Go natural: flora and fauna in the suburbs

Each week, environmental photographer and keen bush-walker Lachlan Turner will introduce his readers to plants and animals he’s uncovered in western Sydney's bushland and reserve areas. The Community Environment Centre volunteer this week takes readers into the magical world of children's book author May Gibbs.

This week we take a look at Old Man Banksia (Banksia serrata), which grows throughout open woodland forests in The Hills region.

Old Man Banksia of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame is featured in the May Gibbsʼ children's book.

This Banksia has a long-flowering period of between December and June.

Some of the more spectacular examples of this recognisable native small tree can usually be found along those less used tracks which pass through the more open woodland sections of our local bush land.

They can be easily identified by the characteristic bark which is shown in the image, above.

Some of the trees can live for many decades and often are characterised by their serrated leaves and grotesque-shaped branches, as well as those old brown spent flowers and seed pods reminiscent of the "Big Bad Banksia Man".

What attracts our attention to this plant around this time of the year are the developing flowers.

Not only visible are the spent flowers from last year, or the open seed pods from other previous years, closer observation reveals a diverse range of shapes and colours of the current year's flowers which are in numerous stages of development.

Sometimes it is necessary to look more deeply through the growth along the edges of a track as you walk along in order to be rewarded with the visual beauty of the amazing variety of the flower spikes of this Banksia.

Read Lachlan Turner's first column in this series, about the Forest Grass Tree.

Probably by now the Forest Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea media) is probably at the end of its August to March flowering period.

One day recently whilst walking along part of the Murri-Yanna Track beside Darling Mills Creek, a group of this unusual plant was growing on the nearby steep slope adjacent to the track.

Its typical habitat is exposed sandstone ridges and hillsides. 

Some still had the long stalk protruding from the centre of the plant with many tiny flowers clustered along the uppermost section of this stalk.

We were fortunate enough to see a pair of Silvereyes feeding on the nectar from these flowers.

The Grass Tree can be found in abundance in one of the most accessible bushland areas of The Hills shire, including Bidjigal Reserve.

This reserve and its surrounding bushland has numerous tracks and trails starting at its many entrances in the suburbs of Baulkham Hills, Carlingford, Castle Hill, Northmead, North Rocks and West Pennant Hills.

The Bidjigal Reserve Trust has a website, http://www.bidjigal.org.au, that can provide more details about the reserve, as well as a map showing many of the walking tracks.

One of the tricks that casual bush walkers aren't aware of is to look beyond the track itself, for that is where some of the most interesting features can be found.

Remember to keep your eye out for this column each week for more interesting happenings that are hidden in the hills.

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