Friday, May 3, 2013


I've mentioned in previous posts that I had a bit of difficulty learning some of the trees here because everything is so different! After two months of plant identification in a biology lab, I learned enough to appreciate the advantage of growing up with the flora being studied. It is a considerable disadvantage to have no level of familiarity with most everything around. I forgive all of you who got ponderosa pine wrong in FOR 220 (but really, really?! It's so basic!).  I've decided the key with Australian trees is to assume they're an angiosperm (flowering tree) unless they clearly aren't, as is the case for hoop pine:
(In case you forgot what hoop pine looks like)
This assumption is especially useful since so many plants have woody flowers. Take this Banksia integrifolia (coast Banksia) flower, for example:
Banksia flower - Banksia integrifolia 
In this first picture, I have shown you how it starts before it actually flowers. Take a look at this second picture and look at all those woody things hanging in the tree (I apologize for the sideways shot). When I first saw these I automatically thought why that HAS to be a conifer! The leaves are thick in a way that is reminiscent of conifers and just look at how cone-like that thing is!

Needless to say, when I went home and looked up Banksia and learned that they're a flowering tree, I was flustered. I had gotten so excited when I saw all those "cones" in the trees on a field trip. Nope, it's a flowering tree. Psych!

It doesn't help that most trees in the Northern Rivers area (warmer, wetter part of OZ), despite being flowering trees, are evergreen because it doesn't get cold enough here to necessitate being deciduous. Take, for instance, the casuarinas. At first glimpse, they look pretty damn pine-y. Those needle-looking things are actually cladodes: modified photosynthetic stems with tiny little reduced leaves that look like scales on the stems. Their fruits are also woody and made up of lots of samaras. So, they're flowering trees. Not conifers. Take a gander. They look a helluva lot like sparsely foliated, fluffy pines from a distance:
Here's a fun fact: Casuarinas are commonly called she-oaks, allegedly because their timber resembled oak by early loggers but was found to be women, apparently. That's one story. Another interesting fact is that several species are invasive overseas, like in Hawaii. They were planted for windbreaks but are suspected to be allelopathic (exude chemicals or hormones into the soil that prevent other species from growing nearby) and spread both sexually and asexually through their root systems.

I've mentioned plum pines before. For some reason, the ACTUAL conifers here frequently have the suffix "pine" attached. To be clear, NONE of the native trees are in the Pinaceae family. And nor is it a plum tree. Whoever thought to call this thing plum pine was crazy in my opinion:
Plum pine "needles" and cones
I admit, the cones are similar to juniper berries (which are cones, not berries), so I give on that. But those leaves/needles/what-the-hell-do-you-call-them?! I don't get it.

Bottom line when you're in Australia: woody fruits DO NOT equate to conifer! Easy enough to remember. But when it comes to appearances, I remain con[ifer]fused.

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