Tag Archives: Toowoomba botanic gardens

Unruly scenes in the Botanic Gardens

The Toowoomba Regional Council gardeners took what seemed like a radical step earlier this year when they planted a stack of sunflowers in the city’s Botanic Gardens.

Sunflowers, Queens Park Botanic Gardens 2014.

Being used to seeing neat and ordered rows of flowers, we became entranced by the unruly mob of stunning, large yellow flowers that grew quickly around the central statue. They were a delight to stroll past in all types of weather and fun to photograph.

Sunflowers, Queens Park Botanic Gardens 2014.

Sunflowers, Queens Park Botanic Gardens 2014.

Things became even more fun though when the sunflowers developed full heads of seeds. Native parrots descended in flocks to ravage the nodding flowers, creating even more mess and delightful garden chaos. Tough, boisterous Rainbow Lorikeets and Galahs were joined by quiet and wary King Parrots and the occasional diminutive Scaly-breasted Lorikeet. All were all keen to plunder this unexpected suburban food source.

Rainbow Lorikeets on sunflowers, Toowoomba Botanic Gardens 2014.

Rainbow Lorikeets on sunflowers, Toowoomba Botanic Gardens 2014.

The Rainbow Lorikeets arrive — a gang of noisy, wildly-coloured avian hoodlums. Click on the images below for a closer look.

I only managed a few late afternoon photo sessions, standing quietly against the flowers, before they expired and the birds moved on. Some other walkers would stop to watch the birds, but most were oblivious to the feeding frenzy going on close by. The usually wary King Parrots would freeze when people got close, their green plumage blending into the green of the sunflowers.

King Parrots

Also known as King Lories, Australian King Parrots (Alisterus scapularis) are large and quite wary parrots. They are sometimes seen flying between the town’s Camphor Laurel trees with heavy wingbeats in their laboured style of travel. However, they are swift and dexterous birds, weaving their way through the trees with surprising grace. Click on thumbnails below for closer views.

I sent a few words of encouragement to the radical gardeners, in case they were getting worried by the chaos:

A big thanks to your Botanic Gardens gardeners for brightening the place even further. Just when I think they are a bit too obsessed with neatness they plant sunflowers around the statue in the centre of the Gardens.

Utterly and completely brilliant. First, people marvel over the bright, unruly flowers, then to our astonishment, the seeds of the flowers provide food for at least four species of local native birds— scaly-breasted and rainbow lorikeets, galahs and the beautiful king parrots — for weeks.

Last weekend people from all backgrounds were enjoying the flowers and also watching the birds. To see the huge, magnificently camouflaged (and usually very wary) king parrots quietly sitting on the sunflowers while kids on bikes raced past and walkers strolled within metres of one of our most spectacular species of parrots was most enjoyable.

Bloody marvellous stuff, please pass on my sincerest thanks to the gardeners for providing this epic splash of colour and life for both people and native birds, much appreciated.

King Parrot on sunflower.

Leonie from the Council replied:

Thank you so much for the wonderful photos, we were delighted to receive them and have printed copies to show all the staff.  It is good to see a different theme in an area that is normally very formal and I am sure the gardeners will consider this again as it has proved to be very popular.

King parrot on sunflower, Toowoomba Botanic Gardens.

Juvenile male Australian King Parrot. This image by Harry Ashdown, all others Robert Ashdown.

Giant Spear Lilly

Tucked away in a corner of the Toowoomba Botanic Gardens is a fairly nondescript plant with a rosette of large sword-like fronds. Barely noticed for most of the time, it captures walkers’ attention once a year when it throws up a large spike of bright red flowers. It’s a Giant Spear Lilly (Doryanthes palmeri).

Giant Spear Lilly, Toowoomba Botanic Gardens

Native bee on giant spear lilly flower

Struggling for a foothold — a native bee inside a flower of the Giant Spear Lilly in the Toowoomba Botanic Gardens. The leaves of this native plant can reach up to 3 metres, while their flower stalks (known as scapes) extend even further — up to 5 metres. Photo R. Ashdown.

The flower spike of 2012 was fairly low to the ground, so I had the chance to peer inside the flowers, where native bees could be seen covered in pollen and struggling to escape.

Native bee in Giant Spear Lilly flower, Toowoomba.

Native bee in Giant Spear Lilly flower, Toowoomba Botanic  Gardens. Photo R. Ashdown.

Named after English botanist Edward Palmer (1833-?1899), the Giant Spear Lilly is found in south-eastern Queensland and far north-eastern New South Wales. It lives on exposed rocky outcrops on infertile soils, or on bare rock. In New South Wales it is listed as a ‘Vulnerable’ species, as it is threatened in the wild by weed invasion, frequent fires and illegal seed harvesting.

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range

In their element. Giant Spear Lillies, Main Range. Photo courtesy Karen Smith, NPRSR.

A great place to see these plants in the wild is at Cunningham’s Gap, where the cliff face of Mount Cordeaux is covered in them. Mount Cordeaux (1135 m) is known to Aboriginal people as ‘Niamboyoo’. Part of Main Range National Park, a walking track here leads off  the rainforest circuit and zigzags through rainforest to the exposed upper slopes, ending at a lookout on the southern side (take great care if walking this track).

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range

Giant Spear Lillies cling to the cliff face of Mount Cordeaux. Photo R. Ashdown.

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range

They share their rocky habitat with Grass Trees. Photo R. Ashdown.

Giant Spear Lillies can grow to three metres tall and four metres wide. The leaves are ribbed to provide structural support. Giant Spear Lillies are known as xerophytes, meaning that they have adapted to dry conditions and do not require much water.

Each rosette of the Spear Lilly flowers once in its lifetime, but after flowering, the plant is able to produce more rosettes. Giant Spear Lillies flower in spring but can take over 13 years to flower. Flowering can be brought on by bushfires, which also promotes the sprouting of root bulbs.

Roasted Doryanthes flower spikes were used as a food source for Indigenous Australians and the roots were mashed into a pulp and made into cakes.

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range. Looking  south-east from Mount Cordeaux toward Boonah. The flower spike of this species will droop due to the weight of the flowers. Photo R. Ashdown.

Giant Spear Lilly, Toowoomba Botanic Gardens

A new flower spike begins to grow. 

More information on Giant Spear Lillies: