The flowers of native bluebells add their colour to both bushland and grassland when many other wildflowers have finished.
The photo today shows our largest local species, the tall bluebell, at Mount Buninyong a month ago. It is widespread in damper local forests, but it avoids drier parts. As a group, bluebells are not difficult to identify. While the size of their five-petalled blue flowers varies, they are basically similar in colour and shape.
Locally we have several species. The branched bluebell is the most common. We also have the tall bluebell, bronze bluebell, sprawling bluebell, tufted bluebell and annual bluebell. There may be other scarcer species occurring in the Ballarat region.
They all belong to the genus Wahlenbergia - a tongue-twisting name honouring Goran Wahlenberg, a Swiss botanist. There are other species in South Africa and other parts of the world.
Identification is usually difficult, especially as the leaves of most are very similar. Some of the differences involve shape, size and colour of the flowers. Most are bell-shaped, but the flowers of others are flatter and more spreading.
Some bluebells are annual plants, but most are short-lived perennials. Only a few are used as garden plants, and one small-flowered native species is actually a minor garden weed.
As well as the bluebells still flowering, there are native geraniums and early orchids, such as parson's-bands and a few sorts of the small and inconspicuous midge-orchids. Cranberry heath flowers have appeared too. Parson's bands is said to have a perfume.
An unexpected variety of fungi has also appeared, including several that we have rarely seen in February and March.
A small influx of caper white butterflies has recently visited the Ballarat region.
This butterfly is sometimes extremely common in spring, but autumn visits have been unknown until now.
The caper white is slightly larger than the common cabbage white, and it has lacy black edges to its wings. Females are darker below.
In spring, the movement of the butterfly is normally westward. This time some have been going west, but others more south-easterly.
The caper white does not breed here. It comes from inland Australia and it eventually moves back inland if individuals live long enough.
The local butterfly season has generally been a poor one. Only the non-native cabbage white has occurred in its usual numbers. It will remain common for another month. Caper whites have recently been seen at Corindhap as well as in Ballarat.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
This yellow fungus was found at Lal Lal earlier this month. It appears to be the dog's vomit fungus. References say it is non-toxic, but it certainly looks like it should be.
S.M., via email.
Yes, this is the dog's vomit fungus or yellow slime mould. It is fast growing and short lived, and almost always appears in summer after rains.
While your specimen seems to be in a natural forest situation, it sometimes grows on garden mulch.
Its scientific name is Fuligo septica, and it is not a true fungus but a slime mould.
As far as toxicity goes, yes, it is said to be non-toxic. But care is needed when tasting or eating any wild fungus.
There are several that can cause severe gastric upsets, and one (the death cap) can cause an agonising death.
- Questions and photos are welcome. Send to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353, or email to email@example.com