News and Events

Botanical Buzz - Iris

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Flamboyant and fabulous the Iris reigns supreme. Its distinctive flower is highly symbolic in western culture and its rhizomes have been used for hundreds of years in recipes for high class perfumes, medicines and as flavouring for gin.

Iris is the largest genus of the family Iridaceae with up to 300 species and thousands of hybrids. They are perennials, growing from creeping rhizomes or bulbs. Nearly all species of Iris are found in temperate Northern hemisphere zones, particularly from Eurasia to Asia.

They are a highly popular ornamental plant in domestic and botanic gardens. The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in New Jersey boasts 14,000 irises of approximately 3,000 varieties.

The Iris takes its name from the Greek Goddess Iris, whose main symbol was the rainbow. The Goddess Iris was a messenger to the gods and this led to the flower being regarded as a warning. Irises are also associated with lost love and silent grief.

The famous fleur-de-lis is said to be a stylised rendition of the Iris. In addition to being a popular heraldic symbol in Europe, it is the symbol of the Scouts, an inter-national youth movement.

Founder of the Scouts, Baden Powell adopted the fleur-de-lis as the basis for the Scout’s symbol because it was commonly used to represent “north” on the compass rose. It subsequently became associated with leadership and knowing “the right way to go”.

The rhizomes of certain species of the iris are cultivated and processed to create orris butter a highly valuable ingredient in high class perfumes. Orris butter is said to have a similar fragrance to violets.

The rhizomes are still used as flavouring for Bombay Sapphire Gin along with many other botanical substances including juniper berries, almonds, liquorice, angelica root, coriander seeds and cassia bark.

Irises are currently in full bloom in the Sensory Gardens and Shoyoen at the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.
                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Magnolias

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana) in the Japanese Tea Garden of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden is a vision of beauty at present. The delicate white blooms, lightly tinged with pink are making visitors pause in wonder.

Magnolias are an ancient genus which according to fossil records were once widely distributed across the globe. Continental drift and competitive pressures from more robust and faster growing trees led to the genus becoming extinct in many areas. Consequently, the 80-210 (depending upon the system of classification) species of magnolias have a ‘disjunct distribution’ that is to say, they may be found in different unconnected parts of the world. Magnolia species are now found in eastern and central Asia (including the Himalayas) and North and Central America.

Magnolias can be traced back to the Mesozoic Era, the time of the dinosaurs. They were one of the first flowering plants and evolved to be pollinated by beetles rather than bees. The flowers do not produce nectar but they do produce large quantities of pollen which beetles use for food. Hence the carpels of the magnolia flower are relatively sturdy, to protect against damage from crawling and eating beetles.

The stunning Magnolia × soulangeana was created in France by a retired cavalry officer of Napoleon’s army. Étienne Soulange-Bodin (1774–1846) created the hybrid by crossing two species from South East Asia, Magnolia denudata and M. liliiflora. It is now one of the most widely used magnolias in horticulture.

A magnolia species from the United States is also featured in the botanic garden. Magnolia grandiflora is native to the south-eastern United States and the state flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana.

Magnolia grandiflora may be found in Shoyoen, and the dwarf cultivar, Magnolia grandiflora “Little Gem” may be found in the Sensory Garden.

                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Aboriginal Artwork

Monday, September 22, 2014

An Aboriginal artwork by Wiradjuri man Aaron Towney at ShoyoenDubbo Regional Botanic Garden has helped strengthen the relationship between the Dubbo Aboriginal community and our Sister City Minokamo.

Aaron has developed a deep affinity for Shoyoen (the Japanese Garden) since becoming one of Dubbo City Council’s horticultural apprentices over three years ago.

After weeks of planning and research it took Aaron roughly two and a half hours to complete his design in the Japanese rock garden (karesansui) also known as the Zen Garden. The Zen Garden is Japan’s most distinctive and ancient type of garden. The deceptively simple and stark arrangement of rocks in a “sea” of white pebbles collectively forms a religious work of art reflecting the spiritual tenets of Zen Buddhism.

The visitor does not physically enter the Zen Garden but can use the garden as a meditative tool to seek clarity of thought and enlightenment. Whilst tending this garden, raking the pebbles and removing fallen leaves; Aaron felt inspired to share his personal journey towards re-connecting with his Aboriginal heritage.

Staying within the style of the garden, Aaron used coloured rocks and ancient Aboriginal symbology to depict a traditional Aboriginal family going about their daily activities. An Aboriginal woman searches for food with a digging stick whilst a father and his two sons hunt a kangaroo with spears.

The artwork is a deeply meaningful gesture of respect to his family and to the Zen Garden.

Although this artwork is his most complex and personal, it is not his first artwork in the Zen Garden. Aaron created an artwork depicting the Dreamtime Rainbow Serpent in honour of the visit by delegates from Minokamo during the twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations of the Sister City relationship between Minokamo and Dubbo. Photographs of the new artwork have been shared with officials in Japan. 

                                                                                                                                   By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - How do plants know when it's spring?

Monday, September 22, 2014

In the spirit of the 2014 Science Cafe@Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden 9am-2pm Saturday 23rd August (running parallel with Dubbo Sustainable City Expo) this article will address the question “How do plants know when it’s spring?”.

Every September the Japanese Flowering Crabapples in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden announce the arrival of spring with an abundance of sweetly scented, light pink blossoms and crimson buds.

The timing of the eagerly awaited blossoms is crucial. If the blossoms come too early they may be damaged by frost. Furthermore, if the blossoms arrive before the pollinators are ready, there is a risk that not all of the flowers will be pollinated.

Like all plants, the crabapples have an internal biological clock called a circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is governed by the daily cycle of day and night (light and dark) as the Earth rotates every 24 hours. The term "circadian" comes from the Latin words for about (circa) a day (diem).

Advances in microbiology have led to the discovery that circadian rhythms are controlled by "clock genes" that trigger the production of “clock proteins”. The levels of these proteins rise and fall in rhythmic patterns in response to light stimuli.  These oscillating biochemical signals control various functions.

When the crabapple’s circadian clock detects the shorter days of autumn it initiates a biochemical signal that it is time to drop its leaves. When the clock senses the longer days of spring, it sends the signal that it is time to burst into blossom.

The biological clocks of plants influence a host of other behavioural responses including preparation for sunrise by raising leaves in readiness for photosynthesis to convert sunlight into food and the opening and closing of leaf pores.

Understanding the genetic mechanism of circadian rhythms will help scientists genetically modify agricultural crops to adapt to climate change.

Science Cafe is an Inspiring Australia initiative supported by the Australian Government as part of National Science Week.

                                                                                                                                     By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - The May Bush

Monday, September 22, 2014

The tranquil environment of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden belies the amazing stories surrounding the discovery of some of its beautiful plants by European plant collectors.

The May Bush (Spirea cantonensis), a native of South Eastern China is a spectacular white flowering shrub. The name can be confusing as it flowers profusely in September and October in the southern hemisphere but flowers in May in the northern hemisphere.

The May Bush is one of more than 120 exotic plants including peonies, chrysanthemums and rhododendrons introduced to Europe from China by the Scottish botanist, plant collector and industrial spy Robert Fortune.

Fortune first visited China in 1843 on behalf of the London Horticultural Society with a list of interesting requests. He was asked to find blue flowered peonies and tea plants, and to investigate the peaches growing in the Emperor's private garden.

It was a daring mission because Fortune could not speak mandarin and had no previous experience as a plant collector. Furthermore China was in turmoil after the first Opium War and access to the country by Europeans was still strictly limited.

During his three year mission Fortune made many excursions to the northern provinces in China. He had numerous harrowing adventures including encountering angry mobs caught up in a xenophobic frenzy, pirates on the Yangtse River and ferocious storms in the Yellow Sea, but managed to survive them all.

Fortune learned mandarin and disguised himself by shaving his head, growing a pigtail and dressing as a Chinaman so that he could walk amongst the local people largely unnoticed.

Altogether, Fortune made four trips to China and one trip to Japan.

He is most famous for passing on the secrets of tea production and successfully smuggling well over 20,000 tea plants and seedlings from China to the Himalayas for the East India Company. This action helped develop the tea industry in India.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Plum Trees

Monday, September 22, 2014

The sweetly scented plum blossoms in Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden create a connection to China and Japan.

Plum trees have been cultivated in China for thousands of years where they come into flower in late winter. They produce striking blossoms on bare branches while the rest of the landscape is still barren and cold.

According to a Chinese saying the fragrance of plum blossoms “comes from the bitterness and coldness” a metaphor describing the value of endurance, inner strength and unyielding courage.

Plum trees, bamboo and pine are the “friends of winter” and together they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance and resilience. The friends of winter are widely referred to in Chinese literature and regularly appear together in art. They are also highly regarded in Confucianism where their combined attributes represent the scholar-gentleman's ideal.

“Hanami” the ancient Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, celebrated plum blossoms (ume) before cherry blossoms (sakura) became more popular in the Heian Period (794 to 1185).

The flowering of the plum trees in spring is still celebrated in Japan with plum festivals (ume matsuri) in public parks, shrines and temples. The famous Japanese garden Kairaku-en (A park to be enjoyed together) displays over 3000 plum trees of 100 varieties and holds a plum festival from late February to March.

Plum blossom is synonymous with late winter and early spring in Japanese haiku poetry.

The popular species of plum tree in Japan is Prunus mume which is actually more closely related to the apricot tree than the plum tree. The fruit of the tree is used in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking in juices, as a flavouring for alcohol, as a pickle and in sauces. It is also used in traditional medicine.

Prunus mume prefers cooler climes than Dubbo so the species chosen for Shoyoen is the more hardy Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardi Nigra’.

                                                                                                                                 By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Shoyoen

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Visitors passing through the elegant sukiyamon (Japanese gate) into Shoyoen, Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden leave the familiar and embark on a rich cultural experience.

Shoyoen is a living gift from our Sister City, Minokamo in Japan.  Its transcendent beauty and tranquillity has its source in ancient Japanese philosophy and art. The first manual of Japanese garden design ‘Sakuteiki’ was written at the end of the 11th century.

Japanese gardens are highly regarded stylised representations of the natural environment. Within the complex harmony of the garden design no element is more important than another.

The close and precise relationship between the garden elements is hard to preserve in a living and naturally changing environment so Japanese gardens require regular attention.

Shoyoen retains its special status as an authentic Japanese garden due to the vigilance of Dubbo City Council staff aided by a loyal group of local volunteers, and the guidance of expert Japanese gardeners.

Every year, professional gardeners from Minokamo come to Shoyoen to freely share their knowledge and work alongside Council staff to help maintain Shoyoen.

The iconic Japanese Black Pines (Pinus thunbergii) usually receive the most attention.

Japanese Black Pines are found along the coast of Japan. These robust pines are often bent, gnarled and windswept by the elements and look old beyond their years. They have a very distinctive natural beauty.

In Shoyoen, the Japanese gardeners use a unique set of pruning techniques to coax out the essential character of these stoic pines. These techniques include bud removal, candling and needle grooming. In addition, branches are trained to grow more horizontally and the trunk itself maybe bent over.

Slowly, the pines are beginning to imitate their windswept counterparts on Japan’s coastline, creating a special ambience within Shoyoen.

The spirit of the Sister City relationship between Dubbo and Minokamo manifests itself in the beauty of Shoyoen.
                                                                                                                                     By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Violet odorata

Monday, September 08, 2014

Flowering plants are bringing delightful colour to Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden

One of those plants, Viola Odorata (sweet violet) is as famous for its symbolism and multiple uses as it is renowned for its beauty and scent.

Viola odorata is a species of the genus Viola native to Europe and Asia and belongs to the family Violaceae. It is an evergreen perennial growing to roughly 0.1 m high and 0.5 m wide.

In English literature violets may symbolise faithfulness and love. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the bereft and tragic Ophelia declares “I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died.”

In his touching ode to personal loneliness “She dwelt among the untrodden ways” Wordsworth uses the violet as a metaphor for the unappreciated yet dignified beauty of a young woman isolated from society “A violet by a mossy stone, Half hidden from the eye! Fair as a star, when only one, Is shining in the sky..”

Viola odorata has been highly valued for its very distinctive scent for hundreds of years. Violet scented perfumes were particularly popular in the late Victorian period and grandparents may still remember violet candies such as such as Violettes de Toulouse and Parma Violets. Violet leaves are still used for high class perfumes but they do not have a violet scent.

The leaves and flowers of Viola odorata are edible but the seeds and rhizomes are poisonous. The flowers make an attractive garnish for salads and candied violet petals are a sweet delicacy.

The highly influential Roman physician Pedanius Dioscorides (40 – 90 AD) and English physician and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616 –1654) both recommended violets to treat a number of different ailments. However, violets are not used in modern medicine.

Viola odorata may be found in various sites in Shoyoen including at the base of the Persimmon tree and around the Ike (lake).
                                                                                                                            By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Camellia sasanqua and Osmanthus fragrans

Monday, September 08, 2014

Visitors taking a winter’s stroll in the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden will be well rewarded with beauty, colour and delicate floral scents.

The blooms of the Camellia sasanqua are looking divine. There is an abundance of delicate pale pink flowers on the camellias growing in the Japanese Tea Garden of Shoyoen.

The small white flowers of the Osmanthus fragrans are less showy but the plant is credited with being the most fragrant of all the plants in Shoyoen.  Osmanthus fragrans is native to East Asia, China, Japan and the Himalayas and its common names include sweet osmanthus, sweet olive, tea olive, and fragrant olive.

Osmanthus fragrans is an evergreen shrub or small tree growing to 3–12 m tall. The flowers can be white, pale yellow, yellow, or orange-yellow and they have a strong fruity-floral apricot aroma. The fruit is a purple-black drupe 10–15 mm long which contains a single hard-shelled seed.

The plant is culturally significant to China where it is the floral emblem of the cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Guilin. Guilin literally means "Forest of Osmanthus."

The flowers are used extensively in Chinese cuisine as flavouring for tea, jam, cakes, savoury dishes and wine.

Owing to the timing of the plant's blossoms, osmanthus wine is traditionally enjoyed during the Chinese Mid-Autumn or Mooncake Festival. From the homophony between 酒 and 久 (meaning "long" in the sense of time passing), osmanthus wine is also a traditional gift for birthdays in China.

Both osmanthus tea and wine are considered to have medicinal properties in traditional Chinese medicine.

Interestingly, many insects including butterflies do not find the scent of Osmanthus fragrans attractive.  Consequently the flowers are used in North India as an insect repellent to protect clothes.

Osmanthus fragrans can be found both in the Japanese Tea Garden and near the western-most bridge in Shoyoen.

                                                                                                                                  By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan

Botanical Buzz - Westringia Fruticosa

Monday, September 08, 2014

Every garden needs botanical heroes.  These are plants that can fight off pests and disease, survive extremes of weather and look great all year round.

Should more delicate beauties succumb to unexpected misfortune; these hardy plants help keep a garden looking beautiful.

Westringia fruticosa is one of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden’s modest champions. This tough evergreen shrub belongs to the family Lamiaceae and is native to the coastal cliffs of eastern Australia.

Leaves are up to 2 centimetres long, narrow and pointed and set closely in whorls around the stem. The white, slightly hairy flowers are two centimetres across. The upper petal is divided into two lobes and spots embellish the bottom half of the flower.

Westringia fruticosa can grow to at least 2 m high and 5 m across, often forming a regular dense dome with its lower branches covering the ground. After reaching a mature size it does not deteriorate quickly with age as some species do, but maintains a good condition for some years. It also responds well to pruning and can be used as a hedge.

Westringia fruticosa flowers all year round and this characteristic combined with its tolerance to a variety of soils and low maintenance make it a popular garden plant.

It was named for Dr Johan Petter Westring (1753-1833) physician to King Karl XlV of Sweden and a keen lichenologist.  Westring was particularly interested in how lichens could be used to make dyes and paints.

Although Westringia fruticosa is commonly called Coastal or Native Rosemary, it is not rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and should not be used in cooking.  Westringia fruticosa can be found in Shoyoen and  Rosmarinus officinalis grows in the Sensory Gardens.

Come and enjoy a refreshing stroll through the beautiful Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden, a garden designed to celebrate every season.
                                                                                                                                  By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan