News and Events

Botanical Buzz - Kniphofias

Monday, September 08, 2014

A blaze of colour is radiating from the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden as the temperatures drop.

Multiple showy conflagrations are being provided by the Kniphofias in the Sensory Gardens.  Kniphofias are a genus of flowering plants in the family Xanthorrhoeaceae and are commonly known as red hot pokers, torch lilies and knofflers.  There are roughly 70 species of Kniphofias and they are native to Africa.

Kniphofias are distantly related to the native grass trees (Xanthorrhoea johnsonii and Xanthorrhoea glauca) also grown in the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

Those following the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil may be interested to know that the internationally famous Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx (1909 –1994) considered Knipholias useful as an architectural statement and for their colourful impact. Marx had a great influence on tropical garden design in the 20th century and his famous works include the Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The flowering spikes are also a big favourite with native Blue-faced Honeyeaters. Visitors to the garden towards the end of the day may be lucky to observe the honeyeaters performing acrobatics as they position themselves upside down to sip the copious nectar from the flowers.

In Shoyoen, a flash of red foliage is being provided by the dwarf cultivar Berberis thunbergia  'Little Favourite' . Berberis thunbergia (Japanese barberry) is native to Japan and Eastern Asia.

Also in Shoyoen, blooms are appearing like glowing embers in the flowering quinces Chaenomeles japonica and Chaenomeles speciosa. Chaenomeles are part of the rose family, Rosaceae.

The genus name Chaenomeles, Greek for "split fruit, or split apple" describes the way the five celled fruit opens when ripe.  The apple-shaped golden fruit is called Kusa-boke in Japanese.

Ignite your imagination at the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

                                                                                                                                 By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Kumquats

Monday, September 08, 2014

The recent cool weather may encourage us to cover up but it brings out the exhibitionist in the kumquat tree in the Sensory Gardens of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

Kumquats are a group of small fruit-bearing trees in the flowering plant family Rutaceae, forming the genus Fortunella (named in honour of the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune). They are closely related to citrus and the small edible fruit also called kumquats, resemble those of the orange tree (Citrus sinensis).

Like oranges, kumquats will only change from green to bright orange if they experience sufficiently cool temperatures to kill off the chlorophyll in the skin of the fruit.

The plant is native to Asia and has been cultivated since ancient times. The earliest historical reference to kumquats appears in the literature of China in the 12th century. Kumquats were introduced to Europe in 1846 by Robert Fortune who was a collector for the London Horticultural Society.

Robert Fortune is more famous for going to extraordinary lengths to illegally smuggle cuttings of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, from China into India on behalf of the British East India Company. Without Fortune's bravery and skulduggery, the tea industry in India is likely to have been very different.

There are three main varieties, the Nagami, the Marumi and the Meiwa. Their fruits vary in size, sweetness and shape (round and oval). The oval-shaped Nagami kumquat is the sweetest.

Like oranges, kumquats have many culinary uses but whereas oranges are peeled before eating, fresh kumquats are eaten whole.

Kumquats symbolise good luck in China and other Asian countries, where they are kept as a houseplant and given as a gift during the Lunar New Year.

Put on a warm hat and come and enjoy the exuberant winter colour of the Sensory Gardens.

                                                                                                                   By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Daylilies

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Golden daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.) are currently providing an unusual winter show around the Ike (the reflective pond) in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden. This tough drought tolerant herbaceous perennial usually flowers from spring to autumn.

The name Hemerocallis comes from two Greek words “hēmera” (day) and “kalos” (beauty). This alludes to the showy flowers which typically last no more than 24 hours.

Although individual flowers are short-lived each plant produces many flowers, so displays can last for weeks.

Hemerocallis is a small genus of 15 species native to temperate East Asia. There are many thousands of modern hybrid cultivars. Originally, the only colours were yellow, orange, and fulvous red. Now the range of colours available includes near-whites, pastels, yellows, oranges, pinks, vivid reds, crimson, purple, nearly true-blue, and fabulous combinations.

Daylilies are popular ornamental plants and have been cultivated in British gardens for centuries. The English herbalist John Gerard wrote in his Herball (1597), “These lilies do grow in my garden, as also in the gardens of Herbarists, and lovers of fine and rare plants”

William Curtis, writing in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in 1788, stated that “few plants thrive better in any soil or situation”. Although this attribute makes daylilies popular as a garden plant, it has also resulted in environmental problems. In the United States and Canada, for example, daylilies have escaped from cultivation and have become naturalised so successfully that they are now classed as invasive.

All parts of the plant are said to be edible but it is important to use caution as some parts contain a neurotoxin. Cattle and sheep can be paralysed if they eat the rhizomes and the leaves can cause kidney failure in cats. 

Dried daylily petals, called “golden needles,” are used in numerous Chinese dishes.

The flowers and rhizomes are also used medicinally.

                                                                                                                               By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - The Fig Tree

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Few trees could be more fascinating or important to humans and animals than the fig tree.

There are 850 species of trees, shrubs and vines collectively known as fig trees (Ficus) and they all belong to the family Moraceae. Most are found in India, Malaysia, Polynesia and New Guinea, but there are about 40 species native to Australia, the majority of which are found in Queensland, especially in the rain forests of the north east.

Ficus is a relatively ancient genus being at least 60 million years old and possibly as old as 80 million years.

The Common Fig (Ficus carica) has been widely cultivated from ancient times for its fruit. The fruit of most other species are also edible though they are usually of only local economic importance or eaten as bushfood. Depending on the species, each fruit can contain up to several hundred to several thousand seeds.

The fruits are extremely important food resources for wildlife.

Figs as a group are relatively easy to recognize. Many have aerial roots and a distinctive shape or habit, and their fruits distinguish them from other plants. However, there are three physical characteristics that together are unique to figs. All figs possess a white to yellowish latex, some in copious quantities; the twig has paired stipules or a circular stipule scar if the stipules have fallen off; and "tri-veined" leaves.

Probably the most fascinating characteristic of the fig is its unique pollination system. The tiny flowers of the fig are enclosed in an urn-like structure (sometimes called a syconium) and pollinated by tiny, highly specific wasps, known as fig wasps. Most of the complex life cycle of the wasps is completed inside the fruit.

The Oasis Valley of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden contains a number of fig species including Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla), Small Fruited Fig (Ficus macrocarpa) and Small-Leaved Fig (Ficus obliqua).

                                                                                                                              By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Nandina domestica

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Nandina domestica  (Sacred Bamboo) proves that the familiar can often surprise us.

Nandina domestica  is a common sight in Dubbo’s gardens. Its attractive foliage, hardiness and drought tolerance make this low maintenance plant a popular choice with local gardeners.

Contrary to its common name, it is not a type of bamboo. Nandina domestica  is the sole member of the genus Nandina and belongs to the family Berberidaceae. It is native to eastern Asia.

Nandina domestica is an erect evergreen shrub up to 2 m tall by 1.5 m wide, with numerous, usually unbranched stems growing from ground level. Its attractive leaves progress through a range of colours as they age. The young leaves are bright pink, then green and finally red and purple before falling.

White clusters of flowers appear in early summer followed by small bright red berries in autumn which often persist through the winter.  The Nandina domestica growing in the Sensory Gardens have an excellent show of berries at the moment.

It is very popular in Japan where many cultivars have been created.  The scientific name is a corruption of the Japanese name “nan ten”.

Nan ten is homonymic with both difficulty and change giving rise to the belief that Nandina domestica can make misfortune disappear.

In Japanese gardens it may be planted near gates or at the north east corner, the “kimon”. Kimon means "demon gate," and is where the bad spirits may enter.

Visitors to the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden will find that Nandina domestica has been planted near both of the gates of the Japanese Tea Garden.

Its association with difficulty and change may have been the reason the famous Zen master Nakahara Nantenbō ( 1839 –1925) chose Nandina as the material for the stout staff he was notorious for using to "encourage" disciples during rigorous training; a ruthless reminder that lack of attention to detail can lead to a nasty surprise!

                                                                                                                        By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Mint

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A new avenue of aroma in the Sensory Gardens, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden will refresh and invigorate visitors.

The vertical gardens have been re-designed by Council to introduce water saving elements, and then filled with the aromatic Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata’ (Variegated Apple Mint) and Mentha x piperita f. citrata (Basil Mint). These plants combine with Mentha x piperita (Peppermint) growing at the base of the walls, to fill the air with scent when their leaves are disturbed.

Mentha (also known as mint, from Greek míntha) is a genus of plants in the family Lamiaceae. There are roughly 13 to 18 different species. Precise classification is made difficult by natural hybridization between some species. There are also numerous cultivars.

The genus is widely distributed across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and North America.

Mints are almost exclusively perennial. Leaf colours range from dark green and grey-green to purple, blue, and sometimes pale yellow. The flowers are white to purple.

It is one of the most widely used culinary and medicinal herbs in the world.

Mint may be found in European, North African, American and Asian kitchens. It is used in a wide variety of traditional dishes and beverages from Greek dolmades with yogurt-mint sauce to Touareg tea in northern Africa.

Mint essential oil and menthol (derived from the essential oil) are extensively used as flavourings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, mint (candy) and mint chocolate.

It has a long history of medicinal use. It was originally used to treat stomach-ache and extracts from the herb are currently used to relieve irritable bowel syndrome.

In Ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder recommended students wear a wreath of mint to “exhilarate their minds” and in ancient Greece it was known as the “hospitality herb” because it was strewn on the floor to sweeten the air.

Voices from past and present recommend a visit to this innovative, sweet smelling garden.

                                                                                                                            By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Camellia sasanqua

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The fresh pale pink blooms of Camellia sasanqua in the Japanese Tea Garden in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden will form a very appropriate backdrop to the celebration of 25 years of Sister City relations between Minokamo, Japan and Dubbo later this month.

The evergreen Camellia sasanqua is a small tree native to China and Japan with glossy dark green leaves. The delicate flowers are 5–7 cm in diameter with 5-8 petals. Colours vary from white to dark pink petals.

In Japanese, the word “sasanqua” is written with three Kanji characters meaning “mountain”, “tea” and “flower”.

Camellia sasanqua has a long history of cultivation in Japan, for practical rather than decorative reasons. The seeds formed the basis of a thriving industry long before there were any written records.

Prior to the use of oil from whales and fossil fuels, the oil from the Camellia seeds was used for lighting, lubrication, and above all, for cooking and cosmetic purposes. The oil is still used to protect the finest of samurai swords from corrosion.

Camellia oil has a higher calorific content than any other edible oil available naturally in Japan. However, it is difficult and time consuming to extract which has made it very hard for the Camellia oil industry in Japan to compete with sunflower, corn and other imported oils.

Like its famous cousin Camellia sinensis which is widely cultivated to produce the familiar beverage of tea, the leaves of Camellia sasanqua can also be used to make tea.

The rich colours of autumn are often associated with fulfilment and wisdom whereas flowers by their nature are precursors to new life. In this manner, Shoyoen becomes a metaphor for the anniversary of 25 years of Sister City relations between Minokamo and Dubbo – a celebration of an enriching past and a fresh commitment to future friendship.

                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - The Hoop Pine and the She-oak

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An intrepid colonial botanist, plant collector and explorer who dedicated his life to the aspiration that the “Royal collection at Kew may exceed all other collections in the riches of new, beautiful and desirable plants” is remembered in the names of two of the Australian plants in the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

Araucaria cunninghamii (Hoop Pine) and Casuarina cunninghamiana (She-oak) are both named after Allan Cunningham (1791 – 1839).

Cunningham collected the first specimens of Araucaria cunninghamii in the 1820s. This beautiful dry rainforest tree can live up to 450 years and grow to 60 metres in its natural environment. It bears cones which yield nut-like edible seeds.

Araucaria cunninghamii have been planted by Dubbo City Council to create a majestic avenue connecting the Macquarie River to Victoria Park and the showground.

The name of the genus Casuarina is derived from the Malay word for the cassowary, ‘kasuari’, alluding to the similarities between the bird's feathers and the plant's foliage.

According to some explanations, the evergreen Casuarina cunninghamiana earned the name “Shee Oak”  “on account of the peculiar sound produced by the wind when passing through the branches” and that it was later shortened to She-oak. The reference to “oak” comes from the internal patterning of the wood which reminded the early settlers of European oaks.

The range of the Casuarina cunninghamiana includes parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland and eastern New South Wales including Dubbo where it prefers to grow along waterways.

Its usefulness as a timber and fuel for ovens, led to many of the local natural stands being felled by early settlers. The attractive avenues which now grow along the Macquarie River in Dubbo were planted by Dubbo City Council working in partnership with the community.

The dedication shown by Cunningham to share knowledge of Australia’s unique and wonderful flora lives on in the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

                                                                                                                        By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Ginkgo biloba

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An autumn review of Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden would not be complete without spending a moment or two losing oneself in the saffron yellow autumnal glow of the iconic Ginkgo biloba. Science, history, Asian culture and art all commend this beautiful unusual tree.

Ginkgo biloba is native to China and the last surviving species of the Ginkgo genus. Its cousins once thrived all over the globe including locations near Dubbo.

It is an ancient species having changed relatively little in the last 270 million years and may have even been nibbled by dinosaurs.

Its delicate fan shaped, bi-lobed leaves, characterised by radiating veins are unique amongst seed bearing plants and have inspired many poems. One such famous poem was written by the German scientist, poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and simply called “Ginkgo biloba”. Goethe dedicated the philosophical poem to Marianne von Willemer, his former lover.

The leaves are also frequently represented in Chinese and Japanese art, ceramics, textiles, family crests, symbols and logos. The tree is the national tree of China, and the official tree of the Japanese capital of Tokyo. The symbol of the Tokyo prefecture is a ginkgo leaf.

The ginkgo leaf is also the symbol of the Urasenke school of the Japanese tea ceremony.

The Ginkgo biloba has been cultivated for centuries for medicinal and culinary use. The nut-like gametophytes inside the seeds are particularly esteemed in Asia, and are a traditional Chinese food.

The Japanese add ginkgo seeds (called ginnan) to dishes such as chawanmushi, and the cooked seeds are often eaten along with other dishes.

To see the magnificent Ginkgo biloba in all its golden glory before it drops its leaves, do not delay your visit to Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

                                                                                                                    By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Liquidambar styraciflua

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Starting with a flicker of colour and then accelerating to a conflagration, the Liquidambar styracifluas commonly known as Liquidamber or Sweetgum, provides one of the most eagerly anticipated autumnal displays in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.  However, there is much more to this fascinating tree than is immediately apparent.

Liquidambar styraciflua is a deciduous tree native to warm temperate areas of eastern North America and tropical montane regions of Mexico and Central America. It belongs to the Altingiaceae family and can live for four hundred years.  It can grow anywhere between 10-15 metres in cultivation and up to 45 metres in the wild. 

The name of the genus, Liquidamber is an allusion to the fragrant terebinthine juice or gum which exudes from the tree. The gum is said to smell of ambergris, a rare and exotic substance highly valued by high-end parfumiers and uniquely produced by sperm whales.

As the tree ages, the bark on its small branches grows in such a way as to create the appearance of plates or scales. This characteristic combined with the deeply fissured bark on the trunk may be what earned the tree, the nickname Alligator-wood.

While the starry five-pointed leaves of Liquidambar resemble those of some maples (Acer), Liquidambar is easily distinguished from Acer by its glossy, leathery leaves that are positioned singly (alternate), not in pairs (opposite) on the stems.

Liquidambar styraciflua is one of the most important commercial hardwoods in the Southeastern United States. It's heavy, straight, satiny, and close-grained, but not strong. It takes a beautiful polish, but warps badly in drying.

The long stemmed spiny fruit balls have earned a number of nicknames including "space bugs", "monkey balls" and "bommyknockers".

The Liquidambar styracifluas are a visual delight, don’t miss their spectacular autumn show.

                                                                                                                    By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan