This time of year the Ironbark forests are the perfect place for both a flora and bird fix as the Ironbark trees, Eucalyptus tricarpa subsp. tricarpa, are covered in flowers.
The cream or pale-pink, tutu-like flowers, mostly in threes, literally carpet the ground under the flowering trees, while scores of honeyeaters noisily chase each other through the foliage fighting for their share of the bounty.
There is also a deep pink flowering form, Red Ironbark, E. sideroxylon, which is a popular garden tree from northeast Victoria and parts of New South Wales.
Distillery Creek nature walk in Aireys inlet, and the Ironbark Basin near Point Addis, both have masses of Ironbarks. Other good locations are the Aireys Inlet school, and around Moggs Creek. Outside ‘The Gallery’ at Aireys Inlet there is a beautiful specimen with cream flowers.
Nearby, there are several similar looking trees which may be hybrids with the Yellow Gum, Leucoxylon, and have deep pink flowers which are also attracting nectar-eating birds.
The Ironbark tree is significantly different from any other gum tree, having distinctive, deeply fissured dark bark which extends to the small branches. The solid bark also makes it safer in bushfires than most other gums, as the bark does not shed or burn easily. Once burnt, the bark remains black. The 1983 fires missed parts of the Ironbark Basin, and afterwards, the Ironbarks were unique in the area, having brown, and not black, bark, like all the burnt trees everywhere else in the district.
In the changing plant habitats along the pathways from the basin to the coast there are several other plants in flower, most of which I have written about previously. But there is also a new one, which surprised me as it is the shrub Prickly Teatree, Leptospermum continentale, which is usually spring flowering.
Young Prickly Teatree flowers
I have noticed that the flower centres redden as they age and I wondered if it is due to fertilisation. However, I have not found any authoritative evidence to support this.
Older Prickly Teatree flowers
I always enjoy the colours in our bush over the winter, so different from the bleakness of European winter forests. Our iconic heath, which I wrote about earlier, especially the pink form, is one reason for this, and the contrast they form with the creamy-yellow of Sweet Wattle, Acacia suaveolans. These small shrubs, the first of our wattles to flower, brighten up our bush all winter with their clusters of globular flowers. The widely-spaced, long, narrow, grey, leaf-like phyllodes are also a feature.
I was surprised to see another wattle species in flower along Point Addis Rd, Narrow-leaved Wattle, Acacia mucronata subs. longifolia. The pale-yellow flowers stand out in amongst long narrow phyllodes, but shorter and greener than Sweet Wattle. The distinguishing feature is the sharp phyllode tip.
In our heathlands and woodlands look out for the low bushes of Prickly Cryptandra, Cryptandra tomentosa var.1, with their tiny white tubular flowers and short prickly foliage.
The river edges have an autumnal appearance as the succulent stems of Beaded Glasswort, Salicorna (formerly Sarcorcornia) quinqueflora subs., are turning red.
As explained in a Gardening Australia fact sheet: ‘Salt marshes are like the lungs of the marine system…some glassworts have turned red due to the plant being stressed–maybe too much salt or too little water–so it turns red to slow down the process of photosynthesis until it can recover.’ Beaded Glasswort is a favourite food source for the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot.
I hope you visited Fraser Avenue to see the mystery flower from last month, because it has finished. It was the delightful, tiny, four-petalled, pale-pink or white flowers of Dwarf Boronia, Boronia nana var. nana.
I have had reports of people seeing really out of season flowers, such as some of the peas.
As the lockdown eases you may well need your Flowers of Anglesea and Aireys inlet on your, now friendlier, winter walks.