Tall Alpine Herbfield: Covered with tufty grass and wildflowers in summer

“And now we find ourselves on the edge of the great morass, snow-filled in winter, and covered with tufty grass and wildflowers in summer.”

– From the Illustrated guide to the Australian Alps and Buffalo Ranges published by the Bright Alpine Club in around 1890.

Richea continentis: Candle Heath or Richea continentis really stands out amongst the other plants. It has candle-like clusters of flowers and long branches of spiky leaves. The genus name Richea is a reference to a dude called Riche who was a French doctor and botanist (another doctor-botanist combo!).

 

 Celmisia costiniana: This lovely silvery daisy has creeping, branched woody roots which do an excellent job of keeping soil together and preventing erosion. They are also very tasty to herbivores and would be badly impacted by overgrazing, which in turn would have big implications for soil stability. It seems appropriate then that the species is named after Dr A.B. Costin a scientist who has done loads for conservation in the Australian Alps. You will see quite a few species with silver hairs on their stems and leaves. They act as sunscreen deflecting damaging radiation away from the surface of the plant.

 

Craspedia maxgrayi: This member of the daisy family has bright yellow head inflorescences and develops those classic dandelion seeds. In fact, the genus name comes from the Greek Craspedon for ‘fringe, border or edge’ because the seeds have tufts of hair. These allow them to disperse on the wind. You may know this species as a Billybutton. I wondered about the origins of this. It turns out that ‘billy’ is slang for ‘club’ (as in a club you hit someone over the head with), and refers to the shape of the inflorescence.

Craspedia maxgrayi at Kosciuszko National Park (Image: Casey Gibson)

Craspedia maxgrayi at Kosciuszko National Park (Image: Casey Gibson)

Gentianella muelleriana subsp. alpestris: Gentianella or Dwarf Gentia get their name from another genus called Gentia. The nella pre-fix indicates that whilst they are related, the genus Gentianella is made up of species that have shorter growth forms. These flowers really were the botanical highlight of my trip to Kosciuszko! They grow in patches in tussock grassland and herbfields with gorgeous cup-like white flowers with purple stripes. It may be that cup-like flowers provide the species with a benefit in the cold climate. It has been shown that cup-like flowers in alpine plants focuses the warmth from the sun within the flower centre. This helps attract insect pollinators and helps the seeds develop more quickly. One of many nifty things that plants do to cope with cold conditions.

 

Pentachondra pumila: This cutey is in the heath family (Ericaceae), likes wet feet and sun on its head, and is found only in the Kosciuszko area. It grows close to the ground in a mat, which is sensible in cold weather and gives it its common name Carpet Heath. They also have another secret to surviving in the alpine. The fruit start to develop before the winter sets in, and then they ripen fully the next summer. This means in the second summer they are all ready to flash those red berries and attract the animals that are going to eat them and spread their seeds. Even we can eat them. It gets its genus name Pentachondra from the fact that the innards of the berries are divided into 5 parts, while pumila means ‘dwarf, small or brief’ in reference to how small it is.

 

Prasophyllum Orchids: There are three species of orchids occurring in the Kosciuszko area, two of which are Prasophyllum species. Prasophyllum translates into ‘leek leaved’, and they are often referred to as Leek Orchids because apparently the leaves of the plant looks a bit like a leek when not flowering. The species Prasophyllum alpestre was first collected and identified from Charlotte Pass itself in 1998, and has the common name Mauve Leek Orchid. Prasophyllum tadgellianum was named after estate accountant and botanist (not a doctor this time!) who collected the specimen from Mt Hotham in 1922, which was then used to formally name the species.

 

When people think about the Snowy Mountain landscape, they often think of granite outcrops and incredible spring wildflower displays. They are basically thinking about this plant community, one of the most widespread in the Kosciuszko area. But there is two more communities of note at Charlotte Pass –> Bogs and Fens

A huuuugge thanks to Casey Gibson for taking me along on her fieldwork and teaching me about the plants of the alpine region. Check out her amazing instagram, twitter and read about her PhD here.


References

Birks, H. & Birks, J. (2001) Plant life in the cold: arctic and alpine environments. Presentation for Nordforsk PhD course, University of Bergen.

Gray, M. & Given, D.R. (1999) New Species and a New Combination in Australian Celmisia. Australian Systematic Botany 12, 201-2016.

Keith, D. (2004) Ocean Shores to Desert Dunes: The Native Vegetation of New South Wales and the ACT. Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), Hurstville.

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network (2017) Flowering Plants <www.nzpcn.org.nz>

PlantNET  (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney. http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/

Totterdell, CJ., Costin AB. & Gray M. (2000) Kosciuszko Alpine Flora: Field Edition. CSIRO Publishing.

VicFlora (2016). Flora of Victoria, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, <https://vicflora.rbg.vic.gov.au&gt;.

Wapstra, M, Wapstra A, Wapstra, H, (2010) Tasmanian Plant Names Unravelled. Fullers Bookshop, Launceston.

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