Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Coachwoods paint the gullies red.

Around Robertson, the Coachwood trees tend to only survive in steep gullies, and especially below cliff-lines. A few weeks ago I showed a view from the Lees Road Lookout, showing the Coachwoods in flower (white) down in the rainforest gully below the Escarpment cliffs.

Presumably this "survival" is a result of non-natural selection (non-Darwinian) selection, which can be attributed to the Missingham family, and other pioneer logging families of the district. Coachwood was a valuable cabinet making timber, and was also used for stocks of rifles. They tended to take what they could remove easily as saw-logs for the timber industry.

In the immediate vicinity of Robertson, Coachwoods are still found in the Robertson Nature Reserve, which was preserved from the earliest days of settlement. In my personal opinion this was a fortuitous survival, as the soil in the Nature Reserve is so incredibly rocky (on top of a volcanic plug, I believe) that the early farmers judged the land not worthwhile clearing. Below the rocks are more rocks. There is a magnificent stand of Coachwoods in there - tall trees with fine straight trunks.

Mature Coachwood with typical green-grey marks on trunk.
(Robertson Nature Reserve).
These marks are caused by Lichens and they
typically form horizontal bands on the trunk.
These marks are diagnostic of Coachwoods, in the Nature Reserve,
which is just as well, as one cannot see the leaves to identify the trees.
Given how dark it is inside the Nature Reserve, one cannot see up into the canopy to see the coloured sepals. In the next few weeks, these sepals will fall to the ground, carrying the plant's seeds with them, but as of today, there was no sign of them.

But out in the open farming country just below Robertson, there are still some lovely examples of Coachwood trees (relatively small trees, admittedly, so probably "regrowth" trees). That doesn't worry me, but it worries some "purists". It is good to see them growing around Robertson.
This particular tree is on my neighbour's property, just beside the Belmore Falls Road, below the steep curved section, but still on the rich red basalt soil.

Coachwood tree with ripe "fruit".
Blackwood Wattle on right shows the contrasting colour.
The Coachwoods only stand out when in flower (briefly)
and then when the fruit colour up (in January).
These are Coachwood flowers - taken close-up.And at Macro level, this what they really look like.
Click on the image to see the flower details -
10 anthers (purple pollen) around the edge of the flower
2 small curved (reflexed) anthers in the centre.
The white bits around the edge are sepals
The collective name for the "sepals" is the "calyx"
Coachwood is very closely related to the NSW Christmas Bush. The botanical description of flowers of the Ceratopetalum genus is as follows: "Calyx lobes 4 or 5, persistent and enlarging during fruit formation. Petals 4 or 5, small or absent. Stamens 10, perigynous; anthers small, connective produced into a recurved appendage." For Ceratopetalum apetalum ("Coachwood") it says: "Sepals enlarging to 8 mm long and pink in fruit. Petals absent." The last words indicate why it is named "apetalum". "Nut 1-seeded, small, surrounded by the enlarged persistent calyx coloured pink to bright red." (Source PlantNET)

When the fruit is mature, it is the calyx which colours up, and it also enlarges, to allow the fruit to spin gently to the ground as they fall. In a good year, the trees flower so prolifically that the whole tree colours up, as you can see from this aerial photo of Coachwoods colouring up, growing in the rainforest, immediately below the Illawarra Escarpment. Note the contrast the Coachwoods make with the foliage of the traditional green rainforest plants (the species other than Coachwoods, anyway).
And for a shot of personal interest, this is the roof of my little house, poking through the Blackwood Wattle trees in the valley below my house.
This shot was taken from close to the red-fruited Coachwood, on my neighbour's property, half-way down the hill on the Belmore Falls Road. The power lines are the ones I see so prominently from my back deck.Here is the reverse of that view - taken by my daughter, Zoe one early misty morning, looking down down through the trees, over the Belmore Falls Valley.
In a few weeks I shall collect some "nuts" of the Coachwoods (complete with the red sepals) - for propagation purposes, and doubtless I will show you the photos. Having seen how well this tree growing on, my neighbour's property is growing, I could do worse than plant out a forest of Coachwoods below my house (in the "horse paddock"). I already have a couple of Coachwoods growing, and they are doing well.


Snail said...

Gorgeous tree. I hope your propagating goes well.

Just about all the trees here have lichen mottling their trunks, except for the strangler figs. (Lichen too scared to colonise maybe?) Beautiful to look at, especially when they're wet from rain.

mick said...

Very interesting post. I have seen coachwood in the rain forest but never the flowers and haven't noticed the seed either.
Sorry, no photos of Christmas Bells. Its too late! My best photos were taken several years ago in October although there are occasional flowers into December. This year was so dry that they didn't seem to flower - or at least I didn't see any and I had friends tell me that hadn't seen any either. I hope it was the dry - and not illegal collection of flowers last year!!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mick
Coachwoods are close to their southern limit here, but go a long way north from here.
Lovely trees when in colour, like that specimen.
It is unusual to see one growing out in the open like that - which is why on normally photographs them from a distance.
Re Christmas Bells, they were once collected in vast numbers by families with lots of kids - and sold in the Sydney Flower Markets.
No wonder they are rare now.
Amazing how people put financial gain first, and the environment last. Of course, these days they are "protected", but picking the flowers does still happen.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Snail
Interested in your comment on the Lichen. Here it is largely restricted to the Coachwoods, and the related Callicoma ("Black Wattle" - not an Acacia).
Most of the remainder of the rainforest trees do not have lichen on their bark. Some have flakey bark, which presumably peels off, which would therefore shed any lichen.
Yes, they do look lovely in the rain. Also, they provide fresh "salad" for the Helicarion "Semi-slugs" (but only in the middle of a rain storm).
No wonder you like the trees with lichen!

Snail said...

I had intended to head out tonight to see if anything was feeding on the tree trunks along the driveway, but it's too wet. For me, anyway. I think the snails and leeches will be having a field day.