Lichen decor

On my morning walk, this unusual decorative wall drew me across the road for a closer look. It looked intentional, with the defined cut-off line at the top.

But in fact it was not made by man, but by Nature. It proved to a most painterly smattering of lichens, opportunistically taking over a stretch of black shadecloth.

Up close, the lichen was both pretty and delicately varied, the shadecloth host giving it the effect of paint on canvas.

Further along the road, different lichen had ‘painted’ just four of a whole fence of timber palings. What did they have that the others didn’t?

Of course we are most used to seeing lichen on trees, as here on the south side of a palm tree in that same street.

Lichen is not a parasite, so it does not harm the trees.

Lichens are formed from a symbiotic relationship between two organisms — fungus and algae. The fungus grows on the tree and can collect moisture, which the algae needs. The algae, in return, can create food from the energy of the sun, which feeds the fungus.

How clever is that?!

Smart spit?

Any odd spots of inappropriate colour on a plant always catch my eye.

These two white blobs on the old casuarina outside my gate drew my attention.

There were only the two, but I knew what these were because my sister had a larger version in one of her garden trees not long ago and we had both searched for the identity. (A Slime Mould had been my first guess.)

It has many names, including Snakespit, Frogspit and Cuckoospit. In fact, it’s not spit at all, but the secretions of the Spittlebug.

Spittlebugs are not actually bugs, but the nymphs of true bugs called froghoppers… because they hop.

They feed on the xylem of plants, the water-conducting tubes from roots to leaves. A spittlebug has to pump up a great deal of this fluid to survive… up to 300 times its weight in an hour!

The nymph is usually upside-down, and pumping so much fluid means it excretes a lot of waste from its anus. As it does, it also secretes a sticky substance from its abdominal glands, whips air into the mix and creates the froth. This covers the nymph, hiding it from predators. The froth also makes a nice humid ‘house’ and shields the bug from rain.

Clever, eh?

Rainy day life

In between showers and heavy downpours I nipped out to check the mail box and found this bright creature held fast to the front of it by a small spider web. After taking a photo, I freed its legs and sent it on its way.

Next step of course was to find out what it was.

Turns out it is quite historic, being the first insect to be described from Australia, after Cook’s first visit.

It is Chrysopolus spectabilis, or far less appropriately called Botany Bay Weevil.

‘Diamond’ and ‘sapphire’ feature in other less used names, but ‘weevil’ persists. For me that is unfortunate, as it  carries baggage of unpleasant connotations of bulk flour ruined by weevils. But they never looked like this!

In fact, this insect feeds on wattles, on acacias, and I have several varieties planted nearby.

My front verandah is partly protected from the rain by the Ornamental Grape vine. It seems it offers protection to certain wildlife as well, for the amount of dark pellets dotting the railing and decking has grown very large.

Naturally any creatures are sheltering on the undersides of the large leaves, so shaded and not great for photos.

The culprit is the Hungry Green Caterpillar, common enough, with ‘horns’ and a faint yellow stripe, and after wading through hundreds of Caterpillar I.D. shots, I am no longer sure just what sort of moth or butterfly it will be. Any suggestions?

The older ones have turned brown and seem stiffened and bent… perhaps no longer eating or depositing small balls!

Also sheltering from the weather was this charming Green Tree Frog. They are also a widespread and common type, but this one is the first I have seen here, and very welcome!

I see this one has chosen a spot with a view out from beneath the leaf roof! Handsome and clever…

Xmas dressing

Not much is flowering in the garden. Nor is my Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum), but it looks like it is, and these bracts that follow the small cream flowers are its main claim to fame. Mine aren’t as red as some, but people still stop and ask may they cut some for Christmas.

Its starry pinkness stands out against the darker trees around it, and does look a little festive.

But while that tree is dressing up, another in my yard is undressing for the summer season. The Queensland invader, the Cadaghi tree (Corymbia torelliana), is shedding its bark in showy patches to reveal its pale green skin.

Handsome, but dangerously successful as a feral plant, I find it hard to mind it as a tree, except when its millions of seed pods rain down like ball bearings on my deck.

Yet the shameless way it is stripping off its old bark right now is a visual treat. Wish I could do the same with my old bark…!

Rain gifts

A few days of rain has the garden happy and vegetable plants tripling in size. All welcome results, but here I’m celebrating the more ephemeral gifts of rain.

Like the Casuarinas sparkling with diamonds in the early morning…

And the tiny crystal balls bedecking the Native Finger Lime…

Later that day another transient gift of the rain was this Long-necked Tortoise, apparently trying to dig itself backwards into the soft wet ground. I have had one visit a few times, as there are ponds nearby.

And then I saw that this time there were two visiting Tortoises, one slightly bigger than the other.

The one on the right disappeared within ten minutes — where to, I could not see — but the burrowing one remained just like that for over an hour. Did its mate — or was it its mother? — abandon it to scarper back to the ponds? Would it know the way on its own? Would it have the courage to try?

Next morning my yard was tortoise-less again, so hopefully all is well with both my wet weather visitors!

Uplifts

I have never been able to choose between the ‘real’ dramatic sunsets of a western sky and its reflected eastern sky glories, less often seen.

This golden cumulus cluster just on dark was a rare treat, just when I needed something to lift my spirits as the Trump rampage through what was once a great democracy continued on its mad way… and our heads-in-the-sand government goes for gas instead of the zero emissions way forward we need…

After untamed Nature, my garden has always been my next source of solace, where living things sometimes thrive under my care. This Crepuscule rose seemed to hold and reflect that fabulous sunset, further cheering me.

And then came the news of Jacinda Ardern’s re-election, a beacon of sanity and compassion, giving me heart and hope in an increasingly dark world. 

If only…

Her victory did lift my spirits, and they were further buoyed as my Lamarque rose seemed to suddenly burst into the most profuse flowering of its short life. Not golden, but purest white.

Maybe in honour of the integrity and genuine empathy that we can only envy from across the ditch: Yay for Jacinda!

Mini jewel

Seizing a break in showers to finally get around to pruning my tangled standard Iceberg roses, I nearly clipped the perch from under this little gem.

Only about 4 cm long, I think it has to be an Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog (Litoria fallax). These tiny jewels are my favourite frog, and although small, they have a very loud voice: ‘wr-eek, wr-eek!’

I will be listening for them now.

It has more brown on its back than I have seen: a chocolate coated variety? If anyone can identify this small inhabitant of my rose bed more precisely, I’d be grateful.

Showtime

I can no longer keep up my griping about Spring being a harbinger of Summer… the blooms are too beautiful. I can gripe about a Spring day of 30 degrees, as we had yesterday!

My Wisteria had been threatening to bring down the carport with its vigour, but a severe winter pruning has removed risk and delivered these dainty droops of lilac.

My purple Eriostemon shrub is the current native performer.

But mostly it is the English cottage garden stalwarts that are responding to Spring, albeit confusedly.

Like the May bush (Spirea), arching gracefully over my fence with masses of blossoms of the purest of white. In its northern hemisphere home, it would flower in May of course.

One native that would not look amiss in a cottage garden is the bountiful Seaside Daisy (Erigeron). Its happy little faces and its generous spillovers always make me smile.

As do the raggedy blooms of this Crépuscule rose that I am training to grow along my verandah railings; their sunny buds of deep apricot to egg yolk yellow, and paler simple flowers with their golden centres give me joy throughout much of the year. An 1864 variety, it is evergreen, fragrant, uncomplicated and honest!

I am not in the right climate for roses, but to have my old favourites around me, I will persevere.

Unwelcome Spring?

As the orchids have been flowering over winter, they do not fill me with foreboding. Especially when bedecked with post-rain diamonds, I love seeing them outside my study window.

Not so the too-early signs of Spring, like the Ornamental Grape Vine, shooting and blossoming already. For after Spring comes Summer. Both are associated for me — and for many others — with heat and bushfires.

I love the fragrance of Freesias. I try not to regret their ephemeral nature or their harbinger of Summer status and wish hard that they naturalise here. In general bulbs do not seem to flourish in this sub-tropical climate, whereas at the Mountain they were my annual treat, great clumps of them coming up all through the lawn, untouched by the wallabies.

The little Cumquat trees offer both a visual and taste treat; I pick one bright globe and eat it every morning after I visit my Frogmouth friends. This Nagami variety has a sweet skin and tart flesh, so you get both sensations as you bite into it.

The lavender too cannot be blamed for blooming so profusely, and the bees love it for doing so in a winter short of flowers.

Who can resist sweet-smelling Freesias and Lavender?  I quash my forebodings… begone doom and gloom, for the moment… and enjoy small vases of them about the house. Inhale. Smile.

All creatures great and small

Every morning I go out to check on my Frogmouth residents. They were not there the last two days and I fretted that they had left me. But no, they are back today, and not cuddled together as was usual. Is it warmer?

As I greeted them, one fixed me with its golden eye while its mate began assuming the broken branch pose. ‘I am not here’.

‘Don’t worry’, I assured them. ‘You are safe here, so please don’t go elsewhere for good!’

On my early mornings checks of the yard, I often see the intact wonders of overnight webweaving. I think this quite raggedy one on the Native Finger Lime may have its weaver at the centre? Better eyesight than mine must decide.

The maker of this more symmetrical circular web on the Acacia perangusta must be hiding amongst its leaves and blossoms.

Not having as much wildlife as I had at the Mountain, I treasure each and every creature… great and small.

Perpetual gardening

This garden bed may look like one big mess, when in fact it is a cornucopia of gifts that ensure I will have ongoing vegetables and herbs to pick and eat.

All I have to do is allow the plants to live their full life span, to get long and leggy, flower and go to seed. Like the beautiful blue borage, ringed by new plants, like toddlers around their mother’s skirts. These I will dig up and plant as a border elsewhere.

My favourite salad green is rocket, (left) so I depend on these tall and healthy plants providing next summer’s crop. 

Last summer’s lettuce (right) was allowed to be so straggly it fell over, but not before scattering its tiny seeds. So here are its progeny, to be picked as thinnings as they grow.

I could not eat enough of the Asian greens I planted, so most will have to be dug in as green manure, but a few will grace the garden with their yellow posies until I am sure of the next crop being bestowed on my garden, wherever their seeds choose to fall.

The Cos lettuce flowers are not showy, but the sole surviving plant, a veritable Leaning Tower of Cos, is cherished for its anticipated contribution to my table.

And this mass of Continental Parsley is the result of just one seeding plant last year. I should have thinned them, but instead I revel in the lushness, harvest them in great handfuls and treat them as a green vegetable. You can’t have enough parsley!

At least I can’t.

And all free… you just have to not mind a lack of order, of straight rows of plants.

Bereft Butterfly

As the ornamental grape has lost all its lovely pink leaves, I tackled the pruning of its woody infrastructure, always a little trepidatiously, but knowing from experience that it will shoot even more vigorously if I prune it hard.

And besides, the best cuttings are good for striking more plants, and the bulk of them dry to make good kindling for the fire.

But not everyone was pleased by the removal. A few grasshoppers lost their hiding places, and this lone butterfly seemed quite upset as more and more of the thin twiggy veil was cut away.

Then it landed on the railing and stayed so still for so long I worried it was stunned somehow.

It has the unfortunate name of the Common Eggfly. Most unfair for such a pretty and dainty creature. And if it’s common in general, being found from the Torres Strait and Northern Australia all the way to Sydney, it’s the only one here! 

When it did fly off, it seemed agitated, fluttering in and out of the remaining vine. Had it laid eggs there?