Recreating the Country blog
- 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.
The Dja Dja Wurrung name for Chocolate Lily and Vanilla Lily is Gitjawil matom.
(Su Hauck pers com. - see Su's comment on 22/12/21 below for more information)
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.