Although it looks like a daisy, the wildflower known as prickly starwort is classified in the chickweed family. Unlike daisies, its number of petals is constant, whereas daisy heads frequently have different numbers of petals. Most plants in the chickweed family have five petals.
Botanists tell us that starworts also have five petals - but each petal is divided into two, giving the distinct impression of ten petals. Very close inspection will reveal that each of the apparent 10 petals is indeed attached to another at the base, in a deep V formation. This is difficult to determine from the photo, although five pairs of petals may be apparent in some of the flowers shown.
Prickly starwort has been flowering well through November. It is a tangled, sprawling plant with weakly prickly pointed leaves. For much of the year it is unnoticed - until its numerous and attractive white daisy-like flowers appear in mid-spring. Not only is the prickly starwort in the same family as the introduced weedy chickweeds, it is in the same genus - Stellaria. To botanists it is Stellaria pungens.
It tends to die back and look untidy when the soil dries out in summer, but it regrows in winter and spring. It often grows well after bushfires.
The suffix "wort" in plant names - St John's wort, pennywort, liverwort and so on - comes from an old English word for small plant. Perhaps it has evolved into "weed", although not all such plants are weeds.
Prickly starwort is a well-behaved native, not a nuisance at all. In the accompanying photo it is growing with the blue flowers of slender speedwell. This is in the Creswick Regional Park. Nearby are many other wildflowers such as chocolate lily, trailing goodenia, common rice-flower, common bird-orchids and more. The tiny flowers of the weedy chickweed also have five divided petals that appear to be 10. It and the prickly starwort have a similar sprawling growth habit.
Black Swamp, on the western side of Lake Burrumbeet, has had a visit by a large number of yellow-billed spoonbills. 43 spoonbills were reported a week ago - a very high total for the Ballarat region. Local sightings of spoonbills normally involve just one or a few birds at a time. Aquatic insects such as bugs and beetles are their main food.
Black Swamp is private property actively managed for biodiversity. Lake Learmonth has been hosting small numbers of both yellow-billed and royal spoonbills over the past month. One royal spoonbill and three yellow-billed spoonbills were sighted there a week ago.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
I found a frog that was sort of a pine green colour, about half the size of my hand, with gold lines on its legs and also gold below its eyes. I would like to know what kind of frog it is, or if it is a toad.
Your photo (not used here) shows an eastern banjo frog, or pobblebonk. These frogs are often dug up in gardens. They shelter underground for much of the year, but usually come out at night in spring and summer. At this time of the year the males make a loud resonant repeated "bonk" call from dams and other wetlands.
A banjo frog eats insects, worms and similar small moving creatures.
Being large, plump and warty, it is often mistaken for a toad. Males and females look the same. They often come out at night after rain.
- Questions and photos are welcome. Send to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org