Plant ID course a success

Plant ID Course students during the field trip to Onkaparinga National Park. Photo: M. Waycott.

A Plant Identification Course for 3rd year university students was recently held by The University of Adelaide and the State Herbarium of South Australia: ENV BIOL 2510 – Plant Identification II. Before the face-to-face sessions, students were provided online resources and recorded lectures. The one-week intensive course took place in the semester break. Almost 60 students had enrolled in this course. The course co-ordinators were Dr John Conran from the School of Biological Sciences and Chief Botanist Prof. Michelle Waycott (a joint appointment of DEWNR and the University).

Bee on Leucopogon parviflorus (coastal bearded-heath) in Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park. Photo: M. Waycott.

Students were taught the basics of plant structure, plant names and nomenclature, key characters of important plant families, weed identification, the use paper-based and electronic identification keys, and how to prepare pressed plant specimens. A field trip to Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park and Onkaparinga River National Park helped students to practice their plant collection and field ID skills. Student groups were guided by State Herbarium staff members and university tutors.

In future years, the course might also be opened to members of the public, as well as students from The University of Adelaide.

Bush Blitz Lake Torrens (3)

Herbarium specimens and samples collected on this year’s Bush Blitz expedition to Lake Torrens are currently being processed.  Now that they have been fully dried, pressed specimens will be mounted on acid free paper and silica gel dried leaves for future DNA analyses are stored away safely.


Participants of the 2016 Bush Blitz expedition to Lake Torrens. Photo: Bush Blitz.

The expedition consisted of a team of eleven Bush Blitz and support staff (including two helicopter pilots and one cook), 16 scientists and eight BHP employees, who were volunteering and assisting the scientists during field work. (Not all team members stayed for the full two weeks.)

Two specimens of a rarely-collected arid fungus (Chlamydopus sp.). Photo: Teresa Lebel.

The State Herbarium‘s team of botanists and mycologist Teresa Lebel from the National Herbarium of Victoria reported the following highlights to Bush Blitz:

  • Collection of just over 900 specimens (nearly all sub-sampled by tissue in silica gel as desiccant to provide material for DNA studies). The total number of species is not yet determined, but would be over 300 vascular plants, algae, fungi, lichens and bryophytes
  • Collection of a population sample from the only known occurrence of a recently-discovered undescribed Sclerolaena (Copper Burr)
  • Discovery of an intact host-root connection of the parasitic plant Orobanche cernua var. australiana (Austral Broomrape), parasitising the daisy species Leiocarpa websteri
  • Recorded and sampled large populations of an undescribed wattle related to Western Myall (Acacia papyrocarpa) and currently known by the phrase name Acacia sp. Blyth Range (W.V.Fitzgerald s.n. 1898) or Acacia aff. papyrocarpa
  • Sampled a submerged aquatic liverwort, and several species of algae, rarely collected in South Australia
  • Collection of a tiny pathogenic (i.e. host-damaging) fungus on Tecticornia (samphire); lignum (Duma florulenta) was the only previously known host for this fungus species
  • Collected about 10 species of arid macro-fungi.

Home away from home: Old Andamooka Homestead, the expedition’s base camp. Photo: Bush Blitz

Bush Blitz is an innovative partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia. It is the world’s first continent-scale biodiversity survey, providing the knowledge needed to help us protect Australia’s unique animals and plants for generations to come.

Another month – another Blitz!

October sees the State Herbarium participating in another ‘blitz’ – this time a BioBlitz!

bioblitz-logo-02A BioBlitz involves a team of scientists and naturalists working with the public to discover and record the life of a park or reserve, normally close to or within a city. BioBlitz events are usually run over a day and evening and include activities for all ages, experienced and novice naturalists, and anyone who wants to contribute and learn. In South Australia, Dr Philip Roetman from the University of South Australia has embraced the BioBlitz concept and, in collaboration with the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (which includes the State Herbarium of South Australia), the City of Marion and the City of Salisbury, formed a group called the Discovery Circle, which supports local BioBlitzes and other citizen science projects.


Warriparinga Wetland offers habitat and safe breeding grounds to native birds and fauna. Photo: Discovery Circle.

The October BioBlitzes will be held on Saturday 8 October: Cobbler Creek (see our forthcoming October Plant of the Month and Good Living’s Park of the Month for more information on Cobbler Creek Recreation Park) and on Saturday 29 October: Warriparinga Wetlands. The State Herbarium will be leading groups interested in discovering the reserve’s vegetation.

The Cobbler Creek BioBlitz will run from 9.00am – 9.30pm and will feature wildlife on display, searches for birds, wildflowers and mammals, plus spotlighting, nature play, nature poetry, nature art, kids sessions and bat detecting. The event is free but bookings are essential.

A full program and bookings are available online through “Eventbrite

Cobbler Creek BioBlitz – BOOK NOW

A full program and on-line booking for Warriparinga was not available at the time of writing, but check out the Discovery Circle website for more information:

Contributed by State Herbarium Manager Peter Canty.

Plant of the month: Oct. 2016

One out of the boxes

The Plant of the Month for October 2016 is Eucalyptus porosa F.Muell. ex Miq. (mallee box), the dominant eucalypt in DEWNR’s Park of the Month, Cobbler Creek Recreation Park.

Mallee box, Eucalyptus porosa, dominates the hillsides of Cobbler Creek Recreation Park, with red gum, E. camaldulensis, growing along the creekline. Photo: Peripitus (CC BY-SA 4.0) from Wikipedia.

Mallee box is part box (a general name for a Eucalypt with rough flaky bark) and part mallee due to its well-developed lignotuber and frequent multi-stemmed habit. Under optimal conditions though, it is often a single-trunked, rather twisty and spreading tree. Mallee box can be distinguished from other boxes in SA by the colour of its foliage: a fresh “yellow-ochre green” rather than grey-green.

Eucalyptus porosa foliage. Photo: Clive M. Chesson.

Eucalyptus porosa mostly occurs within South Australia, and although sometimes overlooked, it is a very characteristic feature of many of our landscapes, particularly on the sheet limestone soils of Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas. It also grows in clay-loam depressions in the Murray Mallee and upper South-East regions, on rocky hillslopes in the Flinders Ranges, and confined along drainage lines in more arid areas. In the Adelaide region it is localized on dryer sites of the hills-face escarpment from Cobblers Creek to Skye and further south near Marino. Several remnant trees also persist on the edge of Adelaide city in the West Terrace Cemetery.

Eucalyptus porosa flowers, buds and fruit. Photo: Clive M. Chesson

The variety of its habitats has probably contributed to the plethora of common names: mallee box, black (or South Australian) mallee box, water (or Quorn or lerp) mallee and swamp box.

Brooker (2000) classified Eucalyptus porosa as being closely related to other boxes such as peppermint box (Eucalyptus odorata) and grey box (E. microcarpa). However, recent unpublished molecular studies by Herbarium Molecular Botanist Ed Biffin show that it is most closely related to the South Australian blue gum (E. leucoxylon) in a different group comprising species that are remarkably diverse in their bark type – smooth-barked gums, boxes and ironbarks. Significantly, hybrids between E. porosa and E. leucoxylon are frequently encountered.

Descriptions of these and other South Australian eucalypts are available in the new Flora of South Australia (5th edition) eucalypt treatment (32MB pdf file) by Dean Nicolle.

Contributed by State Herbarium botanists Peter J. Lang.

Life at the sea: A winter wonder

Laver – a delicate red alga favoured as the wrapping around rice for sushi has appeared in a distinct, dark band of growth on boulders of the artificial breakwater of the Sea Rescue Marina(Barcoo Inlet), near West Beach, Adelaide.

Growth zone of Porphyra on a boulder at West Beach, South Australia. Photo: B. Baldock.

The species is Porphyra lucasii Levring. Uninspiring at first glance, a sheer, purple, frilly blade about 50 mm long can be seen if the alga is floated out in water.

Porphyra lucasii. Photo: B. Baldock.

It is more spectacular under the microscope – one cell thick with dazzling patterns of cells and a toothed blade edge. It clings to the rocks by a patch of cells (a “holdfast”) with snake-like projections that squeeze into minute crevices in the rock surface.

In southern seas, we see Porphyra only in winter. At the State Herbarium of South Australia, we have metropolitan Adelaide specimens from Port Stanvac and Brighton jetty piles, and Witton Bluff, Port Noarlunga.

Pophyra lucasii. Microscopic view of a blade edge (top) and holdfast cells with thread-like “tails” (bottom). Photo: B. Baldock.

But Porphyra has a secret life, not yet detected locally in the wild: a microscopic, thread-like spore phase. This is called a Conchocelis stage and gets its name because the tips of its threads penetrate shells of molluscs (“concho” meaning something to do with shells). – The discovery of this lifecycle in another species of Porphyra by British phycologist Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker in 1949 revolutionised seaweed production in Japan.

An unusual feature of the West Beach plants is their high position in the intertidal – merely in the “splash” zone, or “supra-littoral”, above high tide. Do they survive because seas have been so rough recently and they occasionally get splashed? In some places, the plants sit on a mat of seagrass fibres about 5 mm thick. Could this act like a sponge and sustain the alga with water at low tide and during calmer conditions?

Unfortunately, the band will disappear with the coming of summer, the conditions drying and shrivelling the delicate plants. Next winter, will they return?

Contributed by Bob Baldock and Carolyn Ricci, Phycology Lab., State Herbarium.