News and Events

Botanical Buzz - Apple

Friday, March 06, 2015

An exotic traveller hidden in full view in the Sensory Gardens often escapes the attention of visitors to the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

The apple (Malus domestica ) has so successfully insinuated itself into European and American cultures that our co-existence seems completely natural and unremarkable.  However, this ubiquitous and culturally important fruit may have begun its relationship with man long ago and far away, in the forests of Almaty in Kazakhstan, Central Asia. Here the fruits of its wild ancestor Malus sieversii were collected and dispersed by merchants travelling on ancient trade routes.  

Apples were cultivated in Ancient Greece and Rome and from there spread across Europe. Eventually they were transported to America by early settlers. 

Most of the European apple trees taken to America died after finding the climate inclement. It was by virtue of a remarkable feature of the apple that America was able to produce its own highly successful and numerous apple varieties. 

Apples will grow readily from seed but each new plant (wildling) will be significantly different from its parent for example the fruit may be very sour, a “spitter”. For this reason apples grown for their fruit are cloned using grafting techniques.

By propagating many wildlings, settlers were able to find varieties of apple more suitable for their climate.  Trees that produced delicious fruit were highly prized but spitters could provide a lucrative source of income. 

At the turn of the twentieth century most of the apples grown commercially in America ended up as cider. This attracted the ire of the temperance movement. Anxious to protect their livelihoods, apple growers started to promote the health benefits of the fruit using the marketing slogan “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”.

Make sure your picnic in the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden includes an apple and take time to reflect upon its amazing history.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden

Botanical Buzz - The Pelargonium

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden is a marvellous place to meet up with old friends especially those of the botanical variety.

One such familiar garden friend is the pelargonium.  The Pelargonium genus includes about 200 species of perennials, succulents, and shrubs.  They are often called geraniums but Geranium is the correct botanical name of a separate genus of related plants.

The confusion arose because the eighteenth century Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus included all the species in one genus, Geranium, but they were later separated into two genera by Charles L’Héritier in 1789. Both genera, Pelargonium and Geranium belong to the family Geraniaceae.

Geraniums and pelargoniums can be told apart by the shape of their flowers. Geranium flowers have five very similar petals, and are thus radially symmetrical (actinomorphic), whereas pelargonium flowers have two upper petals which are different from the three lower petals, so that the flowers have a single plane of symmetry (zygomorphic).

The name pelargonium comes from the Greek pelargós (stork), because the seed head looks like a stork's beak.  There are pelargonium species native to parts of Africa, Australia, Asia Minor and New Zealand. Most of the pelargonium plants cultivated in Europe and North America have their origins in South Africa.

There are many cultivars and the very attractive flowers are available in white, and many different shades of pink, purple and red.  There is also a wide variety of scented leaf pelargoniums including those with lemon, lime, cinnamon and peppermint scented leaves. 

The rose-scented foliage of Pelargonium graveolens is important in the perfume industry. Pelargonium distillates and absolutes, commonly known as "scented geranium oil" are sometimes used to supplement or adulterate expensive rose oils.

Some pelargoniums have edible flowers and some scented-leafed pelargoniums can be used to flavour jellies, cakes, ice cream and other dishes.

Re-acquaint yourself with this wonderful old friend in the Sensory Gardens of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - The Foxglove

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Fascinating histories and stories associated with the botanical collection of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden are as abundant and diverse as the plants themselves. 

Plants have held the fascination of both bold adventurers and meticulous achievers. A gentleman falling into the latter category was William Withering, an eighteenth century English botanist and physician.

Withering’s publication "An account of the foxglove and some of its medical uses; with practical remarks on the dropsy, and some other diseases" is a seminal work in the development of modern therapeutics.

Withering became interested in the foxglove as a medicinal plant when he observed a patient that he expected to die, receive relief from the symptoms of dropsy after taking a herbal remedy.

Dropsy is an old term for the swelling of the legs (and occasionally the whole body) due to the accumulation of excess water. It is a symptom of congestive heart failure.

The herbal remedy had roughly twenty different ingredients. It induced violent vomiting amongst other possibly more lethal side effects. Through careful analysis Withering deduced that the highly poisonous foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) was the "active" ingredient in the formulation.

Withering conducted clinical trials of the foxglove (which contains the drug digitalis) on his patients over a period of nine years and demonstrated a thoroughness of clinical observation that was unusual for his time. He discovered that the traditional herbal remedy contained too much of the dangerous drug and worked out a safer dosage.

In his publication, Withering discusses 158 patients whom he treated with digitalis and of these, 101 patients with congestive heart failure experienced relief following the administration of the drug.

Digitalis was later discovered to contain many cardiac glycosides which increase the efficiency of the heart.

William Withering is still remembered and celebrated as an extraordinary physician and botanist who elevated a traditional folk remedy into scientific medical practice.

                                                                                                                                    By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Pink Autumn Crocus (Zephyranthes carinata)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bold and beautiful blooms delight the eye and hidden gems foster the thrill of discovery at the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

Visitors passing through the Sukiyamon (Japanese gate) are greeted by fabulous blue and white Agapanthus (lily of the Nile), stunning Day lilies and serene water lilies.  Sharp eyes will also spot the tiny purple flowers of the Liriopes, the red fruits hidden amongst the leaves of the Pomegranate growing in the Sensory Gardens, and with a little bit of luck, the enigmatic Zephyranthes carinata (Pink Autumn Crocus).

The delicate and pretty Pink Autumn Crocus is much shyer than its flamboyant cousin, the Agapanthus. It belongs to the family Amaryllidaceae which has three subfamilies, the Agapanthoideae (agapanthus), Allioideae (onions and chives) and Amaryllidoideae (amaryllis, daffodils, snowdrops, autumn crocus).

The scientific name Zephyranthes is derived from the Greek “Zephyrus”, the god of the west wind, and “anthos”, meaning flower, referring to the slender stalks. Zephyrus was said to be the most gentle of the Greek Anemoi (the wind gods) and according to legend had many lovers. His children included the two immortal horses Balius and Xanthus which belonged to Achilles.

The Pink Autumn Crocus is a perennial flowering plant native to Mexico, Colombia and Central America. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental and has become naturalised in many countries including north eastern Australia.

It grows from a bulb and has pink crocus-like flowers set amid a mass of dark green tubular leaves.  It grows to roughly 20cm high and is poisonous if ingested.

The Pink Autumn Crocus flowers in summer and autumn. Flowering may be triggered by heavy rainfall, a characteristic that led to the plant being referred to as a “rain lily”.

The unpredictable nature of the Pink Autumn Crocus epitomises the rich experience offered by the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden. There is something new to see every day.
                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - The remarkable Solanaceae family

Monday, January 12, 2015

Attractive ornamentals, important food crops, medicinal plants and deadly killers; the large Solanaceae family has it all.

Solanaceae is a cosmopolitan and ancient plant family containing 90 genera and over 2700 species. Plants belonging to the family grow on every continent except Antarctica and range from the down-to-earth potato to the ubiquitous petunia and the stunningly beautiful Angel’s Trumpet.

One of the defining characteristics of the Solanaceae family is five-petalled flowers, with the petals fused at the base.

In addition to potatoes, other important food plants belonging to the Solanaceae family include tomatoes, capsicums and chillies. All of these plants came from South America to Europe in the 16th Century and gradually became an integral part of the European diet.

The nutritious and low maintenance potato was particularly successful in Europe. By the 1800’s, a single variety, the high yielding Irish Lumper was the principal food crop of the poorest regions of Ireland.

Lack of genetic diversity made the Irish potato crops susceptible to disease. In the 1840s repeated crop failure due to potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) precipitated the Great Famine during which approximately 1 million Irish people died and a further 1 million emigrated, reducing the population of Ireland by 20 – 25 percent.

Many of the plants belonging to the Solanaceae family are poisonous. The most notorious of these is Nicotiana tabacum  (tobacco), arguably the most deadly plant in the modern world.

Australia has roughly 20 different genera. One of the more common native species is Solanum aviculare (Kangaroo Apple). Solanum aviculare is an important traditional Aboriginal food source and is also commercially cultivated to produce modern medicinal products.

Belonging to a famous family can cast a long shadow but the pretty Lycianthes rantonnetii with its abundant small purple flowers has found its place in the sun at Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

                                                                                                                                    By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Canna Lily

Friday, January 09, 2015

A little detective work can unearth fascinating stories about some of our most familiar garden plants.

The Canna (commonly known as the canna lily, although not a true lily) is a great example of a plant with interesting roots!

The Canna is a genus of 19 species of rhizomatous perennials with broad, flat leaves that grow out of a stem in a long, narrow roll and then unfurl. The impressive flowers are colourful and bloom over a long period.

Cannas belong to the same order (Zingiberales) as gingers and bananas. They are native to the tropics and subtropics of the Americas, and have become widely naturalized elsewhere.

Western horticulturalists have been trading and hybridising cannas for roughly four hundred years. The famous French rose breeder, Monsieur Pierre‑Antoine‑Marie Crozy began breeding cannas as early as 1862 and a group of cultivars bears his name.

The plant became a very popular garden plant during the reign of Queen Victoria and was grown widely in Europe, India and the United States during this period.

Modern canna hybrids come in four different sizes: pixie (45cm-60cm), dwarf (60cm-100cm), medium (1m-1.5m) and tall (1.5m-2m). They come in all colours except blue, green and black. The foliage may be green, blue-green, purple, burgundy, bronze or striped.

Canna edulis is grown in South America for its large edible tuberous rhizomes which have a very high starch content. The young rhizomes may be eaten raw or cooked.

In Australia, Canna edulis became known as Queensland arrowroot.  In the late nineteenth century it was grown in plantations at Coomera and Pimpama in Queensland and the rhizomes were processed to produce a substitute for arrowroot (a gluten-free thickener used in cooking).

Visit the Sensory Gardens of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden to see beautiful ornamental cannas in flower and reflect on this plant’s amazing history.
                                                                                                                            By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Lemon Myrtle

Friday, January 09, 2015

“Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not” (Act 3 ) The Tempest by William Shakespeare.

After the recent blustery tempests capable of sending any ship off course, it is not a big leap for the creative mind to imagine the Sensory Gardens as being the island home of the wizard Prospero.

For young children the Sensory Gardens must seem full of wonder and magic.

The towering bamboo quivers in the wind, fountains gently splash and the leaves say “shhhhhh….”.

 Scented flowers and aromatic leaves fill the Sensory Gardens with “sweet airs” to create enduring and pleasant memories of visits to the gardens.

 A plant that combines visual beauty with olfactory delight is the Backhousia citriodora commonly known as the Lemon Myrtle.

Backhousia citriodora is an Australian native plant indigenous to the coastal areas from Cairns to Brisbane. It belongs to the Myrtaceae family and can grow into a medium sized tree.

The genus was named after the remarkable James Backhouse. He was a nineteenth century botanist and Quaker missionary committed to the welfare of the disadvantaged. During arduous travels to penal outposts he collected many botanical specimens of Australian plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London.

The species name citriodora and common name Lemon Myrtle is a reference to the strong lemon smell of the crushed leaves. Backhousia citriodora has been traditionally used by Aboriginal people in cooking and to treat a wide range of ailments.

It is now commercially grown and harvested for its leaves and essential oil. The crushed leaves are used as flavouring for a wide range of foods and can be made into tea.  The essential oil is high in  citral, an aroma compound used in perfumery for its citrus smell.

A fine specimen of Backhousia Citriodora, covered in abundant cream blossoms may be found near the beautiful sandstone gecko in the Sensory Gardens.

                                                                                                                        By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Healing Garden

Friday, January 09, 2015

Reduce stress, boost your immune system and revitalise your interest in life by visiting the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

Gardens and natural spaces are well known for providing many emotional and physical benefits.

Hospital patients with views of gardens from their bedsides have been shown to recuperate quicker and require less pain relief than patients who only have walls to stare at.  Consequently gardens are now considered essential elements in hospital designs.

Humans are “hard-wired” to find gardens relaxing. Only a relatively tiny proportion of our evolutionary development has occurred during urbanisation. Buildings, hard surfaces, high levels of ambient noise and pollution do not form part of our natural environment. The natural environment is coded in our genes.

This is especially apparent in children who visit the botanic gardens.  They relax, become absorbed in their surroundings, show greater emotional self-regulation and play more creatively.

Older children love being given hands-on tasks which involve nurturing, discovery and exploration. Children who struggle in a traditional classroom have been observed to shine in the outdoor learning environment of the botanic garden.

The botanic garden also helps build and strengthen communities by providing an attractive and neutral place for people to develop social networks. 

It is a destination in its own right rather than a passage between two places. Consequently, every visitor who enters the botanic garden has something in common with other visitors; they have all come to enjoy the garden. The changing floral displays, the major points of interest and serene beauty provide seeds of conversation to sow on this common ground.

The volunteer group, the Friends of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden is an example of how such interactions might develop further. The Friends meet at the garden every Wednesday morning for a little social gardening and a chat.

The natural therapy provided by the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden is freely available to everyone.

Botanical Buzz - Japanese aesthetics and Shoyoen

Friday, January 09, 2015

Shoyoen (the Japanese Garden) soothes and revitalises the spirit of all who enter through its beautiful sukiyamon (gate). Breathing becomes deeper, hearts beat slower and worries become less troubling.

However, the visitors who are most richly rewarded are those who are inspired by this living gift from our Sister City Minokamo, to seek further knowledge and understanding.

Shoyoen, and every element within it, provides valuable insight into Japanese aesthetics.

Outside of the Japanese Tea House is a tsukubai; a composition of stones and a water laver sheltered by a Japanese maple. The purpose of the tsukubai is to provide an opportunity for visitors to ‘purify’ their hands and mouth before entering the Tea House.

The tsukubai is a work of art embodying ancient Japanese aesthetics including wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging) and yūgen (profound grace and subtlety).

Art and aesthetics are integrated into all aspects of Japanese daily life. Shoyoen is an outstanding example of this cultural philosophy. The traditional western perspective, on the other hand, separates art from daily life and views it as an expression of individuality.

Like all of the architectural elements within Shoyoen, the tsukubai unifies beauty with function. This is typical of Japanese art. In western art, unnecessary ornament and novelty often undermine the function of an object.

Exclusive use of natural materials in the construction of the tsukubai reaffirms the Japanese relationship with nature. Stones and water are fundamental elements of a Japanese garden and are accorded a higher level of importance than the plants. Their significance can be traced back to prehistoric Japanese religious practices.

The Japanese philosophies which underpin the design of Shoyoen and its architectural elements challenge western notions of art, beauty and taste. Critical examination of these differences provides a valuable opportunity for greater cultural awareness, self-awareness and personal growth.

                                                                                                                              By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan  


Botanical Buzz - Leptospermum

Friday, January 09, 2015

Botanical delights come in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures in the Sensory Gardens of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

Towering bamboo (Bambusa sp.) sway gracefully above the heads of visitors while the velvety lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantine) crouch close to the earth within the reach of fascinated children.

The magnificent Pierre de Ronsard roses named after the sixteenth century French "prince of poets" bloom soft and lovely about the arbour while the Yellow Buttons (Helichrysum ramosissimum) peek cheekily from below the wisteria.

There is so much to see that it is worth walking around the gardens at least twice each visit to reduce the likelihood of missing something interesting and beautiful.

The delicate and abundant pink flowers of the Leptospermum Rudolph (tea tree) are certainly worth a second look.

Leptospermum is a genus of shrubs and small trees in the myrtle family Myrtaceae. Most species are endemic to Australia. The leaves are evergreen, sharp-tipped and small. The attractive flowers are up to 3 cm in diameter, with five white, pink or red petals.

The outstanding flower displays of some Leptospermum species make them a popular choice for gardens.

Leptospermums have a long history of medicinal use. Australian settlers soaked the leaves of some species in boiling water to make a herbal tea rich in ascorbic acid (vitamin C). It is said that Captain James Cook brewed a tea using leaves from Leptospermum scoparium (tea tree or manuka) to prevent scurvy among his crews.

The famous manuka honey is produced by introduced European honey bees (Apis mellifera) after they have feasted on the flowers of Leptospermum scoparium and/or Leptospermum polygalifolium. Leptospermum polygalifolium grows in the Biodiversity Garden.

Manuka honey is a very viscous, dark cream to dark brown coloured honey which has been credited with antibacterial and antifungal properties.

The treasures of the Sensory Gardens make visits rewarding for everyone.

                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan