Spring

Awakening of insects: Golden oriels sing


September 17th, 2011
by Jo Law

The last five days saw the highest monthly maximum temperature to-date of 25.6ºC recorded at Bellambi Australia Weathter Station on 14th September. The period saw 0mm rainfall making the currently monthly total of 10.4mm. The mean September rainfall (from 1997 to 2011) is 58.1mm, the second lowest in the year.

The low rainfall means the food garden at the back needed watering. The front garden, on the other hand, is thriving in the warm dry spring weather.  The native mint bushes (Prostanthroa ovalifolia) pour profusions of mauve into the landscape. The aromatic star bush (Asterolasia hexapetala) ablazed with white flowers sit sproudly by the drive-way. The black coral peas (Kennedia nigricans) quietly climb the garden steps to make a nest atop the silvered remanant of an old tree trunk. The boronias (Boronia megastigima) infuse the space with their distinctively Western Australian scent. The jewel on the crown in this spring garden has to be the 5 majestic waratahs (Telopea speciosissima) hovering unassumingly above the garden path.

When we moved into our current house in the autumn of 2008, we hardly paid any attention to the lanky-looking tree. The flowers simply appeared the following spring with no pronouncement and dazzled us with their magnificence. Along with many Australia native plants such as Grevillea, Banksia, Dryandra, Hakea, and Macademia, Telopea belongs to the Proteaceae family. It is endemic to coastal New South Wales region.

The waratah’s visual resemblance to the South African Protea and the Chilean Firebush (Emborthrium) offer a tantalizing link bewteen the former constituent landforms of Gondwana. The striking similarities bewteen the genera belonging to the Proteacea family and their widespread distribution in Southern Hemisphere make a compelling case of vicariance occurred on the supercontinent. This theory, however, has been challenged by Nigel P Barker, Peter H Weston, Frank Rutschmann, Hervé Sauquet in their paper, ‘Molecular dating of the ‘Gondwanan’ plant family Proteaceae is only partially congruent with the timing of the break-up of Gondwana‘. Their molecular phylogentic analyses suggest that the divergent evolution of some Proteaceae genera occured after the break-up of the supercontinent. The authors argue that transoceniac dispersal also account for the distribution of species, and not all Proteacea disjunction can be attributed to Gondwana vicariance.

The current New South Wales State Government’s emblem featuring the waratah sparked controversy at its launch in 2008 by the then Premiere, Nathan Rees. Critics claimed that the graphic representation of the floral emblem bear greater resemblance to the lotus flower. Incidentally, both the lotus (family: Nelumboaceae) and the waratah belong to the order of Proteales.

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