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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#14 Drymophila cyanocarpa – Turquoise Berry

IMG_9171GNamed by Robert Brown. In the family Luzuriagaceae, formerly Liliaceae. The genus Drymophila is endemic to Australia and has only two species – D. cyanocarpa and D.moorei (which has orange-yellow berries). D. cyanocarpa is the only species of the family found in Tasmania.

From the Greek drymos meaning wood or forest, and philos, loving; refers to the habitat of moist, shady forests. Cyanocarpa meaning blue fruit, common name is Turquoise Berry, or Native Solomon’s Seal.


A recent drawing

A small, perennial herb; leaves observed between 2 – 7 cm long, lanceolate, almost sessile, twisted at the base where they hook onto the stem; flowers about 1 cm diameter, white, borne on pedicels; fruit blue/purple berry globular, about 1cm in diameter. The stems are usually branchless, and arching, with the leaves and flowers forming only on the upper part.


Here is a close-up photo I took on a recent holiday at Cradle Mountain. The image shows the way the leaf base twists where it attaches to the stem. The ridged stem is also interesting in that it zig-zags between leaf nodes.  This delicate plant is often hard to spot. It only grows to about 30 cms high and you need to look carefully amongst ferns and foliage but its characteristic arching shape with suspended leaves and flowers or blue fruit is unmistakable.

IMG_9185gIn December 2011 on Maatsuyker Island, I saw many plants flowering along the track to the Red Shed, the Gulch track and the Summit track. They occur in moist shady areas and nearly always in the company of ferns. The dainty small white flowers are axillary and hang from under the stems and leaves, reminding me of  Japanese lanterns.

IMG_2869GIn January on the island, there were not many flowers to be found, but plenty of pale green fruit forming. During February, most the fruit had developed into purple berries but some had small circular holes and the seed had been eaten. IMG_3236GThe berries can contain between eight and twenty seeds. This photo with the purple berry also clearly shows the parallel venation on the leaves, a characteristic of monocots.NotebookPageG

This is my Maatsuyker Island notebook page with sketches, measurements, pressings and colours. This is not a plant known to me at home in the Blue Mountains of N.S.W., but since discovering it on Maatsuyker Island I have seen it often when walking in Tasmania, both at Cradle Mountain and also in March 2015 at Melaleuca on the south west coast of Tasmania. The “Atlas of Living Australia” records it as growing in Tasmania, Victoria and southern N.S.W.

Drymoph20160514_153153gAnd here is a photo of my WIP “macro” drawing of the Drymophila cyanocarpa flower. The perianth (flower pieces) have six white lanceolate tepals (sometimes referred to as petals), six stamens  with oblong anthers (the male bit) and three slightly flattened, thin, recurved (bending outwards) styles (the female bit).

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#13 Pelargonium australe – Southern Storksbill

IMG_9042gsThis pretty, wild geranium grows over much of southern Australia. It is a low-growing, spreading perrenial herb with a fleshy taproot. According to my “Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants” Vol 7, Aborigines once used the root of this species as a food source.

The genus name Pelargonium comes from the Greek word pelargos meaning “a stork” referring to the fruit which is shaped like a stork (to some eyes anyway).  The species name australe, meaning southern, refers to the distribution.

IMG_1093gcPelargonium australe was named by Carl Ludwig Willdenow (1765 – 1812), an important German botanist.  Carl Linnaeus, the father of the binomial system of nomenclature (i.e. a genus and species name for each different plant) had described the genus Geranium and recognised those with seven, five and 10 fertile stamens, but it was Willdenow in 1801 who transferred this species into the genus that had by then become known as Pelargonium (distinguished by seven fertile stamens).

In this close-up image of the flower you can clearly see the 7 stamens. (Note: a fertile stamen is one whose anther – top bit supported by the filament – produces pollen. You can’t tell if the stamens are fertile  from this pic).

IMG_2597gMost parts of this plant are incredibly hairy, including the leaf, which is often coloured red on the margin. The leaves can vary from 2 to 6 cm wide. In the image on the right, you can see the hairy sepals (purple) and pedicels (flower stalks) which are about 2cm long.  The flowers are only about 1 cm across. The flowers occur in terminal umbels (clusters) of between 4 to 20.IMG_1089g

The plant has a low spreading habit, and for the duration of our stay on the island, its colourful flowers decorated the rock wall marking the entrance track of our home, Q2. I also saw it on all the tracks, including to the summit, the steep path down to the gulch and the very exposed track under the Lighthouse. Very happy to report that a seedling from the “Plants of Tasmania Nursery” in Ridgeway (Hobart) is now growing very happily in my garden here in the Blue Mts. The link to their website is

Here is the page from my Maatsuyker Island workbook for this species. The drawing and painting are still works in progress.


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Paying Homage to the Botanists

DAAs I write about each plant, I love to read as much about it as I can. I have a good library of botanical reference books and then there is the bottomless pit of knowledge known as the internet.

One thing that has piqued my interest is learning more about the botanist(s)  who first named and described the plant.  Usually in reference material the citation looks something like this –

Drymophila cyanocarpa R.Br.

The almost-insignificant notation “R.Br.” (following the plant’s genus and species name) refers to one of the greatest naturalists – Scottish-born Robert Brown – who ended up naming so many of Australia’s plants. He was 29 when he was appointed by Sir Joseph Banks to be the naturalist for Captain Matthew Flinders’ voyage aboard the “Investigator” to Terra Australis, (1801-1805).

So what about Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, author of “Flora Tasmaniae”…? During my research I stumbled across a wonderful book – “Darwin’s Armada” –  written by Iain McCalman, which has a very thoroughly-researched biography of Joseph Hooker. Fortunately our local library had a copy, but I enjoyed it and referenced it so often, I bought my own epub copy.

The book is structured as 4 sections, each describing the southern hemisphere expeditions of naturalists –

  • Charles Darwin, 5 year journey aboard the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836
  • Joseph Hooker, 5 year journey aboard the HMS Erebus with Captain James Clark Ross, polar explorer extraordinaire,from 1839 to 1843. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, Britain’s first icebreakers, voyaged to Antarctica, the main purpose of the expedition to study magnetism and find the south magnetic pole. Hooker collected many plant specimens from stops along the way, including Tasmania.
  • Thomas Huxley, 5 year journey aboard the HMS Rattlesnake from 1846 to 1850
  • Alfred Wallace

These men were all friends, and Hooker, Huxley and Wallace were Darwin’s allies and advocates of the theory of Natural Selection. What inspires me is the hardships these naturalists endured during their long and arduous expeditions. Years away from home and family, living in cramped quarters with poor lighting, often suffering sea-sickness and other illnesses, with poor facilities for storing their hard-won botanical collections some of which were lost during violent storms… And, they were naturalists, not only botanists. So during the brief landfalls of the expedition, they had to study not only plantlife, but animals, geology, indigenous people, etcetc.  Furthermore, they often also had other tasks. Hooker was originally appointed to the expedition as assistant surgeon.

I can highly recommend this un-put-downable book if you are interested in the history of some of Australia’s early botanists.

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A plug for FOMI Exhibition

Maatsuyker Exhibition at the Maritime Museum of Tasmania

The Friends of Maatsuyker Island (FOMI) Wildcare Inc. invites all to visit their temporary exhibition at the Maritime Museum of Tasmania. The exhibition, open until mid-March 2016, showcases urgent works being undertaken by FOMI and the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) to conserve and restore the Maatsuyker Island lighthouse.

Maatsuyker is Australia’s most southerly lightstation and the most intact example of a pre-1900 lighthouse in Australia, essentially unchanged since it opened in 1891. It is the only first order Australian lighthouse that has retained its original roller pedestal, upon which the light mechanism rotates, and includes two fluted rims around the base of the lens. The lighthouse mechanism is also one of the few original mechanisms left in Australia that is still operable.

Maatsuyker was the last lighthouse station to be de-manned in Australia, in 1996. It is not only the intact lens and mechanical apparatus, however, which make the Lighthouse Station significant historically. The beauty of the lighthouse in its remote and spectacular location, off the South West Tasmanian coast, adds immeasurably to its public appeal.

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#12 Correa backhouseana – the Coastal Correa

Correa backhouseana

Correa backhouseana

Two Correa species have been recorded on Maatsuyker Island – C. lawrenceana and C. backhouseana. In family Rutaceae, the genus Correa is named after the Portuguese botanist known as Abbé Correa.  Both species were first described by English botanist Sir William Hooker, father of botanist and naturalist Joseph Hooker.

The Correa is known in Australia as the native fuchsia (as are several other plants!) but C. backhouseana is the Coastal Correa while C. lawrenceana is the Mountain Correa.  James Backhouse was  an English botanist who collected the type specimen at Cape Grim in 1833. Robert Lawrence (1807-1833) was a Tasmanian botanist who, together with Ronald Gunn, collected the plant material sent to Hooker.

IMG_2256gWhen I was on the island, I had noted in my project book that “Students Flora of Tasmania” from 1975 used the spelling “backhousiana” and “lawrenciana”, while the more recent UTAS Key referred to “backhouseana” and “lawrenceana”. I discovered, through Wikepedia, that the spelling of the names was standardised under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature in 1998.

Distinguishing the two species is not easy. From my reference sources, the main difference is in the 8 stamens. In C. lawrenceana, the stamen filaments are of uniform width while in C. backhouseana, the filaments (stalks) of the 4 stamens opposite the petals are expanded and flattened at the base. So which species was I looking at? IMG_1384gOf course I was not going to rip apart lots of flowers to study the stamens, but this photograph of a withering specimen does clearly show stamens that are broader at the base. Also “Students Flora of Tas” indicates that the stamens in C. backhouseana are scarcely exserted (sticking out beyond the corolla tube), as they are in these photos, whereas C. lawrenceana has stamens extending well beyond the fused petals.

One of the characteristics of the Rutaceae family is an abundance of oil glands, often seen as translucent dots on the leaves which produce an aromatic fragrance when crushed.  IMG_2329gThis plant is also interesting for its hairiness! The petals of the flowers are greenish-white with their outer surfaces densely stellate-hairy (hairs like stars). You can see the hairs very clearly on the outer petal surface in this image of a flower bud. But what about the stellate hairs on the new leaves?! The references all indicate that the leaves are glabrous (smooth, without hairs or scales) and shining, and certainly the older leaves are, but the photo shows lots of stellate white hairs on the young leaves.

IMG_0695gFinally, the seed pods are also hairy with the fruit separating into four 2-seeded parts. Flowering in spring and summer, I saw this shrub with buds, flowers and seed pods, sometimes all on the same plant, throughout the period of my residency. It can grow to more than 1m high, but as with many other plants on Maatsuyker Island, in the extreme conditions the plants are quite stunted. On the track under the lighthouse (SW-facing exposed slope), the shrubs were no more than 30 cm high.

20160111_213655gI bought a specimen from a Tasmanian nursery and I am growing it in my garden here in the Blue Mountains so that I will have real specimens to work with for my drawing/painting if I need them. I am working on a graphite drawing showing the stages from bud, to fully-formed flower, through to seed pod. In the meantime, here is the associated page from my island project book.

Crane fly

Crane fly

While reviewing my photos for this post, I came across this image of a bug on the Correa. I borrowed some books on Australian insects from the library but having no entomology knowledge, I didn’t succeed in identifying it.  Fortunately, I came across an excellent website called “Insects of Tasmania”. One of the owners, Tony Daley, was very helpful and promptly put a name to it – a Crane fly, possibly Ischnotoma skuseana,  although the patterning does not match exactly. Check out the website at URL –

Looking carefully at the image, I was impressed with the mouthparts and the beautiful frilled antennae. I also saw 6 distinct legs, but what are the knobbly bits towards the back near the start of the wings? Well…. when I started to read up on Crane flies, I was confronted with a whole new world of terminology.  A Field Guide to Insects in Australia” by Paul Zborowski and Ross Storey tells me … “Possible confusion may arise between flies and the few other insects which have one pair of wings… However, flies are the only insects that have hindwing halteres.” Apparently halteres are minute dumbbell shaped organs that have been modified from hindwings and stabilise the insect during flight. Who would have thought!?!

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Other birds

Green Rosella

Green Rosella

Native birds have been very much on my mind over summer here in the Blue Mountains.  For several weeks, a pair of lyre birds drove me crazy digging up my precious dendrobiums, scattering mulch the length of the driveway, exposing roots on scaevolas and croweas. On the upside, we have been entertained by wattle birds, spinebills, silver eyes, magpies, black cockatoos, butcher birds, parrots, … around the garden and at the water bowls.

My mind has drifted often to the birds (other than muttonbirds) we saw on Maatsuyker Island. I have always appreciated native birds and enjoyed their song, but I find them very hard to spot and even harder to photograph. As a result, I was not able to tick off many of the 54 species that have been recorded on Maatsuyker Island or the Needles.

Pink Robin

Pink Robin

The Green Rosella, Platycercus caledonicus, shown in the image above, is common on the island and we often saw them near our quarters. One day Marsha was watching them flitting about the gutters and concluded (correctly, as it turns out) that they were trying to nest in the roof. Towards the end of our stay, we often heard scratching above our ceiling. Our trusty caretaker, Roger, climbed up the ladder into the cavity and found two very cute newly hatched chicks.


IMG_3067gSeveral times, on our walks to the Red Shed, we were lucky enough to spot Pink Robins (Petroica rodinogaster) near the track to the pool, aka Olympic Dam.  IMG_3164gWe were not able to get very close to them, but although they are small, they were easy to spot with their beautiful lolly-pink coloured chests. One of the Christmas traditions on the island is for residents to stitch their mark onto the caretaker’s tablecloth. Here is Marsha stitching a Pink Robin to mark our visit. The thread is from some of the balls of  wool I had taken to the island for my knitting project.

Also common are the Black Currawong,  Strepera fuliginosa, and the Forest Raven, Corvus tasmanicus, that frequents the E. nitida forest on the summit. On our walks we also saw honey-eaters and many unidentified LBJs.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos

Often while quietly working away in Q2, we were serenaded by the repetitive “oom-oom” of the Brush Bronzewing, Phaps elegans. Its low, slow resonating call reminded me of a shortened version of our yoga “OMs”.  And occasionally out the back porch window we would catch sight of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, feasting on the fruits of the thick shrubs.

White-bellied Sea Eagle

White-bellied Sea Eagle

Then there were the many captivating seabirds: the majestic White-bellied Sea Eagles, the effortlessly gliding Albatrosses, Petrels and the noisy Gulls. Many of the Albatrosses breed on nearby islands. The Shy Albatross breeds on Mewstone, approximately 6km from Maatsuyker. The Australasian Gannet breeds on Pedra Branca, about 50km to the SE.



Mystery bird

Mystery bird

A bird that had us scratching our heads for weeks was one we often saw on the rocks near the Gulch or on the track under the Lighthouse. It was a black bird with a bright red beak and pink/red legs. I think we decided it is a Sooty Oystercatcher…?

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