Astrebla Ecology Grass Identification Skills Workshops

Do you need to identify grasses to species, or have an interest in learning how?

Then this course is for you!

Workshop dates are scheduled periodically.  Or, if you have 5 or more attendees, you can arrange an in-house workshop.

The next workshop will be held 15-16 August, 2024.

You can secure a place via the Humantix website @

Workshops are held at The Hut, 47 Fleming Road, Chapel Hill, Brisbane.

This is the only publicly available, northern Australian grass-focused ID course based on hands-on microscope learning offered in Australia!

Learn to confidently recognise up to 20 major northern Australian grass genera & their ID features.

This course is designed for ecologists who conduct vegetation surveys & need to reliably identify grasses to species with scientific accuracy and consistency.

However, it is also suitable for anyone who has some background in grass ID and who wishes to extend their knowledge and skills base.

If you are grass beginner or novice, and don’t intend to delve into the field of grass ID in future, you may find this course too detailed and fast-paced – but you are still welcome!

You will use a stereo microscope (provided) to gain familiarity with the main diagnostic feature of grasses – the spikelet.  You will also gain skills in interpreting typical grass inflorescence types.

By becoming familiar with a broad range of grass spikelets, you can confidently recognise those features in the field using a simple hand lens.

At the completion of this course, you will:

  • Be familiar with up to 20 of the more common grass genera of northern Australia & the morphological concepts underpinning their ID (primarily C4 grasses).
  • Be able to recognise spikelet & inflorescence features & interpret the botanical language used to describe them.
  • Be able to find those features in grasses you examine in the field using a hand lens.
  • Be able to negotiate digital and dichotomous keys with more confidence and accuracy (and greater speed).  These skills are transferable to other families.
  • Most importantly, you will have built a solid foundation on which to continue a lifetime of independent learning in grass identification & botany.

This is a unique opportunity to learn basic grass ID and microscope dissection skills from an ecologist with 20 years’ experience.

The course notes (see examples below) provide clear ID pointers using microscope images that will assist you in your ID endeavours for years to come!

Course details

  • Course cost = $845 GST inc. for 2 days (8 am – 5 pm).
  • You will need to take a laptop (or you can use your phone) so that you can view the digital course notes and keys.
  • Course format is simple – a presentation explaining a particular grass genera or tribe, followed by a hands-on session with microscopes and samples of the target genera/tribe.  Each student will have their own microscope.
  • Class size is limited to 10 students.
  • Lunch (vegetarian and non-vegetarian sandwiches), snacks and morning/afternoon tea will be provided.
  • Each participant will be provided with detailed digital course notes including microscope photographs illustrating key features of 20 grass genera (see below).
  • In addition, each participant will receive to keep:
    • a pair of forceps for dissecting spikelets,
    • a pocket metal ruler ideal for use in field IDs.

Contact Simon at or on 0423 706 440 for further information

This course will be conducted by Simon Danielsen, a field botanist & ecological consultant with 20 years’ experience in botanical field surveys & identifications across northern Australia.

Simon has run his own ecological consultancy operation (Astrebla Ecological Services) for 9 years & is highly experienced in vegetation mapping, threatened plant surveys & the field identification of grasses & other plants. In 2014, he spent a year in the ID room at the Bangkok Forestry Herbarium in Thailand, completing over 400 botanical determinations in that time.

Unpacking a Panicum spikelet

Lateral compression

Keying out Panicum (Qld)

Solanum graniticum (granite nightshade) – an endangered north Queensland sub-shrub

Recently, I have been involved in surveys in the vicinity of the Eungella dam for an endangered native nightshade – Solanum graniticum.

Solanum graniticum is listed as endangered under both the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992 and the Commonwealth EPBC Act.  This species is a ‘spindly, prostrate to sprawling, herbaceous…resprouting’ subshrub in the tomato family (Solanaceae), and was named by Queensland Herbarium taxonomist Tony Bean in 2004.  It was recently elevated to endangered under the EPBC Act based on a nomination submitted by Jason Halford in 2019.

Solanum graniticum leaves

Solanum graniticum grows 20-30 cm tall, and may sprawl to a diameter of 1 m or so.  It has spines to 9 mm long on the stems and the upper leaf surfaces (Bean, 2004) (and apparently on the lower leaf surface, although the specimens I examined closely did not).  The leaves are shallowly to deeply lobed with 2-3 lobes per side, and are relatively small (to 2.6 x 1.3 cm).  The lower leaf surface and the stems have a mid-dense to dense covering of stalked, stellate hairs.  The upper surface has sparse-very sparse smaller stellate hairs (Simon Danielsen, pers obs).

This species is easily recognisable, and within its known range should not be confused with any other Solanum (Halford, 2019).

Solanum graniticum is endemic to north Queensland between Mackay and Townsville, where it is thought to be restricted to three disjunct populations (each are at least 100 km from the other).  Each population is conservatively estimated to contain less than 250 individuals (i.e. the total species population is estimated at <1000 overall) (Halford, 2019):

  • Cape Gloucester population: Cape Gloucester is the peninsula forming the south-eastern extent of Port Denison, 22 km directly south-east of Bowen.  Until our surveys, this population was thought to be the largest of the three, although the species is described as rare (Halford, 2019).
  • Mt Zero-Taravale population:  a single collection was made in 2012 from the Mt Zero/Taravale wildlife sanctuary, 80 km west of Townsville in the Paluma hinterland (AVH, 2023).  This population is 280 km from Cape Gloucester and 340 km from the Eungella dam.  Population size here is unknown (estimated at less than 250 individuals at any one time – Halford, 2019).
  • Eungella Dam population:  a handful of plants were known from two adjacent collections on a hill-top directly overlooking the dam wall, in 2003 and 2011 (AVH, 2023).  Halford (2019)
Solanum graniticum upper leaf surface @ 10x

Solanum graniticum occurs in shallow soils derived from granite and granodiorite.  It is most commonly associated with woodlands and open woodlands dominated by the ironbark Eucalyptus drepanophylla or E. crebra, with Corymbia erythrophloia, Lophostemon confertus, Allocasuarina littoralis and Corybia leichhardtii also noted as present in collection records (Halford, 2019; AVH, 2023).

Unfortunately for ecologists wishing to conduct targeted surveys for the species, E. drepanophylla/crebra woodland on granite soils are not in short supply in these areas, and this makes narrowing down a search area very difficult. This blog will attempt to assist this process by outlining where S. graniticum was found and my observations in relation to micro-habitat the species occupies in the vicinity of Eungella Dam (note – these observations may be of limited value to the other two populations, in particular the Mt Zero/Taravale population).

Lower surface of Solanum graniticum leaf, showing dense stellate hairs
Solanum graniticum prickly calyx

Survey findings

We found 101 individuals present in 10 sub-populations occupying approximately 88 ha, within an overall local extent of occurrence of 2360 ha (and I have reliable anecdotal evidence of another 14 plants in the vicinity).  All potential habitat thought present has not been covered to date and it is highly likely the population within this extent of occurrence is considerably larger.  The largest sub-population found was 5.2 ha in area and contained 41 plants.  Another 35 plants were recorded within a 25 ha area nearby.  One plant was found on the eastern side of the Broken River, less than 100 m from the high bank, on an apron slope.

Solanum graniticum habit
Solanum graniticum habit
Area of occurrence (AOO)

The spread of records from our surveys indicates an area of occurrence for the Eungella Dam population alone of 40 km2 (10 grid squares of 2×2 km as per the IUCN guidelines). However, using knowledge gained from these surveys in relation to habitat preference, and the distribution of that habitat type in the local landscape, I estimate that S. graniticum could have an AOO in the vicinity of the Eungella Dam of up to 80 km2.

The current documented AOO for the species is 28 km2 (Halford, 2019).  Therefore, based on the findings of our surveys, total AOO for S. graniticum is now confirmed to be 68 km2, and could be as high as 108 km2 if our habitat projections are correct.  This suggests that the Eungella Dam population is the prime population for the species, contributing more than 50% of the AOO.

Given these findings and their assumptions (ie that the vast majority of individuals present have been located), it is projected that the Eungella Dam population may contain 200-300 plants overall, which supports Jason Halford’s population estimate (Halford, 2019).

The extent of occurrence (EOO) for the species will not change as a result of these findings. In addition, the total estimated population size for S. graniticum of less than 1000 plants (Halford, 2019) appears to be supported.

Phenological observations

We observed S. graniticum flowering (profusely!) in November 2022.  Previously, it has only been recorded flowering in March.

Solanum graniticum flower
Solanum graniticum flower
Solanum graniticum fruit
Solanum graniticum fruit
Microhabitat and survey observations

Solanum graniticum is a sprawling, low-growing (mostly less than 20 cm high) sub-shrub that, if not flowering, is easily overlooked.  It is also genuinely absent from large areas of apparently suitable habitat – habitat that is common and well-represented in the Eungella Dam area. This makes it difficult to survey for. It is sometimes present as an isolated single plant with no other individual occurring within many hundreds of metres.  The highest density recorded was nearly 8 plants per hectare, but this was unusual.

The plants we recorded were always growing in the RE 11.12.1 – woodland almost entirely dominated by E. drepanophylla.  Corymbia erythrophloia and/or C. dallachiana were an occasional presence (i..e associated).  In places, plants grew directly adjacent to the RE 11.12.16a (woodland dominated by Corymbia citriodora), but despite searches no individuals were located in that RE.  It is also possible the species occurs in the RE 11.12.7, which is E. crebra woodland with vine thicket elements, although this RE tends to occupy steep slopes, and we did not find S. graniticum on steep slopes.

Solanum graniticum habitat
Solanum graniticum habitat

The woodlands in which it was found were grassy, with the predominant ground species being the exotic pasture grass Bothriochloa pertusa* (Indian bluegrass).  We did not find S. graniticum where the ground layer had a dominant native species composition.  This could be because such a ground layer (dominated by Heteropogon contortus, Themeda triandra, Cymbopogon refractus etc) is taller and more complex, and S. graniticum would be much harder to spot (as noted by Jason Halford).

Ground layer species associated with our records included Aristida gracilipes, Heteropogon contortus, Rhynchosia minima, Indigofera pratensis, Cyanthilium cinereum.  Lantana camara* and Lophostemon confertus were present in places.

Solanum graniticum was occasionally found in open woodland mapped as non-remnant or regrowth, but despite numerous searches in adjacent cleared habitat, it was not located where there was no tree cover.

Individuals recorded during these surveys were also always associated with gently undulating slopes, usually on broad ridgelines but also on low rises and plains.  We did not record it on hillsides or in gullies except very close to the ridgeline, although there was generally suitable habitat present on the hillsides.  It was also only found where there was some soil development, and was not recorded where soils were skeletal with abundant surface cobble.

In addition, the plants we found were almost invariably situated adjacent to an object – usually a fallen log or the base of a tree, but occasionally among rocks.  It could be that these structures provide protection from trampling, as all the areas we found S. graniticum individuals in were grazed.

Solanum graniticum habitat
Solanum graniticum at the foot of the ironbark in foreground








AVH, 2023, The Australasian Virtual Herbarium, Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria,  Accessed 3/6/2023.

Bean, A.R., 2004, The taxonomy and ecology of Solanum subg. Leptospermum (Dunal) Bitter (Solanaceae) in Queensland and far north-eastern New South Wales, Australia.  Austrobaileya 6 (4): 639-816.

Halford, J.J., 2019, Nomination form to change the conservation class of Solanum graniticum in Queensland.  Dept. of Environment and Science, Brisbane.


Vincetoxicum forsteri (syn. Tylophora linearis)

Another species on our search radar in October 2021 (see previous post about Calotis glabrescens) was the twining vine Vincetoxicum forsteri (until 2018 known as Tylophora linearis), which is listed as endangered under the EPBC Act (Cth) and the Nature Conservation Act (Qld).  This very cryptic twiner of the Apocynaceae family was first described by Paul Forster of the Queensland Herbarium in 1992 from collections made in south-east Qld only four times, in 1913, 1914, 1960 and 1969 (Forster, Binns & Robertson, 2004).  A small number of populations were discovered in central NSW around 2003 (Forster, Binns & Robertson, 2004), and the species is now relatively well-known in that state (where it has been collected extensively by the outstanding RPS ecologist Mark Aitkens).  But until recently V. forsteri had remained elusive in Queensland since 1968.

However, a GHD survey in 2018 in the Gore-Karara-Goldfields area found one individual growing on a rabbit fence on the boundary of Durakai State Forest.  Therefore, during targeted protected plant surveys conducted by the Astrebla/Red Ash/GHD botany team in 2021, V. forsteri was one of the species we had high hopes of finding.


Well, we found them!  Nearly 300 stems in four main populations occupying almost 90 ha.  It is an extraordinarily difficult species to detect unless you slow your survey speed right down, because it is very slender (stems ~3 mm dia., leaves only a few mm wide and up to 10 cm long) (see pic below).  In addition, it tends to twine up dense shrubs or coppicing trees, so is easily lost to sight among coarser vegetation.  If it is flowering, the purple flowers will generally make it more easily detectable.  It is my firm belief that unless protected plant surveys targeting this species are conducted at suitably slow speeds, this species will almost certainly be missed (which I’m sure occurs from time to time).

Vincetoxicum forsteri flowers
A photo illustrating the very slender growth form of V. forsteri


Our surveys found V. forsteri in two main vegetation types, open forest dominated by Eucalyptus fibrosa subsp. nubilis with E. sideroxylon (RE 13.11.5) and open forest dominated by E. dealbata with E. crebra (RE 13.11.3).  We also found a number growing on the mesh fences erected decades ago to control rabbits (but none on standard barbed wire fences).  Some had even started to grow on the new so-called ‘cluster fences’ recently erected across the landscape in this district with massive funding from government.  These fences prevent the widespread movement of macropods and other native mammals, and I predict they will have a massively detrimental impact on many least concern species in the area – but that is a topic for another blog!

Vincetoxicum forsteri growing on a rabbit-proof fence near Durikai State Forest

We found V. forsteri stems twining in the following situations:

  • The most common species we found it twining on was Olearia canescens, usually dead but standing
  • Vincetoxicum forsteri was also frequently found climbing coppicing E. fibrosa stems (see pic – many of the areas surveyed are the subject of private logging ventures),
  • More uncommonly it was found climbing on Acacia leiocalyx or A. fimbriata shrubs, either alive or dead (but still standing).

In the survey area, these habitat types occur in a mosaic with open forest dominated almost exclusively by Corymbia citriodora (RE 13.11.6). We rarely found Vincetoxicum forsteri in association with C. citriodora – it appears to have a clear preference for habitat occupied by ironbarks, and E. dealbata.

We also found it along the verges of logging tracks.

Vincetoxicum forsteri has been previously associated in the main with dense shrubland (Forster et al., 2004).  However, the open forest habitats in which we found these V. forsteri populations did not have dense shrub layers – in general, these open forests had very sparse to sparse shrub layers, with clear visibility for 50 m or more in most directions.  We did not find any plants in the nearby areas characterised by a dense Olearia canescens shrub layer.  This could be because the dense habitat makes it harder to detect, although overall 4 botanists walked just over 500 km of transects for this survey, of which at least 80 km was in areas with dense O. canescens – so these areas were well-surveyed.

Most individuals were found in areas where logging was active – although it is not known how populous the species was prior to logging, which is believed to have been practiced here for many decades.

It is interesting to note that in this area, V. forsteri is present with extensive populations of the vulnerable cycad Macrozamia conferta, another species whose populations we were mapping, and which co-occurs with forestry activities.  This cycad is endemic to the Durikai-Talgai-Bringalily State Forest area, and this population is believed to be the largest on private land.

Vincetoxicum forsteri twining on a coppicing Eucalyptus fibrosa
Macrozamia conferta growing in the same preferred habitat for Vincetoxicum forsteri


Forster, P.I., Binns, D. and Roberston, G., 2004, Rediscovery of Tylophora linearis P.I. Forster (Apocynaceae: Asclepiodoideae) from New South Wales, with revision of its conservation status to vulnerable.  Austrobaileya 6 (4): 942-946.

Calotis glabrescens (white burr-daisy) – critically endangered daisy

In early October 2021, I undertook four weeks of protected plant surveys in the Karara-Cement Mills-Gore-Goldfields area, immediately to the south of Durakai State Forest, approximately 40 km west of Warwick in south-east Queensland.  The surveys were undertaken in company with Carly Sugars and Peter Moonie of Red Ash Consulting, and George Brady from GHD (Astrebla was contracted to GHD for this work).  In total we walked over 500 km of meandering transects during these surveys, in generally beautiful south-east Queensland spring weather!  It was a complete joy!

One of the species being targeted was Calotis glabrescens C.T. White (white burr-daisy), a small daisy listed as critically endangered under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992 (but not listed under the EPBC Act).

Calotis glabrescens

Presumed extinct

Until recently, this species was listed under the NC Act as presumed extinct, as there were only two records.  The species had been described from one collection by Cyril T. White in 1946 (the Queensland government botanist who succeeded Bailey).  White had collected the plant in late September from near Bybera, in what is now Whetstone State Forest, noting it was ‘moderately common in open forest land’.  The next collection was in November 1997 by the Queensland Herbarium, who noted it was a ‘low herb to 10 cm tall with pinkish inflorescences, uncommon, scattered at site’.  This collection came from approx. 18 km south-west of Leyburn.

The species was not collected again after 1997 until 2 records in 2020 (strangely, these have disappeared from AVH since November 2021), from Durikai State Forest and another site south-west of Leyburn. There are no records from outside Qld, although the excellent ‘Plants of Western NSW’ book (Cunningham, Mulham, Milthorpe & Leigh, 1992) claims there is one record from the Bourke district (Plant Net has no entry for this species, so the source of this record is unclear – it would be a substantial range extension if confirmed).

Our survey found a small population of these plants approximately 7 km south-west of Karara, just north of the Cunningham Highway (thanks to eagle-eyed Peter Moonie for finding them in the first few steps of what would be 500 km of transects!!).

There is little recorded on this species, and no photographs are publicly available, so this blog seeks to provide sufficient information to assist in the planning of targeted surveys for Calotis glabrescens, and in its field identification.

Simon Danielsen (kneeling) and Peter Moonie (on ground) confirm the presence of Calotis glabrescens at a site near Karara


Collection records for the species associate it with open forest and semi-cleared areas containing species such as Eucalyptus moluccana, E. sideroxylon, E. viridis and the wattles Acacia montana and A. ixiophylla.  The 1997 collection notes state it was found in ‘very tall woodland’ – I have visited the site of this record, and found that, using the current method for classifying vegetation communities used by the Qld Herbarium (based on Specht’s structural forms), it is not even close to ‘tall’, the canopy having a median height of approx. 15-18 m.

The 1997 collection notes also associate it with ‘traprock’ – this is a type of metamorphic rock known from the Warwick area (as with C. glabrescens, there is little to no information publicly available about this rock type).

C. glabrescens habitat at the 1997 collection site

Our survey found 15 plants growing on an undulating plain beside a dirt track, on a hard-setting pale clay loam, on the edge of a large clearing (but in the clearing, not in the adjacent woodland).  Adjacent woodland was co-dominated by E. moluccana and E. dealbata, and was relatively low (median height of 10-15 m). The parent rock was metamorphic and the pre-clear regional ecosystem was RE 13.11.8 (Eucalyptus melliodora and/or Eucalyptus microcarpa/ E. moluccana woodland on rolling hills, depressions and lower slopes around drainage lines, on metamorphics) (Qld Herbarium, 2021).

Habitat at our 2021 Calotis glabrescens collection site

Species identification notes

Calotis glabrescens is a small daisy growing 15-20 cm tall. It superficially resembles a number of other Calotis spp., mostly C. cuneata and C. scapigera.  However, it should be relatively straightfoward to field-identify it, using the Calotis key in Keybase prepared by Ailsa Holland.  There is also a useful illustration of the achenes of a number of Calotis spp. including C. glabrescens on p. 654 of Plants of Western NSW (Cunningham et al., 1992)

The major identification features (as outlined by Ailsa Holland) are:

  • The plant is relatively gracile – generally 15 cm tall but may extend to 20 cm, with cauline leaves and lacking a distinct basal rosette.  It does not have stolons.
  • Flower heads are distinctly pedunculate, with peduncles >1cm long, and ray florets >2.5 mm long.
  • The rays are white (may be pinkish) and disc florets are yellow (see pic above).
  • Achenes lack scales (wings) – achene scales should be obvious, they are flaps of tissue that extend upwards from the crown of the achene.
  • C. glabrescens achenes have 2-9 longer, rigid primary awns arranged around the outside edge of the achene crown – these awns have retrose (ie downward pointing), translucent barbs (see pics of achenes below).
  • In addition to the primary awns, there are several secondary awns – these lack the barbs of the longer primary awns.
  • In addition, the awns of C. glabrescens are NOT joined with each other at the base.
  • The achenes are generally as long as they are wide i.e. the horizontal and vertical axes at their longest points are approx. the same length (don’t include the spread of the awns in this measurement).

Also, look for leaves that are generally entire, but that sometimes have a single marginal tooth.

Calotis glabrescens achene – side view
Calotis glabrescens achene – top view

Survey timing

Flowers and particularly mature achenes are likely to be essential to identify this species with any certainty.  Our survey was conducted in October 2021.  Other collection records are from 20 September through to mid-November.

Survey challenges

This species is difficult to survey for because it is physically small and may be dwarfed by the grasses and other herbs it occurs in association with.  In addition, it may be present with other superficially similar Calotis spp., which may be abundant and so may desensitise those searching, who are looking for small Calotis individuals with entire leaves and flowers with white ray florets and yellow discs. Apparently suitable habitat is also common within its geographic range – therefore, there may be large areas to cover. 

Therefore, it may be easy to dismiss C. glabrescens as C. cuneata or C. scapigera (which both have stolons and serrated leaves in a basal rosette).  There is only one way to survey properly for this species – slowly and carefully. 


Australasian Virtual Herbarium (AVH), 2022, The Australasian Virtual Herbarium.  Council of the Heads of Australasian Herbaria.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe P.L. and Leigh, J.H, 1992, Plants of Western New South Wales, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Queensland Herbarium, 2021, Regional Ecosystem Description Database (REDD), version 12.0, Department of Environment and Science, Brisbane.

White, C.T., 1946, Contributions to the Queensland Flora, No. 9. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland 57: 30.


Update 2021

Well, its been 2 years since I last posted!

In that time, the world has turned upside down!

But it has been a busy time at Astrebla, in fact I haven’t stopped.  This period has been dominated by water projects – I have been primarily engaged during this period in providing the majority of botanical input to the following four major water infrastructure projects, for GHD and SMEC.

Hells Gates Dam Project – SMEC

This project is being managed by Townsville Enterprice, with funding form the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.  Astrebla contributed botanical input to the Detailed Business Case for this project, being prepared by SMEC.  Hells Gates Dam is a proposed 2110 GL dam on the Burdekin River approximately 110 km north of Charters Towers.  It would supply water to 50, 000 ha of irrigated horticultural land and provide long-term water security to Charters Towers and Townsville.

Site of the proposed Hells Gate dam wall on the Burdekin River

Associated proposals are for a max 1200 MW pumped hydroelectric scheme, a 15 MW run-of-river hydro facility and a 20 MW solar farm (see the Hells Gates Feasibility Study).

The project involves a dam and four irrigation areas for high-value agriculture. The irrigation areas are proposed north of Charters Towers and west of the Burdekin River, primarily on areas of basalt and alluvial soils.

Services provided by Astrebla included a ground-truthed regional ecosystem (RE) map for the entire 270, 000 ha area – the largest ground-truthed RE map I have produced to date!  This includes the dam inundation area and the irrigation areas.

The initial survey involved 13 days of helicopter surveys, followed by 14 days of ground-based surveys.  Threatened plant surveys were also undertaken, during which Queensland bluegrass (Dichanthium queenslandicum) was recorded in grassland near the Basalt River – the most northerly reliable record for this species.

In addition, the Townsville botanist Chris Kahler found Acacia guymeri in the vicinity of the inundation area, which is 175 km further south than it had been recorded in north Qld previously.

Urannah Water Scheme and Collinsville Irrigation Scheme – GHD

Centred on the Broken and Bowen Rivers in central Queensland, the Urannah Water Scheme comprises a proposal to construct a 970, 000 ML dam on the Broken River, approximately 25 km (as the crow flies) downstream of the existing Eungella Dam.  The project includes approximately 200 km of pipeline corridors to the Moranbah district, and is an integral element of two other projects, the Bowen Renewable Energy Hub (pumped hydo, wind and solar power generation) and the Collinsville Irrigation Scheme (a 20, 000 ha master-planned irrigation scheme approximately 25 km west of Collinsville).

An EIS is in the process of preparation by GHD, to whom Astrebla was contracted to provide botanical input.

Looking over the Massey Creek valley, just upstream of its confluence with the Broken River

Services provided by Astrebla included the preparation of a ground-truthed RE map for 13, 900 ha of vegetation in the proposed Collinsville Irrigation Area, and threatened flora species surveys across the entire project area.

The Broken and Bowen River catchments contain populations of black ironbox (Eucalyptus raveretiana), a species listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act but delisted in 2012 under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act.  In association with GHD ecologists, Astrebla undertook population surveys of this species, and data gained from these surveys was an important input into an application to have black ironbox delisted as vulnerable under the EPBC Act.  This application was submitted to the Department of Agriculture and Environment in early 2021 and will go up for public comment and review/decision in 2022.

Lakeland Irrigation Area Scheme – SMEC

This project involves a proposed dam on the Palmer River, approximately 85 km south-west of Cooktown and 23 km south-west of Lakeland, in far north Queensland.  The proposed dam wall is located approximately 16 km downstream of the Palmer River roadhouse (where the Mulligan Highway crosses the Palmer).

This project is being proposed by Regional Development Australia Tropical North (RDATN), with funding from the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.  It will increase the volume and reliablility of water available for agriculture in the Lakeland Irrigation Area, which was established over 70 years ago on the rich basalt soils of the Lakeland area.  This water has the potential to significantly enhance the economic viability of this area without requiring further tree clearing.

Looking south from near the proposed dam wall, over the Palmer River valley

Astrebla conducted botanical surveys in association with SMEC ecologists in the proposed inundation area and pipeline corridors across a number of survey events in 2020-21.  This work included the preparation of a ground-truthed RE map for SMEC over 25, 000 ha in the vicinity of the proposed inundation area, and surveys for threatened flora species.

The wattle Acacia guymeri was found in relatively large numbers in this area – this species is listed as vulnerable in Queensland but was delisted some years ago under the EPBC Act.  Population surveys were undertaken, and an impact assessment completed.

Rookwood weir – GHD

The Rookwood weir project (currently being constructed) is located on the Fitzroy River approximately 55 km west of Rockhampton.  It is a $367 million water infrastructure project that will have a fully supply volume of 74, 300 ML, with an impoundment length of 60 km (including the Fitzroy, Mackenzie and Dawson Rivers).

Surveying for black ironbox on the Fitzroy River

Astrebla provided botanical input to the EIS and approvals technical manager, GHD, assisting with surveys required to meet EPBC Act and Queensland government approvals.  These surveys included assessments against threatened ecological community (TEC) criteria, Biocondition surveys, population surveys for the vulnerable species black ironbox, and ground-truthing over 1660 ha of RE mapping (a ground-truthed RE map was produced at 1:10, 000 over the entire impoundment area).

Its been an eventful 2 years, and I will be posting more in the coming months about some of my other work, and the interesting species I have been finding.

Queensland’s Flora Trigger Mapping

There has been much controversy recently in relation to Queensland’s flora trigger maps, and the requirement to commission a survey by a suitably qualified person before clearing.

It has been alleged that this law will lock up country used for grazing and farming, and make it more difficult for landowners to manage their properties.  Some of the criticism has also confused things such as PMAVs and category X mapping, which are an instrument under the Vegetation Management Act, with the flora trigger map survey requirements, which fall under the Nature Conservation Act.  PMAVs and category X vegetation mapping have no relevance under the Nature Conservation Act.

Flora trigger maps are aimed entirely at flora species listed as near threatened, vulnerable or endangered/critically endangered.  Common flora species (labelled ‘least concern’ under the Nature Conservation Act) and plants not native to Australia are not controlled under the flora trigger map system.

Northern donkey’s tail, a near threatened orchid from the Atherton Tableland

The flora trigger map system was put in place by the Newman government in 2014 to ensure that areas considered to be at ‘high risk’ for these protected species were surveyed before being cleared.  It has been illegal to clear threatened plants in Queensland without a permit since 1992 at least – this law simply ensures that it is compulsory that areas considered to be likely to contain threatened plants are surveyed prior to clearing.


However, landowners should be aware that there are a number of exemptions that protect them and allow them to continue to undertake routine management activities in high risk areas without requiring a survey.

If the exemption covers your intended activity, you WILL NOT NEED a flora trigger map survey under the Flora Survey Guidelines – Protected Plants, even if the area is within a blue mapped area.

These exemptions are summarised at:

They are outlined fully in the Nature Conservation (Wildlife Management) Regulation 2006, chapter 4 part 3:

These exemptions include (accurate at the time of writing on 8 September 2019 and NOT intended to constitute legal advice) taking (ie clearing/removing/killing) a protected plant for the following…

(words in bold are those that should be taken careful note of, as they add an essential element to the interpretation of the exemption)

For grazing (Section 261P)

If the plant is consumed by grazing stock, the exemption applies to:

    • freehold land – if the grazing is authorised/permitted under law
    • other land – if the grazing is authorised/permitted under a lease, permit, license or other authority or exemption.
Routine maintenance (section 261zc)

Routine maintenance includes slashing, mowing, pruning/trimming for:

    • existing infrastructure (eg buildings/built structures, fences, pipelines, roads, stockyards, tracks, watering facilities, constructed drains)
    • plantation management (if previously cleared legally)
    • cropping (if previously cleared legally).
Firebreaks/fire management lines (section 261zd)

To establish or maintain a firebreak or fire management line, where:

    • the firebreak is to protect infrastructure (other than a fence, road or track) and is no more than 1.5 times the height of the tallest adjacent vegetation, or 20 m (whichever is the greater).
    • the fire management line is necessary and is no wider than 10 m.
Clearing under a self-assessable code (Section 261ZE)

If you are clearing under a self-assessable clearing code under the Vegetation Management Act 1999 section 19O (1) and (2) for:

    • thinning
    • managing weeds
    • managing encroachment.
To avoid or reduce the risk of serious damage (Section 261B)

To avoid or reduce the risk of serious damage to buildings or property (eg structures or personal property) where:

    • it is necessary and reasonable to take the plant to avoid or reduce the imminent risk of serious damage, AND
    • If the damage is not prevented or controlled, a person may suffer significant economic loss, AND
    • the taking cannot reasonably be avoided or minimised.
By fire under the Fire & Emergency Services Act (S.261C)

If the clearing is done under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990, where:

    • it is part of a reasonable action by an authorised fire officer as defined under that Act, OR
    • the person takes the plant by lighting a fire that is authorised under a notification or permit issued under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990, and that fire is necessary for hazard reduction.

There is also an exemption for taking protected plants for fodder (section 261U), but it does not apply to endangered or vulnerable plants.



Clearing that does not meet the exemptions

If your clearing does not meet any of the exemptions (see the Nature Conservation (Wildlife Management) Regulation 2006 for the full list), you should obtain a flora trigger map for the intended clearing area from:

Under section 261z, if your clearing area is NOT mapped as a high risk area, you can clear without a survey provided:

    • you are not aware of the presence of any threatened plants in the area to be cleared,
    • you clear within 12 months of the date of receiving the flora trigger map,
    • you keep the flora trigger map in your records for at least 5 years from the date the clearing starts.

Of course, you must also satisfy yourself that the clearing is legal under other applicable laws, in particular the Vegetation Management Act.

If your clearing area IS within a mapped as a high risk area (and doesn’t meet an exemption), you will be required to commission a flora survey by a suitably qualified person.

If that survey finds that threatened plants are NOT present, you simply submit the survey report to the government at least one week prior to the clearing commencement date, and no later than 12 months after the flora survey was completed.

If threatened plants are present, it may be possible to plan the clearing such that it can be demonstrated those plants will not be impacted.  Alternatively, an offset may be acceptable.

Engaging a ‘suitably qualified person’

If your clearing area is within a mapped high risk area AND doesn’t fall under an exemption, you must commission a survey by a suitably qualified person.

You should always ask this person to prove they are suitably qualified prior to engaging them – a suitably qualified person must meet the requirements outlined in section 4 of the Flora Survey Guidelines, available at:

Ideally, this person will be able to produce a pre-approval letter from the Chief Executive of the Department of Environment and Science agreeing that they are a suitably qualified person.  In addition, they should have completed similar flora trigger map surveys previously.

I have pre-approval as a suitably qualified person under the Flora Survey Guidelines and have conducted over 30 flora trigger map surveys since 2015.  If you wish to discuss your flora trigger map survey requirements, please don’t hesitate to contact me on:

Email: or

Phone: 0423 706 440

Or use the Contact page on this website.

Helicteres macrothrix from the Adelaide River district

In May 2019 I conducted a survey with Chris Brock from Brock Environmental for the threatened shrub Helicteres macrothrix (Malvaceae) Cowie – previously known as Helicteres sp. Glenluckie Creek (N.B. Byrnes 1280).

This species is listed as endangered under both Northern Territory and Commonwealth legislation.

H. macrothrix is an erect, densely clumping subshrub growing to approximately 60 cm tall.  The leaves and stems are covered with a dense indumentum of long, stellate trichomes (= hairs) with a diameter up to 4.5 mm wide (Cowie, I., 2011).

Helicteres macrothrix

It is restricted to a small area approximately 80 km south east of Darwin, where it has been recorded from three main sub-populations in the Mt Bundey, Coomalie Creek and Lake Bennett areas (with an outlier north of Acacia Hills) (Australasian Virtual Herbarium, 2019).

Helicteres macrothrix

Our survey was located north of Lake Bennett.  As is often the case with threatened species surveys, the timing of the survey (late wet season/early dry season) and prior weather conditions (the Top End had a very dry wet season this year) were not optimal for flowering.  However, we were pleased to find that this species appears to be quite readily identifiable (and observable) well into the dry season, in the absence of reproductive material and even after burning.

We found it closely associated with a combination of Eucalyptus tectifica woodland with Wildman siltstone (the latter being an early Proterozoic metamorphosed siltstone), growing among a tall, dense to sparse grassy ground layer generally dominated by Sarga intrans and Heteropogon triticeus with Schizachyrium fragile.

It was always present in lower landscape positions, on gently  undulating run-on surfaces or on level plains isolated from adjacent slopes.

Helicteres macrothrix

In general, it was growing in sparse to mid-dense groups (see picture above), but occasional outlying individual plants were observed, sometimes many hundreds of metres from the main population.  However, within our survey area it was unfailingly associated with E. tectifica.

Helicteres macrothrix

Some parts of our site had been burnt a few weeks prior to our survey.  However, H. macrothrix appears to be one of the first plants to recover after fire, and sprouts that were identifiable to species and already a few inches tall were easily observable.

In fact, H. macrothrix regrowth was obvious in this situation, given that little other regrowth had yet occurred.

H. macrothrix is superficially similar to H. darwinensis and H. integrifolia but can be discriminated relatively easily from these in the absence of reproductive material, as it has:

  •  an erect, multi-stemmed habit – c.f. H. darwinensis, a prostrate species,
  •  crowded inflorescences (see picture above – the spent calyces are persistent),
  •  very coarse, congested stellate hairs (macrothrix = large hairs) to 4.5 mm dia. – much larger than both H. darwinensis and H. integrifolia.

In addition, H. macrothrix is not associated with laterite (c.f. H. darwinensis) and only grows in sandy soils that are derived from granite (c.f. H. integrifolia).

The Northern Territory Herbarium (DNA) has prepared a number of excellent resources on this species, and should be consulted in relation to ID questions and in relation to survey design – in particular see:

Ian Cowie’s 2011 description of the species and his treatment of Helicteres from the NT is available at:

Hidden treasures

In February 2018, I undertook a targeted survey with taxonomist Bob Harwood for the vulnerable geophyte Typhonium praetermissum on the Gunn Point peninsula, approximately 30 km  north east of the Darwin CBD.  In additionwe also searched for the vine Operculina turpethum.  And we found both of them!

Operculina turpethum (L.) Silva Manso (Convolvulaceae)

Operculina turpethum is a twining vine growing to 4 m or more, recorded from various locations (mostly coastal and sub-coastal) across northern Australia, but primarily it is known from South East Asia.  It had been recorded in 2000 from grassland at the rear of a low sand dune at Gunn Point, and our task was to determine if it was still present. Operculina turpethum is listed as near threatened in the NT.

We quickly located it, growing in the same grassland location as in 2000 (possibly from the same tuber).  It was not flowering, however its presence in the same location as a previous confirmed record, and its conspicuously flanged/winged stems, suggested that is it highly likely to be O. turpethum.

This species was originally described by Linnaeus in 1753 as Convolvulus turpethum, but was split from that genus by Silva Manso in 1836.

Typhonium praetermissum A. Hay (Araceae)

Typhonium praetermissum is a relatively cryptic perennial geophyte (i.e. a predominately subterranean herb) endemic to the Darwin/Litchfield area.  It flowers and fruits in November and December, and appears to produce leaves only during the wet season, after which they quickly deteriorate and the plant disappears beneath the soil.  The flowers are very delicate and exude an apparently unpleasant odour, but are quickly destroyed by ongoing wet season downpours, having a life of 1-3 days.

There are some major difficulties in locating and accurately identifying Typhonium spp..  Flowers are generally required to key to species, however these are rarely encountered.  In addition, most species have leaves that display extreme morphological variations (as can be seen in the accompanying photos), making even tentative ID difficult.


However, Dr Matthew Barrett of the WA Dept. of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has developed a DNA barcoding technique that allows accurate  and unambiguous identification to species of sterile material.  Consequently, representative collections of leaf material were made from within the population of Typhonium individuals observed during our survey at Gunn Point and send to Dr Barrett for analysis and identification.

As a result, the identification of the majority of the population observed to T. praetermissum was possible.  In addition, a small number of T. johnsonianum were also confirmed present.  Interestingly, of the many hundreds of individuals of both species observed during the surveys, only one individual had fruit – all of the remainder were sterile.

The population of T. praetermissum at this Gunn Point site was predominately located on lower run-off slopes in low woodland and woodland with a mixed species dominance, including Corymbia polysciada, Melaleuca viridiflora, Erythrophleum chlorostachys, Xanthostemon paradoxus, Lophostemon lactifluus and Gardenia megasperma.  The ground layer was generally tall (to 2 m) and dense, dominated by perennial grasses and numerous herbs.

An interesting observation was that T. praetermissum was often present on disturbed surfaces, including spoon drains that are graded annually, and an old gravel pit.


In the photo to the left, Bob Harwood is pointing out a population of nearly 100 individuals we observed in a large gravel pit beside the main road.

T. praetermissum leaves are generally less than 5 cm long and those in the photo were almost all about 1-2 cm long, so they can be very difficult to spot among tall grass – but they are down there, believe me!

Typhonium johnsonianum A. Hay & S. Taylor (Araceae)

This species is very similar to T. praetermissum, but is less well known, being listed as data deficient in the NT.  It has been recorded from the Alligator River floodplain, Kakadu National Park, and from the Humpty Doo and Noonamah areas.  This survey represents the first collection from the Gunn Point area – as such, a range extension of approximately 30 km, which is relatively significant for a locally endemic plant with such a small range.

In general, T. johnsonianum displays less leaf-form variation than T. praetermissum – the leaves were invariably narrow triangular with a distinctive sagittate to hastate base, and a relatively short petiole.  Some plants are more lanceolate, being cuneate to rounded at the base and lacking auricles.

A botanist’s tears…

Dr Ludwig Leichhardt was the principal player in what must be one of the greatest scientific adventures in the history of European settlement of Australia.  On 1st October 1844 he departed from Jimbour Station, the most western European station at that time in Queensland (Jimbour is just north of today’s township of Dalby on the Darling Downs in south east Queensland), to travel to Port Essington, approximately 300 km north east of Darwin.  At that time, Pt. Essington was the only European settlement in northern Australia.

He arrived at Pt. Essington just prior to the wet season, on 17th December 1845, after traversing 4800 km.  However, only seven men arrived at Pt. Essington – John Gilbert, an ornithologist and a protege of Gould, was speared and died at a camp near the Nassau River, not far from today’s Kowanyama on Cape York Peninsula.

Leichhardt was a keen naturalist, and his diary is full of observations on plants, animals and geology.  He was not a rich man, and had financed the expedition privately after government funding was withdrawn.  On his return, he planned to sell many of his specimens to collectors in Europe in order to recoup some of his own expenditure on the journey.

However, on the 21st October 1845, just over one year since setting out from Jimbour Station and less than 2 months from their destination, disaster struck – three horses were drowned while crossing a creek beside the Roper River, near the modern township of Ngukurr, about 170 km east of Mataranka in the N.T..  Two days later, another horse drowned in a creek crossing.

The implication of these losses was enormous – Leichhardt was forced to abandon approximately 4000-5000 pressed specimens from the trip, as they did not have enough remaining animals to carry specimens and essential items like food and camping equipment.

Leichhardt wrote…

This disastrous event staggered me…The fruit of many a day’s work was consigned to the fire; and tears were in my eyes when I saw one of the most interesting results of my expedition vanish into smoke.

To William Philips, one of his companions, he estimated their monetary value to be £400-£500 (approx. $100, 000 in 2019).

The remainder of his specimens were consigned to a pack bullock.  Two weeks later, they were approaching the south western tip of Arnhem Land, about 140 km north east of today’s township of Katherine.  After travelling over rough sandstone country that tested their bullocks severely, the party entered a narrow gully with ‘some fine Nymphaea ponds and springs surrounded by ferns‘.

As Leichhardt related it…

Our bullocks had become so foot-sore, and were so oppressed by the excessive heat, that it was the greatest difficulty we could prevent them from rushing into the water with their loads. 

One of them – that which carried the remainder of my botanical collection – watched his opportunity, and plunged into a deep pool, where he was quietly swimming about and enjoying himself, whilst I was almost crying with vexation at seeing all my plants thoroughly soaked.

So Leichhardt was reduced to tears twice in the space of a fortnight on account of his botanical collection!  Indeed, Joseph Decaisne, who received some of these specimens at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, wrote that those he received were too badly damaged for exact study (Fensham et al., 2006), no doubt courtesy of the recalcitrant swimming bullock.  Having spent countless hours myself collecting, pressing, labelling and recording plant specimens, I can still feel Leichhardt’s ‘vexation’ today!

Leichhardt’s legacy

Leichhardt’s expedition was one of the first to systematically sample such a large swathe of inland Australia, and the value of the samples he returned with, in addition to the detailed notes in his journal, were enormous.

Fensham et al. (2006) estimate the lost collection would have included well over 100 species new to science at that time, would have included a number of extensions to currently accepted ranges, and may have established as indigenous some flora species that are today thought to be exotic.  They found…

Leichhardt may not have fulfilled his potential but commentators now regard Leichhardt as an extremely capable botanist who made a substantial and underrated contribution to the development of botanical knowledge in Australia…Leichhardt was a talented botanist and his significant contribution to Australian natural science should be recognised.

Glen McLaren retraced the Leichhardt journey in the early 1990s by horse, motorbike and eventually helicopter, and based a PhD on his findings.  He summarised his findings on Leichhardt’s competency, both as a bushman and scientist, as follows (McLaren, My Greatest Regret, undated):

Firstly, armed with my navigational and cartographic findings I was able to state definitively that, given his paucity of equipment, Leichhardt’s mapping as well as latitudes and longitudes were most acceptable. He did not miss any major features.

Secondly, based on contemporary accounts, his journals and my field observations, Leichhardt’s bushmanship was unquestionably of the highest order, as he led the expedition the entire distance, selecting the route, finding water and securing campsites, often reconnoitering days in advance of the
main party and finding his way back through trackless forest at night.

And finally, time has shown that Leichhardt’s scientific field achievements were of the highest order. He was unquestionably the most broadly educated and complete field scientist in Australian exploration history. Indeed, he was a true polymath and heir to von Humboldt.

Eremophila mitchellii, which Leichhardt mistook for a Vitex sp. (Fensham et al. 2006)

The above extract was taken from:

Some Leichhardt facts

Some interesting facts about Leichhardt’s 1844-45 expedition include:

  • To protect his specimens, he wrapped them with green hide, which when it dried shrunk and bound them tightly, acting to protect them from the damage they would otherwise have endured being tied to the back of a horse or bullock (a transportation technique that had already destroyed the ornithologist’s primary sampling tool, his best gun).
  • Leichhardt commenced his epic journey with 17 horses and 18 pack bullocks – the latter carrying about 70 kg each.  Loading these animals each morning took about 2 hours, and they often found (at least in the early days of the expedition) that the bullocks had strayed back to the campsite of the previous night, requiring someone (usually their native trackers, Charley and Brown) to retrace their steps and fetch them back (which then resulted in delays to departure of many hours).
  • The party departed with 550 kg of flour, 90 kg of sugar, 35 kg of tea, 9 kg of gelatine and 12 kg of gunpowder.  They lost a considerable amount of flour when they tried to cross a large patch of brigalow scrub within a week of departing – the many sharp sticks and shrubs ripped their bags to pieces, as they are still liable to do today!
  • After this they always went around brigalow – however, Leichhardt encountered patches of brigalow and vine thicket that took days to skirt, indicative of the vast areas that once existed across central Queensland (in what is now called ‘the Brigalow Belt’).
  • In addition to plant collecting, Leichhart had to determine the route to be taken through uncharted country (he generally scouted ahead, sometimes spending days away from the main party), drive, load and unload bullocks (sometimes several times a day), determine longitude and latitude (no GPS!), complete his log, account for and apportion dwindling provisions, take part in nightly watches (they were frequently the subject of attention from the indigenous peoples whose territories they were passing through), and provide leadership in relation to the various strains and tensions that inevitably develop in such a party on such a strenuous and lengthy expedition.
  • Leichhardt had very little in the way of Flora’s to assist him in identifying plants (although even today, the only modern Flora to cover this area is the still incomplete Flora of Australia).  His primary reference materials were Robert Brown’s Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae Van-Diemen (1810) and Supplementum Primum Prodromi Florae Novae Hollandiae (1830), and de Candolle and de Candolle’s Prodromus systematis naturalis regni vegetablis.
  • There are believed to be at least 2800 specimens collected by Leichhardt over his career in herbaria around the world, of which 78 have been designated as types.  However, Fensham et al. (2006) located only 36 plant specimens from the 1844-45 expedition in Australian herbaria, and 16 from that expedition that may be held in Australian or European herbaria (although there may be more in the Paris Herbarium, to which he sent most of his specimens after the expedition).
  • Leichhardt’s name has been honoured in at least 49 plant taxa, of which 21 are currently recognised names, including yellowjacket (Corymbia leichhardtii) – see below.
Corymbia leichhardtii buds, Evelyn Tableland
  • Leichhardt’s route took him through or very near the site of a number of modern towns and landmarks, including Warra on the Warrego Highway (beside which he camped), Chinchilla, Barakula State Forest, Taroom, the Arcadia Valley, Rolleston, Comet, the Oaky Creek mine (just to the east of Tieri), the Saraji mine, Moranbah, the Goonyellah Riverside mine, through the gap in the Burton range where the current North Goonyella accomodation village is located (Ellensfield Rd), Glenden (he named the Suttor River), the Suttor mine, Belyando Crossing, Sellheim (just to the east of Charters Towers), Normanton, Boorrooloa, Roper Bar and the Cooinda Lodge at Yellowwater in Kakadu National Park.  They crossed the current location of the Arnhem Highway about 20 km west of Jabiru.
  • Even back then, wild buffalo were prevalent in the northern N.T. – Leichhardt noted numbers of buffalo as they neared Pt. Essington, and indeed their party managed to bring down a few (they were desperately short of food by then).

Leichhardt resources

For those interested in Leichhardt’s route, I recommend the Australian Dictionary of Biography website at

This site has an interactive map of Leichhardt’s route in an embedded Google Earth display, with each campsite location and links to the diary entries of Leichhardt and a number of his companions for that day.  You can follow his route exactly and read his observations and those of his companions as he traversed the country.  In addition, the notes of Glen McLaren are available for each campsite.

I also recommend the following articles, on which I relied for some of the facts related in this blog:

Dowe, J.L., 2005, Ludwig Leichhardt’s Australian plant collections, 1842-1847. Austrobaileya 7(1): 151-163.

Dowe, J.L., 2005, Observations of Palms Made by the Botanist and Explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, During the Australian Overland Expedition of 1844-1845. Palms 49(4): 167-182.

Fensham, R.J., Bean, A.J., Dowe, J.L. and Dunlop, C.R., 2006, This disastrous event staggered me: Reconstructing the botany of Ludwig Leichhardt on the expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, 1844-45. Cunninghamia 9(4): 451-506.

Glen McLaren also wrote a book on his findings in relation to Leichhardt:

McLaren, G., 1996, Beyond Leichhardt: Bushcraft and the Exploration of
Australia. Fremantle Arts Centre Press, South Fremantle.

Probably the definitive book on the disappearance of Leichhardt, and highly recommended, is that of Darrell Lewis:

Lewis, D., 2013, Where is Dr Leichhardt? The greatest mystery in Australian history.  Monash University Publishing, Melbourne.

Tongue ferns – Ophioglossum spp.

The world of plants is truly amazing – I recently became aware for the first time of a genus that has been literally under my feet for years – the tongue ferns or Ophioglossum spp.!

I first became aware of these tiny ferns when they began popping up in my hanging plant pots!  Soon I had a whole colony, and they transplanted well into tiny bonsai pots, although I had no idea what they were – there were only tiny, fairly non-descript leaves with blades about 10-15 mm long.

Finally, fruiting spikes emerged and they revealed their identity as ferns!



Those pictured here are Ophioglossum reticulatum L. (Ophioglossaceae), a tiny fern growing to 20 cm or so tall, and recorded from damp, shady situations among grass or on bare soil, often in eucalypt forest.

This species has been collected from Melbourne to the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula and west to Broome – it also occurs in New Zealand and in tropical and sub-tropical countries throughout the world.

It was first described by the father of taxonomy Carl Linnaeus in 1762 in his Species Plantarum.


The fruiting spikes (actually modified leaves) are shown in this image – they are approximately 5 cm tall, and their presence mark the members of Ophioglossaceae as quite different from other ferns – they are referred to by taxonomists as either fern allies or fern ‘oddities’.

This is because most ferns have the seed-bearing organs, or sporangia, arranged on the underside of the leaves/fronds.  In the Ophioglossaceae, the sporangia are placed at the apex of a specialised leaf or fruiting spike.

Another distinctive feature of ferns not shared by Ophioglossum spp. is that their leaves do not unfurl – they merely lengthen from the rhizome.

I also recorded this species on a survey I conducted in 2018 on the Evelyn Tablelands, growing on basaltic soil in Eucalyptus tereticornis open forest.

Superficially, they looked very similar (but smaller) to the Typhonium praetermissum I had been surveying in the Darwin region a few months earlier.



These tiny leaves were barely noticeable among the leaf litter, but were spotted by my eagle-eyed mate Dave Hunter, whose curiosity and ability to pick out tiny orchids and other cyrptophytes is fast becoming legendary!