July 03, 2012
Picture of Laxmannia gracilis, just found on Black Mountain after more than 50 years. Laxmannia gracilis.jpg Photo: Karleen Minney
ard on the heels of last week's newsworthy findings of the census of Australian folk here is the new, catchily titled Census of Vascular plants, Hornworts, Liverworts and Slime Moulds of the Australian Capital Territory.
More of the slime moulds (their evocative name sounds like an insult one might hear Anthony Albanese shout across the chamber of the House of Representatives at the Opposition front bench) in a moment.
But first, ours is a bush capital and the new census provides the scientific community and general public with quick, easy-to-access information about native and introduced plants growing in the wild in the ACT. And ''the wild'' in this context means, as well as the great swathes of wild places like bunyip-infested Namadgi National Park, all the nooks, crannies, boscages and reserves of bush in and among our suburbs. So for example it includes Black Mountain where as it happens the census has helped to rediscover a prodigal plant, an exquisite little lily, the Wire Lily, Laxmannia gracilis, not seen in the ACT since 1960. Where has it been? It's unscientific of me but I like to think it has been away (like the prodigal son of the New Testament parable) but has come home, to much rejoicing among green and environmentally sensitive Canberrans, perhaps so as to be here for the centenary.
The census is the work of the Australian National Herbarium (it's jointly managed by the Australian National Botanic Gardens and CSIRO) in association with ACT Territory and Municipal Services. The herbarium's curator Brendan Lepschi explained yesterday that this census improves and enlarges the census of 2007. It adds 152 not-previously counted plant species and embraces the ACT's hitherto cruelly ignored slime moulds (Lepschi says that they are vaguely fungus-like but enjoy a taxonomic ''kingdom'' of their own) for the first time. He says that we have all seen slime moulds, that they form on things like wet newspaper (now there's an endangered habitat, we mused, ruefully) and damp mulch and that one of them ''looks like a yellow gelatinous mass and they call it Dogs' Vomit''. But he's sure they have a place in nature (the ACT has 27 species of them, all apparently natives) because they are ''decomposers'' that help disassemble the thing they colonise.
So, bush-capital-dwelling Canberrans, what plants are we sharing the bush capital with? The census finds that we have about 1645 different species of ''vascular plants'' (most of the trees and shrubs and small herby plants we notice). In addition we have three kinds of hornworts, 77 sorts of liverworts and are rich in slime moulds.
Of the 1645 vascular plants almost 600 are not species that naturally upholstered the place before Europeans arrived but are introduced. They are weeds. And about 45 of these trespassers are Australian plants that, like the most conspicuous of them the gaudy Cootamundra Wattle (Acacia baileyana) never used to occur here naturally but have vaulted over the backyard fences of suburban gardens and put down roots in bushland. About 15 athletic, opportunistic wattle (Acacia) species have done these local vaultings. But Lepschi says that while weeds are a serious problem in the ACT the huge number catalogued by the census isn't quite as shocking as it looks because while the census feels obliged to record them even if they're found just once many only make a cameo appearance and then ''disappear at a moment's notice''.
But Lepschi rejoices that the ACT is ''remarkably rich'' in native, naturally-occurring plants. He says that in part this is because posed where it is the ACT is botanically lucky. It's touched, just, by the fringes of the flora of the alps, and of the coast and of the west. And so it comes to pass that naturally occurring here in the ACT there are for example about 119 orchid species, 36 eucalyptus species, 24 acacias, 12 kinds of pomaderris, 11 pimeleas, 11 leptospermums (tea-trees), six grevilleas, three boronias and much, much more. Alas the ACT is decorated by only one of our continent's 170 species of banksias while Western Australia which seems to have more of everything, has, with 60 of them, more than any other state or territory.
There are some evocative common names among the plants listed in the census. Some readers, surely, will want to weave some of these names into poems and songs. There's Chilean Pigface, Hairy Joyweed, Nodding Chocolate Lily, Indian Hedge Mustard and then, one sounding like a porn star and the other like a shy little character in a fairytale, Dirty Dora and Blushing Tiny Greenhood.
To access the census, visit www.anbg.gov.au/cpbr/ACT-census-2012/