Royal Botanic Gardens

On Tuesday 5 March 2019, eight members met at Oatley station and caught the train to Martin Place from where we headed through the Domain to the Information Centre of The Royal Botanic Garden where the tour commenced. As our intended OFF leader had a foot injury, we joined the scheduled 10.30 guided tour for the public but the group of 24 was too large for one guide. The Co-ordinator of the Garden Volunteer Program and a very experienced horticulturist, Paul Nicholson, stepped in to take our OFF group and a few others on our own very entertaining tour.

Points of interest included the oldest bridge in Australia; its antiquity was discovered when repairs were done early this century and confirmed by the convict marks on the handmade bricks. The bridge crosses a stream that flows into Farm Cove. Swamp Oaks (Casuarina glauca) more than 250 years old, growing on a hill near the Maiden Pavilion, mark the original high water level; the land below that has been reclaimed from swamp.

We looked at the recently-renovated pond with Lotus flowers & waterlilies, a few flowers still in bloom. The seeds of the Lotus will survive in the water for many years. Water droplets on the Lotus leaves stay in a spherical form due to hairs on the leaf’s surface and roll across the surface, cleaning off dust as they go. Amazing!

Paul led us along a mulched path to show us some most unusual blooms – the dramatic black, white and burgundy flowers of bat plants (Tacca species).

Southern Hemisphere conifers were another feature of the tour. A Kauri Pine is the tallest tree in the garden (33 m). We stood in the shade of a beautiful specimen of a Norfolk Island Pine; it was hoped they would provide timber for ships’ masts but were found to be most unsuitable as the timber splits at points of lateral growth. One of Australia’s rarest conifers, Wollemi Pines are being propagated and planted all over the world.

It was interesting to learn about the Grey-headed Flying Fox dilemma and how it is being resolved. Intense studies including tagging bats showed that the individuals roosting in the Garden during the day were part of a single population extending along the East Coast from Queensland to Adelaide.  So for two years the bats in the Garden were disturbed by noise at dawn and they have moved on to other colonies, of which there are a number in the Sydney region.

Fruit bats are vital for pollination of many native trees and enhance cross pollination because pollen sticks better to their fur than to birds’ feathers. At night the white blossoms of gum trees stand out and their nectar production doubles, making them highly visible and attractive to the bats. The bats
also eat the fruits of figs and other trees, assisting in dispersal and germination through their droppings.

The Australian White Ibis is increasing in numbers in the Garden; their probing is good for aerating the soil as well as for pest control. The Garden is currently participating in a study into their movements; the ibis are being tagged with numbers and the public is encouraged to notify where
they are observed. The palms are suffering as the ibis nest on their crowns, damaging the growing point and in time killing the tree.

We ended our tour in The Calyx, the glasshouse built to celebrate the bicentenary of the Garden in 2016. It is a horseshoe shape, three-quarters glass with the whole back wall covered in plants.

A fine mist of water keeps the plants hydrated and the glass walls and roof allow in light for photosynthesis. The current exhibition is of carnivorous plants – pitcher plants, sundews and Venus flytraps in all shapes, colours and sizes. The exhibition will close in winter but re-open in spring and continue till next year. The Calyx also has an excellent information section, amenities and café with seating outside overlooking a water feature that includes handmade glass pitcher plants, stunning!

On leaving the Garden, five of us went on to the State Library to see the new exhibitions including, among others, a collection of Myles Dunphy’s papers. We finished up with coffee in Oatley after a most enjoyable day.


Walk Report by Marie O’Connor & Photos by Graham Lalchere


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