Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Marsh Mallow Rose of China

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Boreas Yellow' in a bed of basil.
Summer is rapidly approaching in the Austral Home Bug Garden and I've been distracted by all of the spring flowers at my new location. The previous owner spent a decade planting what caught her fancy, but the tags have survived on only a few, so most are mysterious and some intractable. One group that I never expected to fancy are the hybrids of the 'Hawaiian' Hibiscus (really from China first), Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Linnaeus.  'Hibiscus' comes to us from the Greek for the Marsh Mallow Althaea officinalis L. whose roots gave us the original marshmallow and 'rosa sinensis' litterally means Rose of China.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Psyche' (the only one with a tag)
Unfortunately, the hybrid hibisci don't seem to be very attractive to insects, except to the annoying Hibiscus Flower Beetle (Aethina concolor (W.J. Macleay, 1871)), a native species that makes short shrift of the large and fleshy hybrid blossoms. However, this simple red variety ('Psyche') is attractive to the honeyeaters, especially when the flowers are in their pre-opening 'flagged' state.
Flagged Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Psyche'
Still, even a home bug garden is also for the human occupants and I've decided that the diversity of hibiscus mutant forms are quite entertaining and have just added my first contribution (the 'Boreas Yellow' at the top). They obviously do well here and grow into attractive screening hedges.
Hibiscus possibly 'Brassy Blonde'
Alas, putting names to the various varieties can be parlous. There are thousands of varieties and many are close variations on a theme. For example, the (maybe) 'Brassy Blonde' above is similar to 'Boreas Yellow', but the eye lighter, the rays lavender and the outer petals a rich mix of gold and yellow.
Hibiscus possibly 'Lion's Mane'
I'm punting now, but here are a few more mysteries or best guesses.
Hibiscus 'Albo Lacinatus' an early hybrid

One of the 'tossed salad' type hybrids

Who knows, but the Hibiscus Flower Beetles like it

A single pink hybrid

A semi-double pink hybrid

A Native Hollyhock - Hibiscus splendens from nearby riparian rainforest margin

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Wet and Rusty Spring in the Austral Home Bug Garden

An ornamental Grevillea exploding into bloom.
A new year and a new Home Bug Garden. The last year has been one of those 'interesting times' the apocryphal Chinese curse threatens, but now all is better and I'm enjoying the new garden, my own hectare this time and not a rental. It comes with 10 years of loving attention from the previous owner, but no garden manuals or identification tags for the numerous plantings. For example, at least a half dozen unnamed Grevilleas have been flowering over the winter and into the spring. Given that, according to A Flora of Australia (Volume 17a) , the genus has 362 described species and more than 100 subspecies, not to mention the hundreds of hybrids and horticultural selections, any identifications I offer should be taken with a boxcar of salt. However, the brilliant pink and white specimen above may be Grevillea 'Caloundra Gem', a hybrid of G. banksii x G. whiteana.
Another firework of a flower, a native Lilly Pilly from back beyond the compost bin.
Although the pervious owner had a penchant for native plants, her tastes were broad enough to include many exotics. Some of these previously non-natives (well, probably most that have survived in the thin soil of this garden) have naturalised in the bush in Queensland and so present a  conundrum to a Home Bug Gardener. During my convalescence, I had the strong back of my youngest brother Brian to grub up some of the more intrusive weeds, but now that I'm mostly better I'm taking a less drastic approach. One reason, other than laziness, is that if I grubbed out all of the exotics, then about half the shrubs would have to go. I think a long term, one-at-a-time replacement strategy would be less disruptive. Also, the natives are not without their problems, as the poor Lilly Pilly above is infected with the introduced and destructive Myrtle Rust (Puccinia psidii) and may need to be terminated. This rather wet spring (atypical since we are supposed to be in El Nino) is no doubt encouraging the spread.
Myrtle Rust sporulating on a Lilly Pilly Bud
I've reported my infestation, but the Government has decided the rust cannot be eradicated, so it is another of those aliens that are here to stay and degrade native habitats.  Myrtle Rust is thought to be native to Brazil and, perhaps not surprisingly, my Brazilian Grape Tree (aka JabuticabaPlinia cauliflora), although also a Myrtle, shows no sign of infection. That's good, because I am looking forward to trying the fruit produced directly on the stems and the native bees appreciate the blooms.
Jabutikaba, aka the Brazilian Grape Tree, in flower & attractive to native bees
Well, that's my update to the Home Bug Garden. Apologies to those with comments that were so long in moderation, but it took me a long while to recover. And for those who wonder where the bugs are, here's a splendid mantisfly looking very much like a mantid with gossamer wings (but in fact a relative of the lacewings and not a mantid).
A Mantisfly Ditaxis biseriata (Westwood, 1852) guarding the salad greens