Recreating the Country blog
- becoming wild in isolation.
This month, botanical names starting with A
Last week we started our nature adventure and name challenge with the amazing Chocolate Lily. Arthropodium strictum and three of its close relatives that are all sweet scented and edible. Click here to read about them.
Its exciting planting some of our wonderful natural heritage in your own garden. Then you can see millions of years of evolution going through its annual life-cycle where you can appreciate it every day
How did you go with the first tongue twister botanical name? I find botanical names have a rhythm that helps me remember them. Say them over to yourself a few times to hear the 'flow' of the words. There is a poetic beauty in them that you will find
The next amazing indigenous plant is another ground level plant with a close cousin that is a familiar shrub, though you may not realise it yet. I think of this ground-layer plant as a very useful groundcover. It's a saltbush that isn’t a bush and it has all the toughness, hardiness and the usefulness of the saltbush family.
Berry or Creeping Saltbush, Atriplex semibaccata
How to say it.
At – trip – lex and run those syllables together. Semi offers little challenge, and as you think of the Magna Carta, say bac – cata and you’ve got it.
Its ancient origins are all Latin - Salsa anyone
Pliny the Elder first used the Latin word atriplex in his remarkable book ‘Natural History’ published in AD 77. He was describing an edible mountain spinach and other related useful plants like amaranth.
The Latin word baccata = bearing berries. The scientific name literally means a spinach like plant with berries.
It follows that the Berry Saltbush is a member of the amaranth family as are all the saltbush species.
Some human context
The berries on the Berry Saltbush can be eaten fresh or made into jam if you have the inclination and the time as they are very small. They are a little sweet with a salty note. You know its diamond shaped berries are ripe when they turn red.
To add to its potential, its leaves are high in protein and can be grazed by sheep. As it grows it hugs the ground and can spread to 1m across within twelve months. Its grey foliage is an attractive feature that provides good contrast in the home garden.
If you're looking for a dense fast growing drought tolerant groundcover, its hard to find a match for this plant.
Like other members of the saltbush family it's higher leaf salt levels make it less flammable. This feature makes it very useful in fire prone country locations where dry straw mulch and wood chips can become a fire hazard.
The Berry Saltbush is therefore very valuable as a fire retardant living mulch.
Here is an interesting observation and link from Stuart McCallum, activist, conservationist and long time Friend and protector of the Bannockburn Bush.
This Berry Saltbush has managed to colonise our VicRoads/Golden Plains replanting site on Harvey Rd.
The Berry Saltbush provides dense cool habitat for insects like springtails as well as skinks and frogs.
Imagine your well fed garden Bluetongue lizzards safe in a home that provides a balanced diet of protein rich insects and vitamin rich fruit for most of the year.
Small ground feeding birds like the
Superb Fairywren will pick through the grey foliage to find insects and berries as well.
A close relative - Atriplex nummularia
Its bushy close cousin that I mentioned earlier is Oldman Saltbush, Atriplex nummularia. You may know it as the plant that saltbush lamb is grown on.
Nummularia is pronounced numb – mule – area. It earned its Latin name because its circular leaves are like a Roman coin, nummus = coin
Nature notes & human context
Both its leaves and seeds can be eaten, the latter being used as a protein rich food by Indigenous Australians. Read more about its food potential here
This bush grows to about 2m x 2m and is planted on farms in hedgerows to provide drought proof nutritious food for grazing animals. It also provides them with dense wind shelter.
Other animals like small birds and Bluetongue lizards have been recorded using the dense habitat it provides for nesting and for shelter.
... and their easy to propagate
Both atriplex species are easy to propagate from seed. It’s as simple as collecting the mature berries and sowing them into potting mix (or garden soil). They’ll germinate within a few weeks.
When they are large enough to handle, transplant into small pots to grow them on for the garden or the back paddock. See this link to the NSW Department of Primary Industries for more information on Oldman Saltbush as stock fodder.
Next week we will venture into the very large genus of Acacias with two of my favourites - a beautiful small shrub and a longlived graceful small tree.
- becoming wild in isolation
Have you ever wished you had the time to learn more about your local wild plants? They’re a beautiful part of our natural heritage and they’ve been growing on our landscapes for a very very long time. Usually the task of learning the tricky unpronounceable scientific names is enough to put most people off.
I’d like to help you discover some of these amazing local plants one plant at a time. And you’ll have a whole week to learn each plant name and some of its hidden secrets. Then you can impress your friends (yes, there are much better reasons to know them I agree) and it could well become the catalyst for new outdoor experiences.
I’ll throw in translations of the ancient Greek/Latin names as a bonus. This will often help you with identification, though its usually the very subtle features that botanists choose to recognise in the scientific name, as you will read.
Plus you’ll learn some quirky things that you won’t believe about these plants. This will help cement your new knowledge and your isolation will begin to overflow with possibilities. The world of wild plants will open to you and you’ll be keen to explore your wilderness areas next spring when the wildflower season begins.
This month is botanical names starting with A
– there will be one new incredible plant each week.
Our first amazing plant is ideal for Easter celebrations. The reason why may surprise you.
It's a small lily that’s perfect for rockeries and small patches in the home garden. Plant 20 + in a large patch for an amazing scented display. It has a mauve six-petal star-shaped flower the size of a $2 coin
Its all Greek to me - not quite!
Its scientific name comes from two ancient Greek words and one Latin word
Greek - Arthron = joint (arthritis is joint pain); podos = foot (athletes place their feet on a podium when they win an Olympic medal). So the botanist who named this plant thought its flower stork was like a jointed foot. I don’t see it myself but there it is.
Latin – strictus = rigid. This is easier to see on the plant because it has a very stiff upright flower stem that stretches to 30cm and sometimes much taller.
To pronounce the scientific name, think of arthritis & podium and run them together. Already you’re sounding like a professional botanist. Don’t be too strict, um because no one really knows how to pronounce these words - there’s no official protocol.
Chocolate lily's flower colour and rich sweet scent is a magnet for native bees, moths and butterflies. It will also bring them into your home garden if you plant a patch.
You'll see it growing in native grasslands and open areas in woodlands and forest where there is full sunlight or dappled shade. It complements and enriches the ground habitat and is found with other lilies, native grasses, native herbs and orchids. We have a very rich and wonderful heritage in all these plants.
Some human context
The Chocolate Lily is a member of the Asparagus family, which fits well with its use as a raw or roasted root vegetable used by the First Australians. Though it’s not the root but its edible flower that has a chocolate scent. To read more about its food use click here
I have a friend who was a child during the Second World War. At that time most things were in short supply, especially chocolate bars. She would stop on her way home from school in spring and smell the Chocolate Lilies growing on the roadside. She could imagine the wonderful taste of chocolate with each new drift of flowers.
Chocolate Lilies are widespread throughout Australia and their flowers appear from September through to January. In my home garden they flower well into April.
...and they're easy to propagate
Simply push the small black seeds into seed sowing mix any time from spring through to late summer and their single leaf will appear within four weeks. When they are large enough to hold with your thumb and forefinger, transplant into pots to grow on for the garden.
Plant into your garden in late winter to early spring. It likes a sunny well drained position. Be prepared to be delighted for many months and of course children love the chocolate scent.
Where to get seeds and plants
Seeds and more useful info on propagation are available at this link
Contact your local Landcare group for sources of plants and seeds;
Contact your local Native Australian Plants Society for sources of plants and seeds
Do you have a Chocolate Lily story that you'd like to share?
Nodding Chocolate Lily, Arthropodium fimbriatum
- from Latin fimbriae=border or fringe. It has a frilly fringe on its chocolate scented petals (click on photo to see the fringe). This lily can grow up to over 0.8m tall. Flowering is from September to January
Pale Vanilla-lily, Arthropodium milleflorum
- as you will have guessed, this lily has a vanilla scent
- from Latin mille=thousand & florum=flowers. This beautiful plant smells of vanilla and has prolific clusters of flowers (though significantly less than a thousand - even botanists sometimes exaggerate). This lily grows to 1.3m tall. Flowering is from November to February
Small Vanilla Lily, Arthropodium minus from Latin minor=smaller. It's quite demure and only grows to 0.3m tall. Flowering is from August to December
Next week another is botanical name beginning with A.
Berry or Creeping Saltbush; Atriplex semibaccata
- the living mulch plant with edible fruit
Stephen Murphy is an author, an ecologist and a nurseryman. He has been a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.