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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Stannus

Rocketing up mountains in pursuit of plant treasures

During the whirlwind that was March, one particular plant caught my eye. Which one and why?


Technically, I remember first glancing 'my plant' in February, although I have probably seen it before at the 'wrong' time of year and not given it any notice. Ludovic and I had made our way up onto the Central Plateau for a site visit in Miena where we have been working on a residential building and landscape design. On the drive up the Highland Lakes Rd, we stopped for a genteel stroll around Pine Lake where I observed many members of the Proteaceae (protea family) (Hint: 'My plant' also belongs to this family, and is the only member of its genus).


A woman walking on a boardwalk stops to look at a plant
Me at Pine Lake examining some Golden Orites (Orites acicularis), a close relative of 'my plant'

Feeling a little optimistic (cocky) we decided to make another stop before our site visit, the 'walk' up Projection Bluff. Promoted as a 1.5 to 2 hour walk of medium difficulty, I do believe this should be called a 'scramble', as that is how I felt (i.e. scrambled) after only gaining around 100 metres elevation. I called it quits early, concerned about the ability of my knees to make the distance and to remain intact so that we could proceed with the afore-mentioned site visit. However, I did see 'my plant', although the specimens on show here were a little shabby and past their seasonal peak (Hint: 'My plant' likes heights, unlike me).


A woman walks towards a pond under a mountain
Out and about at (but not up) Projection Bluff.

A man shows a diagram of a passive solar home to a person at an event display
Ludovic talking passive solar homes with a visitor to our display at the Sustainable Living Festival. The bonsai Chinese Elm can be see at the right.

Sustainable Living Festival

Not long after our failed ascent up Projection Bluff, we had our feet firmly planted on solid ground for a week or two. Our energy was diverted into putting together a display to promote Inwardout Studio at Tamar NRM's Sustainable Living Festival in Launceston. Our display featured a scale model passive solar home built by Ludovic and a bonsai Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) loaned to us by the Bonsai and Penjing School of Tasmania. This bonsai elm was rather impressive and attracted a lot of attention, including from me. However, it wasn't long before I returned to the mountains hoping for a glimpse of 'my plant'.


On the weekend following the Sustainable Living Festival, we decided to take a break and made two walks in one weekend.


Ben Lomond

A cloud lifts over dolerite cliffs
The spectacular dolerite cliffs on display at Ben Lomond National Park.

The first of our two walks on the second weekend in March was at Ben Lomond National Park, starting at Carr Villa and making our way up to Legges Tor, which at 1,500 m high Tasmania's Parks and Wildlife Service says is the second highest peak in this state. There was no snow at the time we visited this alpine plateau. As the midday sun gained in strength, the fog dissipated and we had a beautiful view of the spectacular dolerite cliffs and columns in this area. And of 'my plant'!


Given the lovely weather, I urged Ludovic to make the drive up Ben Lomond's infamous Jacob's Ladder, fearing that I would chicken out at any other time of the year. We returned safely to Launceston to rest overnight or I would not be writing this blog! The next day we decided to go coastal and took a short walk in the Narawntapu National Park near Green's Beach on the north coast. However, 'my plant' was not to be seen there! (Hint: Maybe just a tad too salty and dry?).


A coral fern shown in bright daylight
Gleichenia alpina seen here in Wellington Range, Tasmania (Image: Miguel de Salas via iNaturalist, CC BY 4.0 DEED

Sandbank Tier

The week following our trip to Ben Lomond, I had the pleasure of having another walk on the Central Plateau. In my 'side gig' (Associate Lecturer in Geography) at the University of Tasmania, I led a group of second-year students from the Newnham campus to join their Sandy Bay counterparts on an 'Earth, Climate, Life' field trip to explore Sandbank Tier. There were some really 'cool' plants there including Gleichenia alpina (Alpine Coral-fern). According to the University of Tasmania's Key to Tasmanian Vascular Plants, G. alpina is a relatively common native groundfern that grows in boggy alpine and subalpine vegetation. Its dichotomously divided foliage is a hallmark of its genus and a very striking feature. Yet alas, this fern is not the plant I am talking about, although 'my plant' was present at this location (Hint: I do recall a colleague incorrectly referring to 'my plant's' red 'flowers' here, which are not red at all, rather white).


Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show

We then made a trip interstate to the 2024 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Each year, I visit the show to find out what is happening in the world of landscape design and interview designers of the Show Gardens for my monthly Landscape feature in Hort Journal Australia. This year, indigenous and native plants took pride of place in the 'Wurundjeri biik – Indigenous Garden', 'Through the Looking Glass, and 'Saltbush' displays. My eyes though were captured by one Show Garden in particular.


Nadia Cole and her team at Platylobium Landscape Design worked closely with Atlas Concrete and Landscapes to realise 'Australian Idyll'. This garden featured a modern take on a classic bush hut installed by Spaces in Places set lightly in an alpine-like environment through which a boardwalk built by Sanctum Homes meanders. Nadia’s design recreates the experience felt by trekkers on the Overland Track in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. I felt at home looking at the beautiful Mountain Pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata) featured in this garden. Speaking with Nadia whilst she led me on a tour, I cheekily asked her why 'my plant' was not part of her plant palette (Hint: My plant is a feature of Tasmania's High Country).


A temporary Show Garden on display in a public park
Australian Idyll by Platylobium Landscape Design at the 2024 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show [MIFGS] (Image: MIFGS)

Dry's Bluff

Not one for rest this month, the week after we returned from the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, we were out and about on yet another walk much, much closer to home. Actually on the same mountain we live on, Dry's Bluff here in Liffey. Our friends Karen and Stuart were visiting from the mainland and wanted to squeeze in a short walk before completing a multi-day hike at Cradle Mountain. Yes, they are fit! They have even completed the 40-day Australian Alps trek.


Dean's Track up Dry's Bluff is rated as Tasmania's toughest day walk with an ascent of 1000m over 3km. I am not as fit as Karen and Stuart and this walk almost broke me ... twice! However, somehow I pulled the physical and mental strength together and made it to the top. Those inclined to mention 'The Abels' given the topic of this conversation might pedantically point out that I did not reach the real summit of Dry's Bluff. Pooh pooh them. I had to make molehills to get up this mountain, i.e. take one step at a time. I savoured my time on my own personal summit as this walk has been on my bucket list for some time.


A woman sits on a rock on a mountain top whilst a man stares out to the distance
Seen here with my brother JP on top of Dry's Bluff - I made it! We live just below and to the right of where this photo was taken.

I also enjoyed observing the plants along the way, a convenient excuse to pause for a breather some might say. Yes, that too!


A small plant with white flowers and glossy green leaves
This native bittercress was found sheltering under some rocks near the top of Dry's Bluff.

One of my little plant finds near the top of Dry's Bluff was a member of the Brassica family, yes, the same family as broccoli. This native bittercress belongs to the Cardamine genus, I thought perhaps Cardamine franklensis? However, the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) records show C. paucijuga, C. lilacina, C. gunnii and C. tenuifolia have all been observed within 2km radius of Dry's Bluff. So I will just call it a native bittercress for now! And not too far from this location, we found some specimens of 'my plant'. Although let me just say, I won't be walking back up there to view them any time real soon!


If you want to view 'my plant' up close and personal, I recommend visiting Pine Lake instead, the boardwalk around that waterbody makes for a rather sedate stroll although you may need to rug up against the cold.


So which plant is it?

The Plants of Tasmania Nursery calls this endemic plant a Tasmanian alpine gem and says it is rarely available. Sob, sob ...


I have spoken to Herbert Staubmann from Habitat Plants who says he has grown it occasionally. Fingers crossed I can get some!


I would like to include this plant in the residential garden we are designing in Miena, as its white flowers followed by red seed pods are highly ornamental. Imagine the contrast when grown together with the Golden Orites!


"Well, I probably be able to imagine this colourful combination if I only knew which plant you were talking about?", you are probably saying right now.


The wait is finally over ... I introduce you to Bellendena montana (Mountain Rocket).


According to the University of Tasmania's Key to Tasmanian Vascular Plants, Bellendena montana is the only species of this ancient genus. This small erect shrub grows to about 60cm in alpine and subalpine heaths and woodlands. It is best grown in a cool, moist, well composted spot or pot, and requires winter cold in order to obtain a good red on the seed pods.


And now for some images of 'my plant' taken over the last month or so as we traversed the top of Tassie.


A small shrub with red seed pods is surrounded by similar sized shrubs with yellow-ish foliage
Bellendena montana (Mountain Rocket) in the middle with Orites acicularis (Golden Orites) in the foreground (Location = Pine Lake)

Succulent leaves of a plant
The leaves of the Mountain Rocket have a very distinctive shape (Location = Projection Bluff)
Looking down over red flowers on a small shrub.
A slightly different view of the Mountain Rocket's flowers (Location = Dry's Bluff)
A small shrub with red seed pods sits at the base of a mountain
Mountain Rocket set against a stunning backdrop (Location = Ben Lomond)

The observant of you may have noticed the Mountain Rocket visible in the foreground of another shot at Ben Lomond included earlier in this blog.


Well after the effort of this blog, I am almost as beat as I was on my way up Dry's Bluff. That's a wrap for this evening. I hope you enjoyed this trip around northern Tasmania.


A bientôt!



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