We are extremely lucky in Australia that there are over two thousand five hundred different species of native flowering plants. Seeing spring has now sprung, I thought it would interesting to look in some detail at three plants that have sprung of their own accord on the Sanctuary Lakes common ground. Two are native and one is a migrant and strangely all were used for Colonialist's and Bush Tucker. Although these plants are relatively ubiquitous around the boulevards, streets and golf course, I will start with an easy location for each one. I always find that once I have spotted a species and recognise its details, others seem quickly to pop up in other parts of the Resort.
Let’s start at Breezewater Reserve with a great bright and breezy native succulent Carpobrotus glaucescens also known as Pig Face or Aussie Rambler, a member of the Aizoaceae family. It is ground-creeping plants with succulent leaves and large bright neon mauve and pale yellow daisy-like flowers. The name refers to the edible stem fruits. It comes from the Ancient Greek karpos "fruit" and brota "edible".
Evidently the succulent stems are very thirst quenching with a slight citrus flavour. This leaf juice can also be used as a mild astringent. Applied to the skin, it is a popular emergency treatment for jellyfish, mosquito, wasp, bee and other similar stings.
Pig Face has creeping succulents that have long trailing stems up to 2 m which root at nodes along the stems. From these nodes the plant produces upright leafy branches. It has thick, fleshy, smooth leaves 3.5-10 cm x 1-1.5 cm, which are triangular in cross section. The plant grows to form a groundcover that can densely spread over a large area. The striking deep pink-purple daisy-like flowers burst through from October and then sporadically throughout the summer. Pig Face is a hardy coastal plant, grows well in sandy rough soil and full sunlight. It propagates via wind dispersal of the seed and through divisions of the stem. Its vivid flowers give a wonderful colour to wherever it bounces up.
If we cross the Northern Boulevard at Breezewater onto the common ground of the Golf Course just past the seventh green, we can see a few examples of our second plant - the Thistle Artichoke, Cynara cardunculus or Cardoon. For some, this thistle-like plant from the sunflower family is an invasive weed. But for others, these are a large fantasy dragon of a plant: what a thistle, mixed with an artichoke, mixed with celery would look like if it went through the Looking Glass and ended up in Game of Thrones. This thistle was not brought here by men in kilts, it is in fact a native to the Mediterranean and North African region, where it has been grown as a food crop since pre-Roman times.
The artichoke thistle is a stout herbaceous perennial plant growing 0.8 to 1.5 m tall, with deeply lobed and heavily spined grey to green hairy or downy leaves up to 50 cm long, with yellow spines up to 3.5 cm in length. The large flowers are a brilliant violet-purple, shooting out of a massively spined capitulum giving them the large classic iconic thistle image. The artichoke thistle has spines and sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling or wear gloves.
The flower buds can be cooked and eaten in much the same way as the global artichoke (Thistle is spinier), but more often it is the stems that are eaten after being braised in butter much like celery. In the Abruzzi region of Italy, celebratory lunches are traditionally started with a soup of Thistle Artichoke stems, cooked in chicken broth with the further addition of an egg scrambled into the soup. The Flowers are enjoyed by bees, flies and small birds, which along with wind help germinate the plant. It grows well in basalt and dry clay soils.
Our next plant grows in profusion further down the Northern Boulevard towards the lake in the common land that lies between the First and Fifth green and the Second and Sixth tee. It is an Australian native Atriplex nummularia or better known by the common name of Old Man Saltbush or Bluegreen Saltbush. The largest of the 61 native species of Atriplex in Australia.
Old Man Saltbush is a light blue to greyish-white shrub growing to heights between 1.5 and 3 meters. The erect to spreading stems and twigs are scaly and striated. The thick leaves are oval to triangular, wavy and sometimes with dull teeth, and up to 6 or 7 cm long. The plant can either be male or female and occasionally both. The male flowers are held in clusters or long spikes up to 20 cm long. The female flowers are held in the leaf axils or sometimes are interspersed among the male clusters.
Old Man Salt Bush grows extremely well in Sanctuary Lakes, it enjoys the dry, salty and alkaline soils and from the earlier photographs it was growing well on the wetland areas of Point Cook prior to the Sanctuary Lakes golf course and housing development. Although Old Man Saltbush has a slightly uncouth and shaggy appearance, it is however, a formidably useful plant. Excellent as a windbreak, fast-growing and long-lived, can form roots from branches touching the ground, increasing plant spread. It can be used for rehabilitating scalded or eroded soils. Also it is a fire retardant when growing near homes and buildings. For the stock farmer it is valuable emergency fodder plant. Its leaves contain a certain amount of salt and in drought conditions is an excellent temporary fodder for sheep and cattle. Plus it recovers well after grazing.
Colonialist and Bushmen used Salt Bush leaves to marinate and tenderise meat and the flower's mature seeds were ground to make a flour for dampers.
And finally in the 21st century Old Man Saltbush belongs to the 1% of the known plant species that uses a process called C4 photosynthesis or C4 carbon fixation. Old Man Saltbush is therefore one of the plants that has been identified by the United Nations Carbon Emission Trading Scheme to assist with the combat against global greenhouse warming and the sequestration of atmospheric carbon back into the soil. It has been estimated that Old Man Saltbush, once it reaches 3 years of age, will convert approximately 15-20 tons of carbon per hectare.
So Golfers, when your power fade swerves into the Salt Bushes and you lose your ball in its tangle of ground roots and branches, don't curse Old Man Saltbush too loudly; he is busy saving our planet!