Victoria’s western volcanic plains are home to many uncommon or rare plants.
One of these is a small spreading shrub known as the spiny rice flower. It grows up to about 20cm tall, and 30 or 40cm wide.
Surveys over the last two years have revealed more than 1100 of these plants on the edge of Skipton. This is one of Australia’s largest populations of the critically endangered plant.
The endangered category has arisen because most remaining populations are on roadsides and rail reserves, where they are threatened by machinery or herbicides. Many other populations number just 10 or 20. The land at Skipton is being specially managed for them.
Most specimens have soft growth less than 10cm tall, because of the long history of grazing on the site. In other places, where no grazing occurs, they develop fine woody stems and reach up to 20 or 25cm.
Despite its official common name of spiny rice flower, western Victorian specimens have no spines. The less-confusing name of plains rice-flower has been suggested as an alternative.
Some species of plants – such as tree violets – develop spines in an attempt to protect their tender new growth from nibbling. Despite their long history of grazing, the Skipton rice flowers are showing no sign of living up to their “spiny” name.
The flowers are only a couple of millimetres across. Most plants are either male or female, but a few have both male and female flowers. Today’s enlarged photo shows male flowers with their orange anthers.
Their flowering season is now concluding, a month or more before other local rice flower species commence. Pollinators of this endangered winter-flowering plant are small flies and other insects.
Another significant local population of spiny rice-flowers occurs along several kilometres of the Shelford-Mt Mercer Road, where the wide road reserve offers reasonable protection for them. There were some on the plains not far north of Creswick, where hopefully they still survive.
The rare rice-flower at the Skipton Common, and the platypus in the nearby Mt Emu Creek, are two significant natural features at Skipton. While neither is easy to find without assistance or prior knowledge, it is pleasing to know that such special things still exist there.
The season’s first butterflies often appear on milder sunny days in the last week of August.
This year, my first sighting was not until the warm day of September 11. That butterfly was a painted lady, often the season’s first.