Alpine Woodland: Where upon drift and icicle perfect lies its shadow

“It is the snow-gum silently,
In noon’s blue and the silvery
Flowering of light on snow,
Performing its slow miracle
Where upon drift and icicle
perfect lies its shadow”

– From the Snow-Gum by Douglas Stewart.

Now for the first of the plant community, you see at Charlotte Pass Lookout! (See this post for an outline of all the communities). As you park your car at the Charlotte Pass Lookout you are met with the stunning Snow-Gum which is the basis for the Subalpine Woodland.

Eucalyptus pauciflora

The scientific name means ‘few flowers’, but the Snow-Gum flowers just as spectacularly as any other Eucalypt. It’s thought that Sieber who named the species may have been working from a sickly or damaged specimen. I think it is one of the most lovely Eucalypts with its twisted branches and bark that changes colour throughout the year. Even the leaves are striking with grey-green leaves with parallel veins (unusual for a Eucalypt) that shine when the sun hits them.

Acaena novae-zelandiae

This member of the Rose Family wins the prize for the coolest common name. ‘Bidgee widgee’ which was adapted from a New Zealand Anglicisation of the Maori name: Piripiri to bidbid to bidgee-widgee. The genus name Acaena comes from Greek for thorn, referring to the hook-like burs that spread the seeds (as demonstrated by my sock in the photo below). It does look like a weed, but it’s a native, and in fact, it has become a weed in Europe after travelling there in wool.

Oxylobium ellipticum

This member of the Fabaceae (pea) family has pods that are very hairy, giving them the common name “shaggy pea”. The whole shrub gives off a hairy-ness vibe when the fruit are in full swing. The genus name Oxylobium comes from the Greek for ‘sharp pod’. You can see in the photo below that the pods taper to a sharp point. This species is one of the more widespread species found at Charlotte Pass and can be found on other mountain ranges in south-east Australia.

Oreomyrrhis eriopoda

Fragrant mountain woolly foot. This is how the scientific name translates. Like many other alpine species, this species is covered in a fine layer of hair. This hair creates a layer of still air just above the surface of the plant which reduces water loss and heat loss. The heat loss thing makes sense, but the water loss thing is less intuitive. Plants can lose a lot of water when there are high winds and strong sun, both of which are the case on top of a mountain!

Veronica derwentiana subsp. maideniana

The light green soft looking leaves of this species really stand out in amongst the other plants. They also have loads of flowers that attract bees and butterflies. The common name Speedwell refers to how this genus grows really well. Speed used to mean success or prosperity…which makes the phrase “Godspeed” make so much more sense.

Now heading further down the hill the vegetation gets shorter and shrubbier –> Wet Alpine Heathland

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.


Breitwieser I., Brownsey P.J., Heenan P.B., Nelson W.A., Wilton A.D. eds. (2010-<current year>) Flora of New Zealand Online – Taxon Profiles. Accessed at,

Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, 2010,
Australian National Herbarium,
Australian Government, Canberra, <;

Hampel, Corinne (2017) Spring flowers: Senecio lautus, a native daisy. Mallee Native Plants Nursery <;

Hoyle GL, Cordiner H, Good RB, Nicotra AB (2014) Effects of reduced winter duration on seed dormancy and germination in six populations of the alpine herb Aciphyllya glacialis (Apiaceae). Conservation Physiology 2: doi:10.1093/conphys/cou015.

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 <>

PlantNET  (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney.

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

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


Bogs and Fens: The reed beds sweep and sway

At the bottom of the valley at Charlotte Pass things get very wet and there are patches of standing water.

Aciphylla glacialis

Dotted about in the bogs and fens you will see clusters of plants with tough feathery looking leaves called Aciphylla glacialis or Mountain Celery. If you look carefully while they are flowering you will see that some plants have a denser cluster of flowers than others. This is because this species have male and female flower clusters on separate plants.

Senecio lautus

The native Variable Groundsel, Fireweed or Senecio lautus is a widespread species that can become weedy in some areas. It has those classic dandelion seeds with white hairs that help it spread so well, which gives its name Senecio which comes from the Latin for ‘old man’. The lautus means handsome. A handsome old man. Not a bad species name.

Empodisma minus

Spreading Roperush or Empodisma minus is a pain in the butt to walk through. It spreads by its roots creating large swards that hide any lumps and bumps. Appropriately Empodisma translates at ‘tangle foot’. Its common in wet swampy areas, from the alpine to sea level. They are one of the major components of peat formation as their roots create mats in the soil and hold lots of water. As a whiskey drinker, I thank it.

Empodisma minus at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Empodisma minus at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Drosera arcturi

Drosera comes from the Greek for dewy which makes perfect sense when you see these amazing plants. Their leaves are covered in long tentacle-like glands with glittering, gooey drops of goop at the tip. They use these glands and goop to attract, trap and digest insects for nutrients. This particular species was first found on Mt Arthur in Tassie, and so was given the name species name arcturi. Eating insects allows them to grow in areas with low nutrients, like where water is always washing away any potential organic matter that roots can absorb (i.e. a bog or fen). These guys can survive being completely frozen over with ice and snow by forming a bud with scale-like leaves around their main growing bud, protecting it from the harsh winter conditions.

Drosera arcturi at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Drosera arcturi at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Epilobium gunnianum

You come across lots of species in the alpine with the species name “gunnianum”. This species like other alpine species is named after the guy who collected the specimen that was used to formally identify the species. Epilobium gunnianum or Gunns Willow Herb has its petals sitting on top of a pod-like ovary, which gives it its genus name: epi meaning upon and lobos meaning pod. After pollination, these ovaries develop into long thin fruits that split open releasing hairy seeds that spread on the wind. It’s quite a sight.

Lycopodium fastigiatum

Little wolf foot! That is how the genus name translates. This little club moss has leaves that look like little wolf claws. Alpine Club Moss or Mountain Club Moss belongs to the Clubmoss family (Lycopodiaceae). This is a very ancient group of plants and use a more primitive way of reproducing than the whole flower, fruit and seed approach. They produce spores, which then develop into a little, simple plant thingy that has a male and female sex organs. It is on this little, simple plant thingy that finally the male cells fertilise the female sex cells, and then a new club moss is born! It is a weird and wonderful system that can be really hard to wrap your head around. The best analogy I can think of is the Alien in the Alien movies. In the picture below you can see the cone-like structure that produces and spreads those initial spores in Lycopodium fastigiatum.

Hypericum japonicum

You may know this genus by its common name of St John’s-Wort. Hypericum is an ancient name, and the species in this genus have a long history of use in ceremonies and medicine. This particular species, Matted St. John’s Wort, is widespread. It was first officially identified from a specimen collected in Japan, hence the species name japonica. Its lovely little yellow flowers attract insect that will pollinate it.

Oschatzia cuneifolia

This species is named for a doctor/botanist (again!) who invented a contraption that cut super thin sections of samples so you can get a good look at them under a microscope. There are only two species in the genus which can be found only in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

Psychrophila introloba

Psychrophila introloba or Alpine Marsh Marigold is a super cool species. The genus name means ‘frost loving’. It makes flower buds before the snow sets in so it is all ready to flower once the snow melts. The flowers start to open as the snow melts away, attracting small insects, including ants, who do the pollinating. By the end of the summer the seeds are mature and ready to go. To see the flower click here.

Psychrophila introloba at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Psychrophila introloba at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Wahlenbergia ceracea

This genus is named after another doctor/botanist guy, while ceracea comes from the Latin for waxy referring to the fact that the flowers have a waxy look about them. They are certainly a photogenic species, like so many alpine herbs. In fact, there are studies that show that alpine plants put more resources into making showy flowers than plants from lower altitudes. They put energy into making large, colourful, smelly or highly complex flowers. Why? There are fewer pollinating insects in alpine areas, and so you need to put on your best show if you are going to attract them. The result is that alpine areas have the most spectacular wildflower displays in Spring, and we get to enjoy it.

And that is the last of my posts about the plants at Charlotte Pass in Kosciuszko National Park. Keep an eye out for a post on the plant communities up near Mt Kosciuszko itself.

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.


Breitwieser I., Brownsey P.J., Heenan P.B., Nelson W.A., Wilton A.D. eds. (2010-2018) Flora of New Zealand Online – Taxon Profiles. Accessed at

Central Yukon Species Inventory Project (2011) Lycopodiaceae: Clob-moss Family <;

Fabbro, T. & Korner, C. (2003) Altitudinal differences in flower traits and reproductive allocation. Flora 199, 70-81

Hampel, Corinne (2017) Spring flowers: Senecio lautus, a native daisy. Mallee Native Plants Nursery <;

Hoyle GL, Cordiner H, Good RB, Nicotra AB (2014) Effects of reduced winter duration on seed dormancy and germination in six populations of the alpine herb Aciphyllya glacialis (Apiaceae). Conservation Physiology 2: doi:10.1093/conphys/cou015.

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.

McPherson, S. (2010) Carnivorous Plants and their Habitats: Volume Two. Redfern Natural History Productions, Dorset, England.

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network (2017) Flowering Plants <>

PlantNET  (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney.

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

Wagner, W.H. & Beitel, J.M. (2004) Lycopodiaceae. Flora of North America. <;

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


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.


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 <>

PlantNET  (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney.

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

VicFlora (2016). Flora of Victoria, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, <;.

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

Wet Alpine Heath: With innumerable spikes of pale creamy-yellow flowers

I noticed that trees were very scarce at this altitude, but low, bushy shrubs, notably the Alpine Heath, with innumerable spikes of pale creamy-yellow flowers, were plentiful.

– From Valley of the Flowers at Mt. Kosciuszko by Betty Askew, in The Sun December 1940.

As you are heading into the valley the soil is getting soggier and smaller, shrubbier species are replacing the Eucalypts and herb understory.

Epacris glacialis

You really only find Epacris glacialis or Reddish Bog Heath in heath communities at very wet sites. The genus name comes from Epi meaning upon, and acros meaning hilltop. The dude who named them thought the genus mostly lived on hilltops. They are in the heather family (Ericaceae) which we do associate with exposed areas, but they don’t necessarily only occur only there. Heading down the hill this is the dominant species in the heathland.

Ozothamnus alpinus

Translates roughly to smelly shrub, because many of the species have smelly leaves. Sometimes a nice smell, sometimes not so much. The flowers hang around on the shrub for a long time after they have finished their business of being pollinated and so they have the common name of Everlasting. This particular species is called Alpine Everlasting. When the flowers are young you can see the bracts that grow around the clump of small white flowers creating a pink-red bud.

Ozothamnus alpinus at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young).

The white clusters of long-lasting flowers of Ozothamnus alpinus at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young).

Prostanthera cuneata

“It is a very handsome plant, the dark green foliage admirably setting off the profusion of large, pale lavender flowers”, wrote botanist J.H. Maiden in 1898. This dark green foliage smells minty-eucalyptus-y when crushed, giving it the name Alpine Mintbush. And the pale lavender flowers are loaded with nectar to attract insects to pollinate the species.

Acrothamnus montanus

Another species named after its tendency to grow in high places. Acron is greek for ‘summit or extremity’, while thamnos means shrub. So it’s a shrub that grows up high. Then Montanus is for mountains. Alpiny Mc Alpine Shrub. The little red berries provide food for animals including lizards, who in turn spread the seeds.

Acrothamnus montanus at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young).

Acrothamnus montanus at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young).

Baeckea gunniana

Charles Darwin named the genus after his best mate Dr Abraham Baeck (a doctor and naturalist). One of my dreams is to have someone to name a plant after me! The gunniana for a plant collector Ronald Gunn who collected the original specimen. The leaves smell of tea tree when crushed.

Baeckea gunniana at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young).

Baeckea gunniana at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young).

Pimelea ligustrina subsp. ciliata

The Tall Rice Flower or Pimelea ligustrina subsp. ciliata has bundles of cute white flowers which (as you can see in the pictures below) are surrounded by 8 bracts, reddish brown before the inflorescence fully opens. The species name Ligustrina is a reference to the unrelated genus Lingustrum which is meant to have similar looking leaf arrangement on the stem. Lingustrum: a name that causes any urban bushland enthusiast to shudder in distaste.

Wet Alpine Heath isn’t the most common type of heath in the Kosciuszko area. I’ll be writing a post about the more common heath community sometime soon. As you continue down the hill you start to see more grasses and herbs –> Tall Alpine Herbfield

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.


Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, 2018, Australian National Herbarium, Australian Government, Canberra, <;

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.

Maiden, J.H. (1898) A contribution towards a flora of Mount Kosciuszko. Department of Agriculture. Sydney.

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network (2017) Flowering Plants <>

PlantNET  (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney.

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

VicFlora (2016). Flora of Victoria, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, <;.

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

Plant Communities of Charlotte Pass: Where the river runs those giant hills between

“Where the river runs those giant hills between”

– Man from Snowy River by Banjo Patterson.

Some of Kosciusko National Park’s most popular walking tracks, including the Snow Gums Boardwalk and the Main Range Walk, start from Charlotte Pass Lookout, and the walks have great signs about the vegetation and climate. But I wrote a few blog posts about the specific plant species and communities you see around Charlotte Pass, and are representative of a lot of the alpine communities in the Snowy Mountains more generally.

Different combinations of plants grow in different areas depending on the climate, geology, soil, altitude and shape of the land. Because these environmental factors are patchy so too are the communities of plants. The alpine vegetation found in Kosciuszko is unique because it is very patchy over a very small area. For example, if you walk from the top of the chairlift to the top of Kosciuszko most of the hillsides are covered with areas of herbs and grasses, called ‘tall alpine herbfield’. But in amongst this are small patches of other plant communities, for example, where it is particularly wet there are ‘bogs’, and where it is particularly rocky there are small hardy shrubs which make up what we call ‘heath’.

Alpine Vegetation at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Alpine Vegetation at Charlotte Pass in Feb 2018 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

At the top of the hill at the Charlotte Pass lookout, you will find ‘subalpine woodland’. This woodland is made up of the striking Eucaluptus pauciflora, with shrubs, grasses and herbs beneath. Subalpine woodlands are the highest woodlands you will find in Australia.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, as you start going down the hillside you find plant communities that look more alpine-y than a woodland. Surely you would expect to see the woodland at lower elevations? But in situations like this, you get cold air sinking down into the valleys making it a little too cold for trees.

Towards the top of the hill is ‘wet alpine heath‘, which is made of short woody shrubs with tough leaves, with some herbs and grasses growing in patches underneath. The heathland you walk through at Charlotte’s Pass is a little soggy but the shrubby plants do well, particularly Epacris glacialis (Reddish Bog Heath) which likes the crappy drainage and dampness. In the picture below you can see Oxylobium ellipticum (Common Shaggy-Pea), Epacris paludosa (Alpine Heath), Brachyloma daphnoides (Daphne heath) and Leucopogon hookeri (Mountain Beard Heath) all growing close together.

Wet Alpine Heath at Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Wet Alpine Heath at Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

As we go down further into the valley we come across what is calledalpine herbfields‘. There are different types of alpine herbfields, but they are all characterised by having lots of herbaceous species (i.e. small, non-woody species), like grasses and daisies. Tall alpine herbfields are the most common type in the area. You will find tall herbfields across Kosciusko National Park, even on top of Kosciuszko itself. Tussock grassland is also a type of alpine herbfield and as you may have guessed you will find lots of tussocky grasses in this plant community. These communities aren’t as tough as some other vegetation types and don’t occur where there is constant snow cover, regular high winds, very stony or very wet soil.

In the photo below you can see a wonderful combination of grasses, orchids, such as Prasophyllum alpestre (Mauve Leek Orchid), and daisies, including Celmisia costiniana (Silver Snow Daisy).

Tall Alpine Herbfield at Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Tall Alpine Herbfield made up of grasses, orchids, such as Prasophyllum alpestre (Mauve Leek Orchid), and daisies, including Celmisia costiniana (Silver Snow Daisy). Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

As it gets wetter in the valley we start to see communities we call bogs or fens. ‘Bogs are wetlands with short hard-leaved shrubs all growing very close together (unsurprisingly, very hard to walk through). In the picture below you can see a bog with the shrubs Richea continentis (Candle Heath),  Baeckea gunniana (Alpine Baeckea), and Grevillea australis (Alpine Grevillea). You can also see some yellow and white daisies: Celmisia costiniana (Silver Snow Daisy), Craspedia maxgrayi (Billy Button) and Podolepis robusta (Alpine Podolepis).

Bog at Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Bog at Charlotte Pass with Richea continentis (Candle Heath),  Baeckea gunniana (Alpine Baeckea), Grevillea australis (Alpine Grevillea),  Celmisia costiniana (Silver Snow Daisy), Craspedia maxgrayi (Billy Button) and Podolepis robusta (Alpine Podolepis) (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

In amongst the shrubs, you will find clumps of moss, which you can see in the picture below that shows the pale green-yellow Sphagnum cristatum, some Richea continentis (Candle Heath) branches and the silvery Astelia alpina (Pineapple Grass).

Bogs at Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Sphagnum cristatum,  Richea continentis (Candle Heath) and Astelia alpina (Pineapple Grass) at Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Areas where there is often standing water and very peaty soils you find communities called ‘fens‘. These are made of shorter more spread out herbs and sedges, including Carex and grasses. In the picture below you can see the carnivorous leaves of Drosera acturi (Alpine Sundew), the bright green clumps of Psychrophila introloba (Alpine Marsh-Marigold), Carpha alpina (Small Flower-Rush), Oreobolis distichus (Fan Tuft-Rush), and the silvery Astelia alpina (Pineapple Grass) delicate white-flowered Oschatzia cuneifolia (Wedge Oschatzia). Once again you will see small intermingled patches of these plant communities over quite a small space.

Fens at Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Fen with Drosera acturi (Alpine Sundew), Psychrophila introloba (Alpine Marsh-Marigold), Carpha alpina (Small Flower-Rush), Oreobolis distichus (Fan Tuft-Rush), Astelia alpina (Pineapple Grass) and Oschatzia cuneifolia (Wedge Oschatzia) at Charlotte Pass (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Now to dig down into these communities more closely (not literally as it is a National Park and that is illegal).

Subalpine Woodland

Wet Alpine Heath

Alpine Herbfields

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.


Department of Environment, Heritage and the Arts (2009),  Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens: Policy Statement 3.16.

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.

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

PlantNET  (The NSW Plant Information Network System). Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney.

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


Ecological Explainers: Physical Defences

Plants are constantly fighting a battle against critters that want to eat them. We see the result of this battle in the physical defences that plants have evolved over time. Plants make use of different types of defence mechanisms; from tough waxy armour to chemical-laden barbs. These defences may just discourage an enemy from chowing down on the plant or even cause their enemy to have a long and painful death. Whatever it takes to avoid being someone’s dinner. Here I am focusing on the spiky plant parts that we have all hurt ourselves on at some point.

In botany, we class spiky plant parts into 3 major types:

  • Thorns
  • Spines
  • Prickles


Thorns are sharp and pointed branches. They have vascular tissue, can be branched and can have leaves.

Discaria toumatou, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Discaria toumatou, a plant endemic to New Zealand, has branches that have developed into thorns. The giveaway is that they are green which means they have vascular tissue and are photosynthesising. Whilst it is native to New Zealand it can often become weedy because it’s the only plant that survives the munching of sheep thanks to their epic thorns. Mt Iron, Wanaka (C.Simpson-Young)


Spines are modified leaves or parts a leaf. They don’t have vascular tissue and don’t photosynthesise, and tend to be hard and dry. Spines can develop from the little stem that holds the leaf (petiole), main cluster of veins in the leaves (midrib), veins in general or the stipule.

Spines of Citrus australasica or Finger Lime (C.Simpson-Young)

The Finger Lime (Citrus australasica) have what we call Stipular Spines. They have developed from the stipule, which is a little bit of tissue that occurs at the base of the leaf stalk (C.Simpson-Young)

Spines of a Solanaceae (C.Simpson-Young)

The spines of this Solanaceae species follows the veins in the leaves, indicating they develop from the tissue of the veins (C.Simpson-Young)

Pereskia grandifolia Kew 2015 (C. Simpson-Young)

Pereskia grandifolia, a species of Cactus, has spines that grow out of a pale lump of tissue called areole (a highly modified stem). Kew 2015 (C. Simpson-Young).


Prickles are spiky outgrowths from the bark of a plant. They are usually small, and grow from the cortex and epidermis layers of the bark. These layers don’t have vascular tissue, so prickles don’t either.

Rose Prickles (C.Simpson-Young)

The terms spine, thorn and prickle are often used interchangeably outside of botany. For example, rose thorns are actually prickles because they are outgrowths of the epidermal layer of the stem (C.Simpson-Young)

In summary, the three main forms of spiky things found on plants are thorns (spiky stems), spines (spiky leaves and leaf bits) and prickles (spiky outgrowths of the bark). There are some other pricks and piercers like modified roots and trichomes, but I’ll save them for another post.

Armstrong, W.P. (2007) Botany 115 Vegetative Terminology: Modified Roots, Stems and Leaves. Wayne’s Word: Online Textbook of Natural History, accessed Feb 2018  <;

Biology Online Directory (2017), Areole, accessed Feb 2018 <;

Raven, P., Evert, E., Eichhorn, S. (1986) Biology of Plants, Fourth Edition. Worth Publishers: New York.

Missouri Botanical Gardens (2017), Pereskia grandifolia var. grandifolia, accessed Feb 2018 <;

EcoTas2017 – Reflections of a Plant Nerd

What could be better than hanging out with a bunch of cool people also obsessed with how our natural world works? I went away to EcoTas 2017, the joint conference of the Ecological Society of Australia and New Zealand Ecological Society. I came back with a tan, a brain buzzing with new knowledge and (I like to think) some new friends. 45 Sessions, 337 speakers, 81 posters and I feel my brain has at least doubled in size. You will see a definite bias in the presentations represented here. Turns out I really like plants and smaller scale conservation and management issues.


Local Knowledge

9am Monday many of us walked from the onsite accommodation, others drove in from surrounding AirBnBs and hotels to start the conference off with a Welcome to Country. Lorrie Perry from the Wonnarua National Aboriginal Corporation got the ball rolling by introducing us to James Wilson-Miller, a curator from the Powerhouse Museum, for an engaging and moving welcome to country. He was followed by Jamie Ataria, a clearly multi-talented man who has a finger in many pies, from ecotoxicology to Maori business development. He responded thoughtfully and thanked all those ancestors and elders who suffered and paved the way for us.

Leah Talbot was the first keynote speaker. She spoke about her recently completed PhD which was a comparative study of how indigenous knowledge is supported and feeds into conservation management. Being a Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owner, she focused on her people in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and compared their experiences to that of the Sami people in the Laponia World Heritage Area, Sweden. I think the most striking thing about her research was that she developed a new framework she called the Empowering Indigenous Lens and specifically developed a methodology called “walking together” which use indigenous worldviews as a framework for research such as this.  The idea is that the indigenous people are part of the analysis and their views are continually fed back into the research process.

Jamie Ataria was the 2nd Keynote speaker, who noted that a conference on a golf course is an ecotoxicologists dream. His presentation emphasised that the people have to come before the research, otherwise we risk being a “one day mushroom”; come in, get data and disappear again. Doing otherwise is bad for the people researchers are working with and the research itself.

Sunrise at Cypress Lakes, EcoTas 2017 venue (C.Simpson-Young)

Sunrise at Cypress Lakes, EcoTas 2017 venue (C.Simpson-Young)

When, Where and Why do Trees Die?

I started the conference on an uplifting note by attending the Tree Mortality Symposium. Dan Falster began with 5 recommended techniques for modelling tree mortality. I did note these 5 techniques but I don’t think I could do them justice here. So check out his website for more of his work.

On a smaller scale (one I can wrap my head around) Georgia Watson from the University of Wollongong. She studied tree recruitment, growth and mortality in response to burning and logging in Yamballa State Forest. Ultimately she found that there is greater tree mortality in logged sites if exposed to fire, but on the flip side, there is also greater recruitment.

Ecology and Agriculture

I popped over to the Agro-Ecology session and saw Rohan Riley’s talk on his functional traits approach to assessing pant resource economics using automated imaging.

Then Manu Saunders about how ecosystem services are the link between research and policy/management, and studies into this area usually overlook the ecological complexity and have an economics focus. She presented a new ecosystem service typology that works for multifunctional landscapes and includes links between terrestrial and aquatic environments, spatial and temporal factors and social and ecological factors.

Later I went to Katrinka Ruthrof’s talk on work she has done as part of the Mine to Plant Enterprises Project (Mintope) which is a partnership between Murdoch University, Christmas Island Phosphates and the Commonwealth Government. They are trying to establish agriculture on closed mining sites which have low fertility, high heavy metal levels, and don’t have a good soil microbial community. They found through studies with legumes that Potassium was the limiting factor, and with increased potassium in the soil, the heavy metal levels in the plants become safer.

I then did something uncharacteristic and went over to the Insect Ecology Research Chapter session, and saw Jamie Stavert who gave a really interesting talk on the role of exotic flies in pollinating native plants. He planted flowers usually pollinated by flies and bees in areas with varying connectedness with native vegetation. He found that as we move away from native vegetation and into more purely agricultural areas exotic pollinators do more of the heavy lifting.

EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

Ecology and People

The afternoon sessions started and I rushed between the Urban Ecology and Conservation Biology sessions. Abbey Camaclang gave a great talk on using density impact models to help prioritise conservation actions on upland peat swamps. Thomas Newsome presented on using body size and range in predicting the extinction of invertebrates and found that smaller species are just as likely to become extinct in some groups of mammals which is important because large vertebrates are usually the focus of conservation efforts.

Katrinka Ruthrof gave Ben Miller’s talk on fire and weed management at King’s Park. I really enjoyed this one as my PhD is looking at urban bushland, and plus I have huge respect for anyone who manages to do burns in urban areas! So I’ll write a bunch more about this in an upcoming post.

My excitement about Melinda Cook’s talk is evident in the fact that I wrote significantly more notes for it than other talks of this length. Mistletoes play an important ecological role as they drop their leaves without reabsorbing the nutrients creating nutrient-rich leaf litter, as well as providing nesting and food resources for animals. Her study is looking at whether they increase animal diversity if re-established in urban areas. They planted 864 seeds on 27 trees, the method of which is fascinating as it is. I think there is a whole blog post in that!

The evening saw a wonderful poster session. It was an opportunity to learn more about people’s research and to make new friends!

EcoTas2017 Poster Session (C.Simpson-Young)

EcoTas2017 Poster Session (C.Simpson-Young)


Bernat Bramon Mora and Matthias Dehling both from the Stouffer Lab spoke about functional traits and diversity in communities with a focus on bird-plant interactions. Matthias’ made me think, and I will definitely be downloading that paper.

Yohay Carmel spoke about ecological ideas that keep returning despite increasing evidence that they don’t hold. He spoke about the intermediate disturbance hypothesis and optimal foraging, but his main focus was the competitive exclusion principle. He concluded by saying that we keep creating and maintaining these paradigms because we try to make simple models in the style of the discipline of physics for the complex natural world.


I did some serious note taking during Nick Shultz’s  presentation as a part of my PhD takes a similar approach as Nick. He is taking a traits-based approach to studying post-mining revegetation. I, of course, both loved and felt very intimidated by the presentation. The striking findings was how C4 plant thrive where C3 didn’t (*scrambles to add photosynthetic pathways to traits list for my study*).

I ran over to the community ecology session. Sadly I missed John Morgan but made it in time for Tanya Mason which was cool because I have seen the experiments in the UNSW glasshouse. They are looking at the impact of underground mining on upland swamps. It’s very clear that as the underground mining disrupts the underground water situation the plant communities suffer.

The afternoon was jam-packed full of other fantastic looking talks, but I needed to tap out and have a break.

EcoTas2017 Delegates (C.Simpson-Young)

EcoTas2017 Delegates (C.Simpson-Young)


Wednesday started with an excellent address by ESA president Don Driscoll. There’ll be more on the address in the following post.


Following Don was a bunch of impressive talks by ESA Award and Scholarship winners. Rowena Hamer winner of the 2016 TNC Applied Conservation Award presented her work on the effectiveness of habitat restoration for native wildlife in the Midlands of Tasmania.

Samantha McCann presented her work so far in ways of managing cane toad populations by manipulating signalling chemicals. There are 3 chemical cues used by cane toads, attraction cues, suppression cues and alarm cues (the last of which she didn’t cover in this presentation). Attractions cues are released and trigger the tadpoles to eat other cane toad eggs when the population density increases too much. We can mimic these cues to reduce the number of eggs in a water body. Adult cane toads can release suppression chemical cues that suppress tadpole growth. Sam tested how mimicking these cues would work in the field, specifically would changing the density in discrete water bodies increase the fitness of the tadpoles that remain. Just trapping and removing tadpoles meant that the ones left behind had the resources to grow larger meaning they are better at escaping predators. However, suppression meant the there was the same density of tadpoles but after a period a proportion die.

Joshua Thia, winner of the 2016 Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award, is studying intertidal systems and patch limited movements in Bathygobius cocosensis. He studied genetic structure of 3 populations over 3 years, finding that there was high dispersal and connectivity as they travel long distances, but there are various post settlement processes that reduce connectivity.

Rylea McGlusky who won the 2017 Applied Forest Ecology Presentation Award did a great presentation on long-term land use changes and structural habitat for gliders in state forests in SE Queensland. She carried out studies on two types of vegetation; one that had been logged in the last 20 years and one logged more than 20 years ago.  She measured DBH, stumps and hollows, and carried out nocturnal surveys. Despite a history of logging “there were some juicy looking hollows”.

 Effectiveness monitoring

Sarah Munks started off the Effectiveness Monitoring Session with an interesting talk based on a trip with her colleagues to see how conservation monitoring was done in the US, I had a lot of notes from this one, so I’ll write some more about it in the next blog post!

Brad Law from Forest Science Unit at NSW focused his talk on monitoring of bats on and off flyways in the Pilliga. The monitoring program (which was run between 2013-2016 by forestry NSW) used remote recording devices like song meters and camera traps.

Later I went to Sacha Jellinek’s talk on restoration planting survival. Again, more on that later.

Mike Bowie presented results from their pilot restoration study implemented on Licoln Universities’ dairy farm. There is less than 0.5% of original vegetation cover left in Canterbury, and the New Zealand farming landscape once had shelterbelts and pine plantations which have been lost to clearing as the price of dairy dropped. They planted 38 native plant species in corner plantings and double fence line plantings in an attempt to bring back invertebrates. Invertebrate species richness increased in the plantings compared to the grass. Hopefully planting like this can improve insect movement into the paddocks and allow bird movements across landscapes.

Mike Bowie EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

A visual representation of the impact of farming in the New Zealand Landscape from Mike Bowie’s presentation at EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

Speed Talks

After lunch, Richard Fuller gave an excellent presentation as the winner of the Australian Ecology Research Award (more on this in a later post). This year EcoTas introduced speed talks, and they featured some. Laura Fernandez spoke about management of Myrtle Rust. Lindall Kidd explained the need for behaviour change theory and evaluation for strategic communication. Adrienne Nicotra argued that we need to include species adaptive capacity when modelling of species movement in response to climate change. We should also study species on the ecological edges and make use of structured Expert Elicitation. Finally, Ayesha Tulloch demonstrated how we can model likely responses to threat management of all 88 Box Woodland bird species from partial information on only 37 species.

Laura Fernandez, Lindall Kidd, Adrienne Nicotra, Ayesha Tulloch. EcoTas 2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

Laura Fernandez, Lindall Kidd, Adrienne Nicotra, Ayesha Tulloch EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

After morning tea I went to the Novel Management Interventions for Threatened Species Symposium. I really enjoyed it so wanted to give it a little more space, so I’ll cover that in the next post. I then flitted around and saw Decky Junaedi who carried out a framework based risk assessment of plant species in Indonesian botanic gardens spreading into the native vegetation. His study showed that 24 had escaped, and when modelled showed that there was a strong correlation between spread and Specific Leaf Area and then time since arrived at the gardens. Dispersal method or height were not strongly correlated. Then I went to Rachel Gallagher’s talk on “what happens to plants when you are very mean to them”, i.e. a species vulnerability and adaptive capacity to determine their safety margin to heat/dryness with climate change.

Rachael Gallagher and Decky Junaedi at EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

Rachael Gallagher and Decky Junaedi at EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)


The Thursday morning keynote speakers gave excellent presentations of New Zealand’s latest large-scale biodiversity study, and successful conservation and restoration programs. More on these talks to come in the next post. I spent the morning ducking between the Forest Ecology and Conservation Biology Sessions.

Mark Ooi presented his comparative study of the threatened Leucopogon exolasius and two more common Leucopogon species and their response to fire. He started this study during his honours in 2000/2011, and it was 16 years later when he started to have “his own new cohort” that he revisited the work. Leucopogon exolasius had a very long juvenile period compared to the other species, which means that too frequent burning could mean that the species doesn’t get a chance to reproduce before the next fire. Mark also found that fire season also impacted the species. Out of season burns increases juvenile period which puts the species at even greater risk.

Tyler Coverdale presented his initial PhD results on the associational refuge that spiny Acacia provide for the plants that live beneath them in the African Savannah. He found that plant living beneath spiny acacias have 3-4 times fewer spines themselves compared to individuals living in the open. To confirm that it was an effect of herbivory they removed branches from one side of an Acacia and measured herbivory on the plants below. Those still under the Acacia branches had less herbivory, while those now exposed had more. This pattern is consistent across different species and supported by clipping experiments which induced a 25% increase in defences within a month.

Yanbin Deng is an ecologist with Waikato Regional Council in New Zealand who has been monitoring and planning the restoration of Kahikatea forests in the Waikato area. Kahikatea forests are at 0.67% of its original extent, and only 1.5 hectares remain over 867 fragments. Many of the remnants are on private land, are exposed to high edge effect, weeds and changes in hydrology. She outlined how a restoration plan will be created and implemented making use of maps, photos, and SERA evaluation-wheel tool.

Sjirk Geerts investigated whether the plant species pollinated by the Malachite Sunbird in South Africa are suffering because of the birds’ dislike of urban areas. A study of a particular plant species which relies solely on the Malachite Sunbird found that although flowers are visited by a species of short-billed sunbirds, this results in lower seed production than when visited by the long-billed Malachite Sunbird. Sjirk used population projection analyses to show that there could be significant population decline in plant species pollinated by the Malachite Sunbird.

Mark Ooi, Tyler Coverdale, Yanbin Deng and Sjirk Geerts. EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

Mark Ooi, Tyler Coverdale, Yanbin Deng and Sjirk Geerts. EcoTas2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

We had our last lunch together trying super hard to stay out of the sun. Martin Westgate gave a great presentation which I’ll write more about later, and awards were given to the winners of various prizes, including best ecological fashion. Keep an eye out for the next post on EcoTas2017.

Thursday Lunch at EcoTas 2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

Thursday Lunch at EcoTas 2017 (C.Simpson-Young)

Dunns Swamp: By the Water

This year for my birthday I convinced my family to take a Friday off work to relive our childhood camping trips to Dunns Swamp (or Gangaddy) in Wollemi National Park. I was in botanical heaven!

Around the campsite alone there are several vegetation types. Dunns Swamp or Ganguddy (the Wiradjuri name) is on the Cudgegong River in Wollemi National Park. The River was dammed in 1920s when Kandos Weir was built to provide water to the Cement Works in Kandos. Shrubs, grasses and sedges grow in the moist, sandy-peaty soil along the waterways. The campsites are set up amongst low woodland on shallow sandy soil. Finally, organic matter fills up little hollows in the large rock formations and little heath communities spring up. This is one of three blog posts about the flora of Dunns Swamp. I will be starting with the plants by the water’s edge.

Acacia filicifolia or Fern-leaved Wattle, is a common species throughout New South Wales. It has the standard fluffy yellow flowers of an Acacia. The feathery looking compound leaves have inspired the species name; filici  comes from the Latin for fern, while folium means leaf … giving us ‘fern-leaved wattle’.

Acacia filicifolia, Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Acacia filicifolia, Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Calytrix tetragona or Common Fringe Myrtle have the most beautiful flowers. Once they develop into fruit and fall away they leave their bright red calyx behind. A calyx is the ring of leaf-like structures surrounding a flower. Caly is for the stunning calyx (calyx comes from the Greek for cup) and thrix (hair) for the hair-like calyces.  Tetragona means four angles and refers the leaf shape.

Calytrix tetragona Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Calytrix tetragona, Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Eleocharis sphlacelata or Giant Spike Rush grows in deep still water in dense swards, creating large areas of important habitat. It provides shelter and food for insects, birds and fish. Some insects drill through the stem to access the oxygen within the hollow, cylindrical stem. Even algae benefits as the stalks provide a surface to colonise on. The scientific name is a little oxymoronic; Eleocharis means “marsh beauty” while sphacelata means “diseased” referring to the weird looking flowering spike.

Eleocharis sphlacelata, Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Image: P. Simpson-Young)

Eleocharis sphlacelata, Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Image: P. Simpson-Young)

Exocarpos strictus, Dwarf Cherry or Pale-fruit Ballart is a hemiparasitic shrub that flowers all year round. A hemiparasite gets some of its food through parasitism and some through the standard method of photosynthesis. The Dwarf Cherry sucks nutrients from the roots of other plants with the help of mycorrhizal fungi. The tiny flowers turn into black fruit with swollen red or white stems which are popular with birds. They can grow in all sorts of environments, from heathland to dense woodland.

Exocarpos strictus Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Exocarpos strictus with tiny yellow flowers. Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Patersonia sericea, Purple Flag or Native Iris, has grass-like leaves and stunning bright purple petals. The species name ‘sericea’ comes from the latin sericated meaning ‘clothed in silk’, because of the silky hairs at the base of young leaves. As you probably know showy flowers exist to help plants reproduce by attracting critters to help move pollen from one flower to another. The male organ (called a stamen) releases pollen and the female organ (stigma) receives the pollen. You may be able to see in the picture that Patersonia sericea has several stamens that have fused together to make a tube around the stigma.

Patersonia sericea, Dunns Swamp Sep 2017 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Patersonia sericea, Dunns Swamp Sep 2017 (Image: C. Simpson-Young)

Psilotum nudum or the Skeleton Fork Fern is a strange plant that doesn’t have the organs that normal plants do. For example, it doesn’t have proper roots, just a stem that grows undergound. This is how it got a Latin name that means ‘bear naked’. Plant life started with organisms like algae and moss. They didn’t have any vessels to move water and nutrients, so they can never stray far from the water or grow tall. The next step in the evolution of plants was to develop vessels for water and nutrient transport, and these primitive plants would have looked a lot like Psilotum nudum.

Psilotum nudum, Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Imagge: C. Simpson-Young)

Psilotum nudum, Dunns Swamp Sept 2017 (Imagge: C. Simpson-Young)


Australian National Botanic Gardens, Calytrix tetragona

Australian Native Plant Society Sutherland, Patersonia sericea

Berkeley University, Introduction to Psilotales

Friends of Lane Cove National Park, Patersonia sericea

Mieke M. Kapa & Bruce D. Clarkson (2009) Biological flora of New Zealand 11.
Eleocharis sphacelata, kuta, paopao, bamboo spike sedge, New Zealand Journal of Botany, 47:1,
43-52, <>

Nathan Baily, An universal etymological English dictionary, Volume 2

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, Eleocharis sphacelata

OEH (2016), Ganguddy Visitor Guide.

Understory Network, Exocarpos strictus

Watson, D. McGregor, H., Spooner, P. Hemiparasitic shrubs increase resource availability and multi-trophic diversity of eucalypt forest birds, Functional Ecology, 2009, 150, 889–899 <>

Plants of Mt Iron, Wanaka, New Zealand

October last year I dragged my new husband up Mt Iron in Wanaka. He would have rather been back in town chilling … because “it’s our honeymoon!”. But I said, “marriage is about compromise … just let me get a few photos of plants”. And in an act of incredible husband-ing, he helped me trawl through websites trying to identify the plants! This was surprisingly hard, so I decided to write a post about the plants of Mt Iron in the hope that others won’t have to repeat all our hard work.

Mt Iron just outside Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand, is a ‘roche mountonee’ or ‘sheepback’; a rounded knob of bedrock exposed by a glacier. The upstream side of the knob is gently sloped from the polishing action of the glacier, while the downstream side is steeper and more jagged. The Wanaka area was used by Maori for summer camps, and white settlers started farming in the area in the 1850s, being more densely settled later as it became more popular with tourists. The result of this geology and history is a mountain with several native vegetation types and a fair few weeds.


Discaria toumatou 

I started calling Discaria toumatou the “f**k off plant” (look at those thorns!) but the common name is actually matagouri. The Maori called the plant matakoura, but the English settlers on of the South Island misheard it as matagouri, and so that is what the settlers stuck with. Botanically speaking there are different types of spiky defensive structures on plants. In this case, we have thorns, which are branches or branchlets that have turned over to the dark side. Matagouri has a symbiotic relationship with a group of fungi allowing it to pull nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil.

Discaria toumatou, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Discaria toumatou, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Raoulia australis

This is a great little plant! It has some fantastic common names including sheep plant, vegetable sheep and golden scabweed! It is from the daisy family. It’s common on gravelly soil of mountains in both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. As you can see from the picture it grows as a dense mat and has yellow flowers.

Raoulia australis, Mt Iron Nov 2016 (Image: C Simpson-Young)

Raoulia australis, Mt Iron Nov 2016 (Image: C Simpson-Young)

Olearis fragrantissima/hectorii 

I couldn’t tell which of these two species this plant was. Both are rare and part of the Small-leaved Tree Daisy National Recovery Plan. Both species have small populations: 10 000 plants and 4 500 respectively. Their numbers are small because of habitat loss, animal browsing, fragmentation of habitat, weeds, messing up of natural disturbance regimes. The NZ government is calling on New Zealanders to let them know if they find new populations, and encourage their survival if found on their own property.

Olearis fragrantissima/hectorii Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Olearis fragrantissima/hectorii Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Carmichaelia petriei 

Or desert broom. Across the world, you will come across a lot of species called the ‘so-and-so’ broom. Broom is a common name given to plants in the Fabaceae (or pea) family. It comes from the Old English bróm, which meant ‘thorny shrub’. The word broom for a thing that sweeps stuff up comes from the fact that branches from ‘broom’ plants were used for that purpose. In NZ the name broom is given to the native genus of Carmichaelia.

Carmichaelia petriei, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Carmichaelia petriei, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Coriaria sarmentosa 

Found growing in big patches on stony ground, this cool looking plant has fleshy berries that entice animals to distribute the seeds. Many different parts of the plant were used by the Maori for medicinal purposes, for example, the berry juice was fermented with seaweed and used against constipation. The berries are usually poisonous to us but careful separation of the flesh from the seed made a drinkable juice, and when boiled with seaweed made an (apparently) fairly tasty jelly.

Coriaria sarmentosa, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Coriaria sarmentosa, Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Kunzea ericoides 

Here is a native that could give some introduced species a run for their money. It grows in dense thickets, dropping leaves making an environment unappealing to understory plants. It can also quickly colonise disturbed ground, making it useful in the fight against weeds. But this can also be useful in providing a place for young natives to establish, making it what we call a “nurse species”. It looks similar to Manuka (the source of the famous Manuka Honey), but there is a difference in the foliage and flower size. Usually the bark and wood look quite white … but not in this photo; there was a fire at this site.

Kunzea ericoides Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Kunzea ericoides, Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Montia australasica 

This lovely little plant is found in the southern parts of New Zealand and Australia. The species name australascia is from the Latin for South. They are creeping plants growing mostly in Alpine areas, but hardy enough to deal with scree slopes to shallow water. The genus Montia are often called miner’s lettuce because a North American relative was used in the salads of Californian Gold Rush miners.

Montia australasica Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Montia australasica, Mt Iron (CSY)


Crataegus monogyna 

A European/Western Asia native, the cold winters in NZ are perfect for Hawthorn. It thrives, forming dense colonies and stopping native plants establishing. They are very successful weeds thanks to their ability to put up with a huge variety of climatic conditions, soil types, even frost and salt. Their white flowers are pollinated my midges, while birds and the invasive possums (as an Australian I would like to apologise about the possums) spread the dark red fruit they produce. Their berries are edible for us, as are the petals and leaves. Of course, that is assuming you are able to get past the thorns.

Crataegus monogyna Mr Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Crataegus monogyna, Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Myosotis sylvatica 

You will have heard of this one … forget-me-not. Another exotic introduced from Europe/Western Asia. If you look closely at the flowers you can see a raised yellow circles around the centre. That protects the nectar from washing away with the rain. It also is a visual beacon to pollinating insects.

Myosotis sylvatica Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Myosotis sylvatica, Mt Iron (CSY)

Rosa rubiginosa 

The Briar Rose is an attractive and lovely smelling plant brought over from Europe to be planted in New Zealand gardens. And as we so often see … now it is a problematic weed. It’s the source of Rosehip tea, and during WWII rosehips (the fruit) were collected in the Otago area to be made into rosehip syrup which was given to babies as a source of vitamin C. Like Hawthorn it grows in dense thickets suppressing the growth of native plants. It can get so thick that if growing in waterways it can influence flow and cause flooding.

Rosa rubiginosa Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Rosa rubiginosa, Mt Iron (C. Simpson-Young)

Anagallis arvensis 

A rather pretty exotic, with the common name scarlet pimpernel. Originally from Europe, West Asia and North Africa, it’s a common weed in both disturbed areas and natural vegetation. It can be problematic for farmers because it’s poisonous to livestock, but apparently, it tastes pretty crap so livestock will only eat it if they are desperate (like in an area that has been overgrazed). The coolest thing about the scarlet pimpernel is that they open their flowers when the sun hits them. They will also close up when the atmospheric pressure decreases (i.e. some bad weather on the way). This has earnt them the name ‘poor man’s weatherglass’.


Anagallis arvensis, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)

Anagallis arvensis, Mt Iron (C.Simpson-Young)



Anagallis arvensis (2005), International Environmental Weed Foundation <;

Anagallis arvensis subsp. arvensis var arvensis (2010), New Zealand Plant Conservation Network <;

Anagallis arvensis (Scarlet Pimpernel) (2017), T.E.R:R.A.I.N. <;

Carmichaelia (1980), Encyclopedia of Life <;

Carmichaelia petriei (Desert broom) (2014), T.E.R:R.A.I.N. <;

Coriaria sarmentosa (2014) New Zealand Plant Conservation Network <;

Coriaria sarmentosa (2011) The Alpine Garden Society  <;

Coriaria arborea. C. sarmentosa. Tutu. (2017), Maori Plant Use: Landcare Research <;

Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) (2017), T.E.R:R.A.I.N. <;

Dawson, J. & Henshaw, D. (1988), Chapter 8: alpine plants. Forest vines to snow tussocks: the story of new zealand plants. Accessed via <;

Harper, D. (2017) Broom. Online Etymology Dictionary <;

Montia australasica (2011), The Alpine Garden Society <;

Mount Iron and Mount Roy (2016), Pure New Zealand <;

Myosotis sylvatica (2016), Weeds of Australia <;

Myosotis sylvatica (2014), New Zealand Plant Conservation Network <;

Olearia Factsheets (2007), Department of Conservation <>

Raoulia australis (2011), The Alpine Garden Society <;

Raoulia australis Hook.f. ex Raoul (2014), NZ Flora <;

Rosa rubiginosa (Sweet Briar)(2017), T.E.R:R.A.I.N. <;

Wanaka History Facts and Timeline (2015), World Guides <;

Buds and the Bees: Sexual Deception in Orchids

Sexual deception is probably the weirdest and most wonderful methods used by plants to attract pollinators. Many plants use deceit of some kind to get little critters to spread their pollen to another flower, whether that is one plant species mimicking the petal arrangement of another, or a flower smelling like rotten flesh to attract pollinating flies. However, not many species use sexual deceit to attract pollinators. True sexual deception has only been described in the family Orchidaceae (and to a lesser extent, in a species of daisy, Gorteria diffusia).

Paracaleana minor or the Small Duck Orchid can be found on rocky slopes and gravelly soils in sclerophyll shrublands, woodlands, grasslands and forests across the Australian South East.

Paracaleana minor (Photo: Casey Gibson)

Paracaleana minor (Photo: Casey Gibson)

Sexual deception is what it sounds like. Some orchids have evolved to look and smell like a female insect and send out a silent “come hither” to the male insect who thinks he is about to get lucky. He tries to get it on with the flower, while the flower plops a sac of pollen (called pollinia) on the head of the foolish insect. He flies away and finds himself falling for the orchid’s trick again, and leaves the pollen sack behind on the second flower.

Calochilus campestris or Copper Bearded Orchid can be found in moist sclerophyll forest on the East Coast of Australia and in Tasmania. Their flowers are pollinated by the male scoliid wasp (genus Campsomeris). You can see that the labellum has evolved to resemble a wasp, with colourful hairs and even some glands that look like eyes.

Calochilus campestris (Photo: Justin Chan)

Calochilus campestris (Photo: Justin Chan)

These orchids are exploiting the mate-seeking behaviour of male insects, usually Hymenoptera, a large insect order that includes bees, ants and wasps. The orchids exude a chemical that smells like the mating pheromones of the female of the pollinating species. This cross-species communication is made possible because both insects and plants use the same chemical compounds in their cuticle wax layers to reduce water evaporation. Insects use these chemicals for communication, and some orchids have evolved the ability to co-opt the compounds in their own protective waxy coating for producing insect pheromone-like smells. In addition to this sneaky smelly trick, the bottom petal structures (labellum) will often mimic the shape, colour and texture of the female. The result is flowers that look super weird and often very beautiful.

Sexual deceit has evolved independently across the world in unrelated orchid genera. About 400 sexually deceptive species can be found in Australia, Europe (one genera, Ophrys), the Mediterranean basin, South Africa (2 species from the genus Disa), and in South and Central America. However, it is likely that there are species that are yet to be described.

Caleana major or the Flying Duck Orchid is pollinated by male sawflies (and will resprout from tubers as a backup). The sawfly lands on the labellum which spring shut and forces the sawfly against the column of the flower transferring pollen. They can be found across the East and South of Australia on sandy or gravelly soil in sclerophyll forest, shrubland and heathland.

Caleana major (Photo: Casey Gibson)

Caleana major (Photo: Casey Gibson)

Giant thanks to Casey Gibson and Justin Chan for letting me use their photos. Check out their Instagram: Casey and Justin

There are loads of wonderful resources out there on this topic, with examples from across the world. Below are a few.

Sexual deception in orchids by Alun Salt on the AoB Blog

Deceptive orchids: luring wasps for pollination by Emma Young for Australian Geographic

The deceptive sex lives of orchids by Danielle Clode and Sue Double for Ockham’s Razor, Radio National





Benitez-Vieyra, S., Medina, A.M. and Cocucci, A.A. (2009) Variable selection patterns on the labellum shape of Geoblasta pennicillata, a sexually deceptive orchid. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 22 (11): 2354-2362

Cozzolino, S. and Widmer, A. (2005) Orchid Diversity: and evolutionary consequence of deception? Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 20 (9): 487- 492.

Davis, L. (2016) The Ducks. Native Orchid Society of South Australia <;

Ellis, A. and Johnson, D. (2010) Floral mimicry enhances pollen export: the evolution of pollination by sexual deceit outside of the Orchidaceae. American  Naturalist. 176(5): 43-51.

Jersáková, J. and Johnson S. and Kindlmann, P. (2006). Mechanisms and evolution of deceptive pollination in orchids. Biological Reviews. 81: 219-235.

Johnson, S. and Nilsson, L. (1999) Pollen carryover, geitonogamy, and the evolution of deceptive pollination systems in orchids. Ecology. 80:2607–2619.

Schiestl, F. and Cozzolino, S. (2008) Evolution of sexual mimicry in the orchid subtribe orchidinae: the role of preadaptations in the attraction of male bees as pollinators. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 8(27):1-10

Schiestl, F. (2005) On the success of a swindle: pollination by deception in orchids, Naturwissenschaften. 92 (6): 255-264.

Smithson, A, and Gigord, L. (2001) Are there fitness advantages in being a rewardless orchid? Reward supplementation experiments with Barlia robertiana. Biological Sciences 268 (1475): 1435-1441.