Better late then never…..

This drawing has been in my mind for many years… a weather-beaten tea-tree (Leptospermum scoparium) with view to South West Cape. I just completed the drawing – ink stippling – and it’s now at the framers in preparation for an exhibition in October.

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My Maatsuyker Island Plant List

This plant list is a record of the plants I observed and studied on Maatsuyker Island during my artist residency. I am not a trained botanist so this list is informed by plant lists built by previous Maat visitors and my own identification skills. Therefore it should not be used as a definitive, accurate reference.

#1  Acaena novae-zelandiae – Buzzy

#4  Banksia marginata – Silver Banksia

#5  Blandfordia punicea – Tasmanian Christmas Bell

#10  Clematis aristata – Old Mans Beard

#16  Coronidium scorpioides – Button Everlasting

#12  Correa backhouseana – Coastal Correa

#14  Drymophila cyanocarpa – Turquoise Berry

#18  Exocarpos strictus – Native Cherry

#11  Eucalyptus nitida – Smithton Peppermint

#13  Leptecophylla juniperina – Common Pinkberry

#8  Leptospermum scoparium – Tea-tree

#7  Olearia persoonioides – Geebung Daisybush

#7  Olearia phlogopappa – Dusty Daisybush

#13  Pelargonium australe – Southern Storksbill

#17  Pimelea drupacea – Cherry Riceflower

#6  Pittosporum bicolor – Cheesewood

#9  Stylidium graminifolium– Triggerplant

#2  Thelymitra nuda – Sun Orchid

#15  Xerochrysum papillosum – Paper Daisy

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#4 Banksia marginata – the lonely Proteaceae

IMG_9732_500gBanksia marginata, common name Honeysuckle referring to the large amounts of bird-attracting nectar produced by the golden flower cones. Also known as Coastal Banksia, and Silver Banksia, in this case referring to the off-white hairy undersurface of the leaves. The Banksia genus was named in honour of Sir Joseph Banks. Species name marginata comes from Latin “marginatus”, meaning “with a border”, referring in botany to a distinct margin. This is one of only two Proteaceae species recorded on Maatsuyker Island,  (the other is Cennarhenes nitida, Native Plum), leading me to ponder why the Proteaceae family is so poorly represented. At home in the Blue Mountains where Proteaceae species are common, the sandstone soil is nutrient-poor. On Maatsuyker Island, large areas of soil cover are affected by the guano of the colonies of seabirds.

“As already noted, the diversity and abundance of Proteaceae increase from fertile to infertile habitats. Indeed it is only in infertile scrubs and heaths in the region that Proteaceae may completely dominate the canopy.”
Ecology of Proteaceae with special reference to the Sydney region
P.J. Myerscough, R.J. Whelan and R.A. Bradstock

Cunninghamia 6(4): 951–1015

This winter (2018), I have been studying the 11 Banksia species – including B. marginata – of the Blue Mountains where I currently live. Many Banksias flower through winter.  Their golden yellow/orange cylindrical spikes light up the bush and their nectar attracts many birds, including honey-eaters, and insects. The floral parts of the members of the Proteaceae family are unique and fascinating, so let’s delve deeper, specifically with respect to the Banksia genus.

The most common arrangement of reproductive parts in the plant world include female parts (aka pistil) – a single stigma, sitting atop a style, which receives pollen, and male parts (aka stamen) – several or many anthers, each sitting atop a filament, which produce pollen. However,  things happen a little differently in the Proteaceae family, including Banksias.

BanksiaSpinulosa_smThe easily recognised Banksia “flower” is a cylindrical cone-shaped “inflorescence”, or cluster of flowers; not just a single flower but hundreds of flowers, uniquely arranged. The photo on the left shows a B. spinulosa growing in my garden.

Careful inspection of the two cones reveals that they are at different stages of development. The foreground cone, shown below on the left, is a cone still in bud, while the background cone, shown below on the right, has more developed flowers. “Anthesis” is the process of the flower developing from bud stage to being fully open and functional, and in Banksias, this is very obvious because the style (female part) can be seen to extend way beyond the rest of the floral parts.

banksiaspinulosa_budcone.jpeg  BanksiaSpinulosa_LateCone

(The styles here are the deep purple “hooks”).

BanksiaMarginataCloseup_sm.jpegIn this close-up photo (left) of a Banksia marginata from my garden, you can see the flowers occur in pairs. And this is a cone still in bud, pre-anthesis, the styles have not yet fully emerged from the “perianth cup”. The perianth cup encloses 4 anthers, the stigma and the “pollen presenter” (more on that later!).

Usually the flowers develop from the bottom of the cone to the top, and if you look closely at the lower flowers, you can see the pale-green emerging styles.

Here are some photos of the emerging (purple) style from the Banksia spinulosa, taken with my USB microscope camera.

(1)BanksiaSpin_EmergingStyle1_sm   (2)BanksiaSpin_EmergingStyle5_sm   (3)banksiaspin_emergingstyle4_sm.jpg

Several families, including Proteaceae, have a highly-specialised floral structure called a pollen presenter, from which pollen is distributed (as opposed to the more common arrangement of pollen being produced and distributed in the anthers).  Pollen is deposited on the pollen presenter, an area at the tip of the style, pre-anthesis, i.e. while it is still enclosed in the perianth cup. Banksias avoid self-fertilisation, by keeping the pollen out of contact with the stigma.


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#15 Xerochrysum – Everlasting, Paper daisy

IMG_1837gNovember, 2017 Update

I have just submitted my drawing of Xerochrysum papillosum for the Botanical Art Society of Australia (BASA) Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition to be held in Canberra in May 2018. This exhibition will feature the native plants of each participating country. Here is an image of my final drawing of this plant.Xerochrysum papillosum

February, 2017 Update…  Some new news: I was recently in discussion with a Tas Native Plant expert who had read this post and told me that this plant is in fact X. papillosum (not X. bicolor as I had concluded, see original post below). There has recently been a review of the Xerochrysum genus (published Jan 2017 in “Nuytsia”)  which can be found here. Many thanks to Mark Wapstra.

The paper states “The colour of the laminae of the involucral bracts remains the most obvious character that distinguishes X. papillosum from X. bicolor.”  You can see in the photo above that the bracts (white pointy petal-like structures) are white, whereas in X. bicolor they are yellow.

From “Tasmanian plant names unravelled” I learnt that the species name “papillosum” comes from the … “Latin papillosus (with papillae, small protuberances) alluding to the soft covering of hair-like papillae on the stems and leaves.”


In the family Asteraceae, the Xerochrysum species have undergone a number of name changes. They were previously known as Bracteantha and/or Helichrysum, and you will still find them listed under these names in older pubs.

On Maatsuyker Island, I had trouble positively ID’ing the species. It was not listed on the plant list I was given before I went to the island.  IMG_8662gThere is not a lot of detailed keying information available and I suspect this is one genus that is not solidly nailed down..? The plants on the island have bright white (-not- pale yellow) phyllaries (the white bracts in the image above) when fully open, but in bud, the undersides are often tinged with pink. The disk flowers are bright yellow. IMG_1662gThe open flower head, or receptacle, measures approximately 4 cm across and 2 cm deep.

The leaves are long and narrow, up to 7 cm long and up to 12mm wide. They are very soft and flexible, and hairy! The underside of the leaf is paler green than the upper surface. The leaves are not as dense as on some common cultivar specimens. I measured one plant at about 38 cm tall. This is a photo of their habit. My conclusion is that the plants on the island are Xerochrysum bicolor but I am not 100% sure. This species is native to Tasmania where it is found in wetter habitats near the coast.

IMG_1827gOne of the identifying features of X. bicolor are fine barbs on the pappus (white furry bit on the end of the black seed pod, or achene). Here you can see the barbs on the pappus when the image is enlarged.

These everlastings were flowering when we arrived on the island in early December, and I was still recording and photographing flowers at the end of January. I only saw them on the track to the Red Shed, south of the “Tardis” (TV Repeater), i.e. west-facing before the track turned to the NE.  Although this part of the island is more exposed, the plants occur in the damper parts of the track.

IMG_0940gTas Government DPIPWE site lists X. bicolor as rare under the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. There is a marker on its distribution map for one of the islands in the vicinity of Maatsuyker Is. with text “>50 years” which I think means recorded over 50 years ago….  interesting.




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#18 Exocarpos strictus – Native Cherry

IMG_9303GWhen I started this blog years ago, one of the main reasons was to construct an online, easily searchable and updatable repository of photos and information I gathered while researching and drawing/painting the plants I observed on Maatsuyker Island.  I usually start out with little knowledge of the subject but reading and questioning often reveal hidden secrets about the magic of our natural world that bring me great joy.  And so these days I approach each new blog post with an eager anticipation for the possible thrills that await.  The seemingly unremarkable Exocarpos strictus did not disappoint ….

Also known as Pale-fruit Ballart or Dwarf Cherry, this plant is the only member of the Santalaceae (Sandalwood) family to have been recorded on Maatsuyker Island.  During their visits in the early 1970s, Moscal and Bratt found it to be “abundant at all levels”.  I saw only a couple of specimens beside the track to the Red Shed, but of course I was limited to exploring the few existing tracks.

IMG_1743GThe genus name Exocarpos comes from Greek “exo” (outside) and “carpos” meaning fruit. The image (right) shows the 2-part conspicuous fruiting pedicel, about 4 mm long. The berry-like drupe (globular, on top) changes from green to yellow to orange to red and even purplish black. The swollen fruit stalk (pedicel),  seen here orange-pink, is edible and the seed (drupe) sits on top of it.

IMG_1749GThe plants on the island stand about 2m tall, with dense foliage which has that characteristic yellow-green colour of semi-parasitic plants. (Semi-parasitic plants obtain some nutrients from a host plant but also from their own photosynthesis.) Exocarpos strictus is a root parasite and host trees include Eucalyptus and, less commonly, some Acacia species. There are no Eucs in the vicinity of the plants I saw.  E. nitida, the single Euc on the island, is found only near the summit.  So perhaps the host tree is the sole Acacia species recorded on the island, Acacia verticillata, Prickly Moses. I  did photograph some specimens close to the Native Cherry, but I don’t know if this is the host.

The leaves of the tree are reduced to scales on the angled branchlets. IMG_9302GThey can be seen in the image on the right – small, pale,  triangular tooth-like structures. The yellow-green flowers are minute! only about 2mm in diameter.  Sadly my only flower image is poor. The plants were already in flower when we arrived on the island in early December, and they were finished within a week. The fruit was starting to form by early January.

A fascinating comment from a Victorian in blog – “Now for the Kicker – I don’t plant these – I only culture them when my co-tennants plant them – As with most Santalums you need the local native furry creatures – in my case Anticinus – Kangaroo Rat – It seems the micro fauna in the saliva of the Anticinus triggers the seed – with santalums its the Dunnarts who plant them – Without this the strike rate is very poor – The creatures also know exactly where the roots for them to parasite to are and always plant them the same way – 4-5 seeds in a row planted in a groove left uncovered by the creature but quickly covered with gum leaves by the wind.”

IMG_1747GMaatsuyker Island is home to a large number of swamp antechinus, the only native mammal to be found there.  I find it intriguing to consider the symbiotic role that might allow the Native Cherry to survive on Maat.

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#17 Pimelea drupacea – Cherry Rice-flower

img_9183gA shrub with very attractive flowers in the Thymelaeaceae (Daphne) family. There are 90 species of the genus Pimelia endemic to Australia, but P. drupacea is found only in Tasmania, where it is common, and Victoria, where its conservation status is endangered. The genus Pimelea was named by Banks and Solander on Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific aboard Endeavour, while the species was named by Labillardiere on the d’Entrecasteaux expedition to Tasmania in 1792-3; “Pimelea” from the Greek pimele, meaning soft, fat, possibly referring to the seeds, “drupacea” meaning drupe-like fruit.  A drupe is a stone fruit (e.g. plum) – a fleshy fruit enclosing a seed.

img_1410gThe flowers are petal-less, with 4 silky-hairy sepals fused into a narrow tube with spreading lobes.  As shown in the photo (right), the flowers are white, sometimes tinged with pink.  They occur in dense clusters in the leaf axils or in terminal heads, surrounded by a group of bracts. (A bract is a modified leaf in the inflorescence, here standing below the flowers.. see the picture on the left.)

The leaves are simple, opposite and arranged in 4 ranks.

As the drupes form, their colour changes from bright green, then dark red, and finally shiny black. I saw many of these shrubs, up to about 2m high, along the track to the Red Shed.

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Lomatia tasmanica – King’s Holly

Photo – Natalie Tapson CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A very special Tasmanian plant… for several reasons –

L. tasmanica is a member of the Proteaceae family. It was named for Deny King who first found the plant in 1934, and collected the type material in 1965. In 1969 eminent Tasmanian botanist Winifred Curtis confirmed it as a new undescribed species. “Holly” because of the shape of the leaves.

Although I searched, I did -not- find this plant on Maatsuyker Island. (I had been hopeful because I was not far from the south western area of Tasmania). I became aware of this amazing species during a visit to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens gift shop quite a few years ago when  I bought a note card with an intriguing photo of a beautiful red-flowered Grevillea-like plant.  I am familiar with several Lomatia species here in the Blue Mountains, but I had never heard of King’s Holly before. “By purchasing these cards you are helping to support the work of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens Rare & Threatened Plant Program”.  More information and lovely photos can be found at their website –

RTBG staff and other scientific organisations have worked hard to propagate the plant in order to maintain a viable ex-situ collection of L. tasmanica, but the task has presented many challenges. Recently there was a report of success in propagating this special treasure – This is very good news, as the single secret colony is threatened by both disease (Phytophthora cinnamomi root rot) and increased incidence of fire.

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#16 Coronidium scorpioides – an everlasting

IMG_2105gCommon name Button Everlasting, this glistening little gold jewel lights up the dense foliage along the track to the Red Shed. This plant belongs to the Asteraceae (daisy) family along with Acaena novae-zelandiae, Common Buzzy, Xerochrysum papillosum, and the Olearia species, as well as a couple of others that I have yet to document.

According to “Tasmanian Plant Names Unravelled” (my new bible) by Mark, Annie and Hans Wapstra, the genus name Coronidium comes from the Greek word for “crown, referring to the short pappus crown persisting on the fruit after the bristles have fallen off.”  A pappus is a “structure made of scales, bristles, or featherlike hairs that is attached to the seeds (called cypselae) of plants of the composite family and that aids in dispersal by the wind” (from You can see a close-up photo of a pappus in my post about the paper daisy.

IMG_2135gThe genus has 17 species endemic to eastern Australia, but only one found in Tasmania. The species name scorpioides “describing the curling outer flower bracts” (scorpion-like?).  This same species is common in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales where I live, and is flowering now (March).

IMG_2105sgAn image of the flower-head, zoomed in.  The involucral bracts (outer, paler structures) are quite pungent (ending in a rigid sharp point – OUCH!)

According to PlantNET, this species has a synonym of Helichrysum scorpioides, originally named by Labillardiere.  In 2008, Coronidium was recognised as a new genus by Paul G. Wilson from the Western Australian Herbarium. See “Coronidium, a new Australian genus in the Gnaphalieae (Asteraceae)“. The author describes the morphological differences that justify some Helichrysum species (including scorpioides) being categorised in the new genus.



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Flora List – a bit of Maatsuyker history

fomibookletBefore I went to the island, I bought the recently-published (2010) Friends of Maatsuyker Island booklet “Maatsuyker Island”, ISBN 978-0-9808564-3-9, which contains a wealth of information including lists of flora and fauna.  Since my project was to draw/paint the flowering native plants, I wanted to study the flora  that I was likely to encounter during my visit.  I needed to gather as much reference information as possible. With severe weight and volume restrictions on what we could take to the island in the helicopter, there was absolutely no way that I would be able to include the many kilograms of my beloved botany books. flora list was invaluable, especially since some of the plants were new to me. Friend Robyn who had previously been caretaker on Maatsuyker Island was kind enough to send me a CD of photos that she had taken of the plants flowering in the months that I would be there – December, January and February. Also, I spoke to other previous caretakers with an interest in botany who sent me lists from their observations. All in all, I was well prepared to know what I could expect to find to paint and draw.

In the lead-up to and during the island visit, there was a sense of urgency about the present – gathering as much information about the native veg as possible, taking photos, finding specimens, tracking their development from bud, through flower, to fruit. Since returning from the island, I have had time to explore the history of the “flora list”. Who were the people that originally developed the lists of plants found on Maatsuyker Island and when? Who were the first people to explore the island and take an interest in its natural history? Keep in mind that with its steep rocky cliffs the island is like an impenetrable fortress.  Passing sailors would have thought twice about going ashore to explore.

mostsoutherlylightWhat did we do before the Internet?!?!  I am slowly finding pieces of the puzzle through wonderful resources such as Trove (the National Library of Australia’s archive of online resources including books, images, historic newspapers, maps, and more), the Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (which lists collectors of specimens from Maat), online archives of the Tasmanian Naturalist (the publication of the Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club), Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania. I hope to build on the time line below as time permits (read, when I manage to stop being distracted by fascinating articles I come across relating to Maatsuyker Island and Tasmanian history).

1642 – Maatsuyker Island named by Abel Tasman  after Joan Maetsuicker, a member of the Council of India. (From a note in Clive Lord’s paper “The South Coast and Port Davey, Tasmania”, 1927 Royal Society of Tasmania.)  Abel Tasman’s voyage was for the purpose of furthering the prosperity of the Dutch East India Company. The inhospitable coastline of this newly “discovered” land, which Tasman named Van Diemen’s Land after the governor of Batavia, offered little.

1773 – Captain Furneaux (part of Captain Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas) named Mewstone (island about 10 km SE of MI). Mewstone was a landmark for early navigators, especially from the west, since Bass Strait was not discovered by Bass and Flinders until 1798-99.

1789 – Cox Bight (on Tas mainland approx 13 km north of MI) named by Captain Cox.

1843 – The Botanical and Horticultural Society of Van Diemen’s Land established.

1888 – After years of ship-wrecks, and protests to the Marine Board from captains who had to delay their voyages when coming upon the south coast at night, Maatsuyker Island was selected as the site for a lighthouse. Maatsuyker is not the southern-most of the treacherous rocky outcrops but other locations, like Mewstone, were unsatisfactory.

1891 – Lighthouse construction was completed.  Some lighthouse keepers would probably have had an interest in the flora of the island, but I haven’t found any records yet.

1937, 1938 – Consett Davis, “Preliminary Survey of the Vegetation near New Harbour, South-West Tasmania”, Papers and Proceedings, Royal Society of Tasmania 1940. It has been noted that the veg of Maatsuyker Island is similar but more diverse that that found in similar habitats on mainland Tasmania. An extract from this paper – “Little has been written about the plant ecology of Tasmania, even from the purely descriptive viewpoint, and the south-west parts of the island, accessible only with difficulty, have been almost entirely neglected in the matter of vegetational studies. The paucity of existing information will, it is hoped, excuse the publication of the present rather meagre details of this interesting region…

1971 – David R. Milledge, from National Parks and Wildlife Service,  wrote journal article for Emu (1972 – P167-170) “Birds of Maatsuyker Island, Tasmania” which includes observations about the vegetation.

1971, 1976  – A. M. Moscal and G.C.Bratt – “Towards a Flora of Maatsuyker Is. – Part 1, Introduction and Vascular Plants” published in Tasmanian Naturalist 1977. The first comprehensive list I have found of the flora after visits to the island by Tony Moscal in 1971 and 1976. With kind permission from the Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club, I am appending screenshots of this scanned document here.

1974, 1976 – R. L. Vanderwal archaelogical investigations of Louisa Bay (about 13km north of MI) and MI.

1978 – “Maatsuyker Island – Most Southerly Light”,  The Tasmanian Conservation Trust. Contains a section describing the flora, listing some species. An interesting note: “… The recent visit of several amateur botanists have led to the discovery of some different varieties of plants which may prove to be new species on further investigation. These discoveries include apparently undescribed varieties of Blandfordia, Westringia, Hydrocotyle and Scirpus.”


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Argonauta nodosa – Paper Nautilus

ArgonautaNodosaNot exactly Maatsuyker Island botany, but … recently I have been studying mathematical patterns in plants  e.g. the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio. The image often used to illustrate this pattern in nature is the Chambered Nautilus shell.  My mind went to some shells that I keep as a souvenir and which I always thought, mistakenly as it turns out, were members of the Nautilus family. This photo is of the largest of my shells, measuring 11 cm wide.

CottageIn June 2008 Marcus and I spent 3 glorious weeks at another lighthouse, on Gabo Island, about 30 kms off the coast of Mallacoota near the NSW and Victorian border. We stayed in the Assistant Lighkeeper’s Residence, a fully-equipped 3 bedroom house, built of the same solid beautiful pink granite as the lighthouse.LightFromAir As with Maatsuyker Island, you need to take all food and supplies for the duration of the stay because access (by air or sea) is weather-dependent. Amongst many natural and man-made destinations accessible by walking tracks, the island has a small, protected beach on the north-western coast. Beach The cold June sea was not often calm enough to entice us to have a dip, but we did spend some very happy hours there watching visiting humpback whales. To this day, I still have a very precious memory of the tranquil bay one sunset with a pair of whales so close we could hear them “exhaling”.

But back to the shells… A regular visitor to the island had witnessed a mass “wash-up” of these shells at the bay and when we were leaving the island, I was given 3 shells as a souvenir of our visit.

Since these shells are the best easy-to-hand example, I have been using them to learn how to accurately draw the logarithmic spiral described by the Golden Ratio, or phi. But during my research, I realised that my shells did not look like the photos of Nautilus. So what exactly are my shells? I used reference books and found that my shells are known by the common name Paper Nautilus but are not Nautilus shells at all. Specifically they belong to the genus Argonauta, a group of pelagic octopuses. This species, A. nodosa, aka Knobby Argonaut, is one of 6 extant species (many other species now extinct). Apparently it is common in Australian waters. The thing I found really fascinating is that unlike the Nautilus which grows within its shell, the female Argonaut builds this calcareous secretion on the end of one of its tentacles as a container for its eggs. Who would have thought?!?!

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