large leaf bush pea pictured above is Pultenaea daphnoides. Our other local Pultenaea has a very different form: the Matted Bush-pea (P. pedunculata) has a very tight mat-forming ground cover that can be seen in the drier forests such as around the Blowhole.  The Wombat Bush-pea (P. reflexifolia) is listed as Rare as it is only found in the Wombat State Forest region. This small shrub has pea flowers which are quite yellow, and small pointed leaves that point sharply away from the stem, hence the Latin name reflexifolia. Wombat Bush-peas are locally common around Trentham.

Bitter-peas are small to medium shrubs, also with the classic egg and bacon flower – the Narrow-leaf bitter-pea (Daviesia leptophylla) is very common in dry heathy forests such as the slopes above Tipperary Springs. As you head into wetter forests towards Trentham the Gorse Bitter-pea (D. ulicifolia) becomes very common. Gorse bitter-pea is a small shrub with a pointed, dark green leaf . Around Porcupine Ridge, and Glenlyon,  we have the Hop Bitter-pea (D. latifolia) with very large, wide leaves and absolutely magnificent sprays of golden and red flowers.

hop bitter pea

The Hop Bitter-pea – WOW!

Our most common ground cover pea around Daylesford and Trentham is Podolobium procumbens:  this has a flower with an almost fluorescent pink tinge. I discovered while researching this article that this is called a Trailing Shaggy-pea – a new common family name for me!

We have two common types of parrot-pea. The Grey parrot-pea (Dillwynia cinerascens)is  a lovely low growing shrub also with orange and yellow flowers. The Bushy parrot-pea (D. ramosissima) has tiny leaves and is a sparse, one metre high shrub and very common throughout drier forest types.

D ramossissima

Bushy Parrot-pea

Bossiaea are a very interesting group –in Porcupine Ridge, Glenlyon and in the Daylesford area there is a beautiful ground cover known as Matted Bossiaea (Bossiaea buxifolia). Matted bossiaea is locally common here, in most parts of Victoria this plant is actually the very similar Creeping bossiaea (B. prostrata) which just to make things confusing is also found here albeit much less often! In the wet areas such as Trentham and Blackwood the ground cover Bossiaea actually has a climbing habit – the Wiry Bossiaea (B. cordigera). This species is listed as Rare.
Also rare, are the odd- looking shrubs known as Leafless Bossiaea– the pea flowers actually grow out of the flattened green stems! There is a beautiful specimen of Mountain Leafless Bossiaea (B. bracteosa) growing at Tipperary springs. The rarest pea locally is definitely the Wombat Leafless Bossiaea (B. vombata). This leafless pea shrub was rediscovered in 2010 in the vicinity of Spargo Creek by the rare plants team of Wombat Forestcare. This plant was known by the Herbarium to be present in only one location, and the rare plants team discovered several more populations – and were awarded Certificates of Recognition by the then Department of Sustainability and Environment.

It says a lot about our local peas that I haven’t covered all the egg and bacon peas found locally in the above list – nor even had a chance to describe our lovely purple coloured peas – Hovea, Hardenbergia, Indigofera! What beautiful diversity in these forests…

leafless bossiaea

Mountain leafless bossiaea

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Messmates in flower!

The Messmates are in flower! This year’s flowering event is a rich fulsome flowering, each tree covered in masses of small white flowers, and the surrounding air alive with insects and honeyeaters.  This is wonderful to see after the sad, impotent flowering of drought years that produced dry brittle blossoms that soon died. This year’s blossoms began around Christmas, and will keep flowering for up to six weeks. That is a lot of pollen and nectar!

A Messmate is a type of Eucalyptus tree, colloquially known as a stringybark due to its fibrous stringy bark. Some people call them Messmate Stringybarks to distinguish them from other stringybarks such as Red Stringybark, another local tree. Messmates love high rainfall, fertile soils and seem to thrive in the cold. I find the Messmate, Manna Gum, Blackwood, and Silver Wattle combination of the Wombat Forest beautiful to behold.

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A couple of beloved Messmates at home at Porcupine Ridge

The Messmate was the first Eucalyptus to be described by Europeans, described by a botanist by the name of L’Heritier from specimens collected from Bruny Island  in 1777, during Captain James Cook’s third Pacific expedition. It was named Eucalyptus obliqua after the Latin obliquus, meaning oblique. This refers to the distinctive uneven join of the leaf margins to the leaf stalk. I used to think this was an identifying feature – but there are actually many Eucalypts with this leaf pattern.

So how does one identify the Messmate? If it is a rough barked tree, with rough bark all the way to the ends of the branches, find some of the fruit, or the gum nuts. If they are smooth and shaped like a wine glass, or wine barrel, it is a messmate. If the gum nuts have three pointed bits sticking up from inside the “barrel” it is likely to be a Red Stringybark, a stringybark gum which is common in Hepburn and drier areas of the shire.

Messmates have a wide distribution, occupying most of Tasmania, and the wetter cooler regions of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and westwards as far as Kangaroo Island. Their size and shape depends greatly on their habitat – from a twisted 2 metre high tree on an exposed coastal bluff, to a massive tree of almost 90 metres in a sheltered situation in Tasmania.

In the Daylesford region, you can see this variation in form in the Messmates. However I would add that it is not only habitat (soil and rainfall) but also management of the surrounding area that determines tree form. Out in Porcupine Ridge, our old Messmates have massive branches coming out from the main trunk just a few metres off the ground. This gives the trees an all over bushy shape, with ample branches exposed to sunlight for maximum blossom production, beautiful habitat within all the intersecting branches and plenty of opportunities for tree hollows.

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Messamte blossoms by Linley McGlashan – via natureshare.org

In Wheatsheaf or Trentham, the Messmates seem to be twice as tall, and they branch at 10 metres above the ground.  The canopy is smaller and tighter. I used to think this more vigorous growth habit was due to the more fertile soils and higher rainfall of these areas.

The Porcupine Ridge Messmates have been left as shade for stock such as sheep, and as such could be very old. The Messmates in the wetter areas of the shire live in a forest that has been logged and mined and logged and then logged again almost beyond recognition. The regrowth trees, of 50 – 120 years old that I am seeing in Wheatsheaf, while taller than the Porky Ridge trees, are much younger, and they are part of an even-aged stand of forest. They grow side by side, competing for the light, and crowding each other’s form.

What I wouldn’t give for a time machine to go back to see the Messmates of the Wombat Forest before the first one was cut down. I imagine huge towering trees, with massive branches each the size of a tree itself, side by side with Blackwoods with trunk diameters of several metres.  I imagine Greater Gliders and Koalas feasting on the leaves, and Sugar Gliders and Mountain Brushtails enjoying the masses of blossoms, all the while their apex predators Mr and Mrs Powerful Owl hoot in the distance. We still have this story happening in the Wombat Forest, but in much reduced glory – bless these plants and animals for holding on despite repeated onslaughts.

I would like to acknowledge the work of Wombat Forestcare, for they campaign tirelessly for the Messmates and their fauna. Please check out their website www.wombatforestcare.org.au

greater-glider

The Greater Glider – Wombat Forestcare’s mascot

Photo credit: fleayswildlife.com.au, Grant Fraser