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Into Horticulture

Issue 10   November 2012
Plant & Garden News
New weed mat a model of recycling
Australia's CSIRO has developed a new weed mat from linseed straw. Besides its weed control properties, the mat is said to reduce evaporation from the soil while allowing rainfall penetration. It will eventually biodegrade completely, avoiding environmental pollution problems associated with synthetic weed matting. Developers believe that the process, involving high pressure water to mesh the fibres together, could also be used to manufacture matting from other agricultural by-products such as banana or hemp fibre. The fabrics created could potentially be put to other uses, too, such as shopping bags. Source: CSIRO sticks it to weeds this spring
Time running out for Madagascan palms
An assessment of 192 species of palm unique to Madagascar by the International Union for Conservation of Nature reveals a situation that is "truly terrifying". Agriculture, logging, mining and palm heart harvesting are all threats. Even seed collectors are causing devastation because they cut the trees down in the process. These palms are not only important for biodiversity, but are also important to local people for construction and food. Some conservation projects working with communities are underway, but the situation is critical. Some species are down to 30 or fewer individual plants. More information: Madagascar's palms near extinction
Beetle and bug battle baddie
A new biocontrol agent to fight cat's claw creeper is to be released in Queensland. Larvae of the the leaf-mining jewel beetle (Hylaeogena jureceki) from South America eat the plant's leaves. This species joins the leaf-sucking tingid bug in the fight against this Weed of National Significance. Source: Fighting nature with nature
Record-breaking one ton pumpkin
The world pumpkin record has been broken in the USA with a 2009 pound (945kg) champion grown by Ron Wallace. That's more than a ton in US measurement (or a little under a metric ton). See pictures at 2012 - Ron Wallace and his 2009 pound World Record!
Roots turn the screw
Scientists in the US have gained insight into how plant roots penetrate hard soils, with the help of a transparent gel dual-layer growing medium which allows observation of the roots as they grow. Roots of Medicago truncatula planted into the soft upper layer grew straight down until they encountered a lower layer of stiff gel. Then the roots began to twist and develop a helical form, like a spring, above the interface before penetrating the stiff gel. This appears to provide anchorage for the root and allows it to exert the necessary force at the tip to penetrate the harder layer. Microscopic examination of reveals structural twisting of the root tissues along its axis (like twisted string) in the helical region. Media release with links to time-lapse videos: Video: 3-D time-lapse imaging captures twisted root mechanics for first time. More information and images at the Cornell University website: Helical Buckling of Plant Roots
Toowoomba tree plan takes trophy
The Toowoomba Street Tree Master Plan has won the Sustainable Initiatives Category in the national Parks and Leisure Australia Awards of Excellence A bloomin' great effort bags national awards
Some expansion of garden market in U.S.
National Gardening Association in the USA is encouraged by the results of their 2012 survey of American households. Although average amount spent was flat, more households participated in lawn and garden activities in 2011 compared with the year before. Source: New 2012 National Gardening Survey
Tomato trichome tricks
The trichomes (leaf hairs) of wild tomato plants produce acyl sugars which help protect the plants against pest attack. Unfortunately, the breeding of modern tomatoes has resulted in reduced levels of these compounds. Identification of a gene involved involved in the production of acyl sugars at Michigan State University could be the first step in developing more pest-resistant new varieties of tomato and other crops in the Solanaceae family. Source: New gene could lead to better bug-resistant plants
Natural cleansers inspire lake restoration
Floating islands formed from recycled plastic and planted with papyrus are being deployed to clean the waters of Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Papyrus once grew naturally around the lake, but has been lost to human settlement and the actions of livestock. The artificial islands will be anchored in the Malewa River to catch silt before it enters the lake. The plants should also support a variety of wildlife both above and below the waterline. The region's booming commercial cut flower industry is helping to fund such initiatives. Source: Novel plastic-and-papyrus restoration project
Plants power up
Scientists have combined a photosynthetic protein from spinach with silicon to create biohybrid solar cells much better than others developed so far. While not yet ready for commercialisation, incorporating botanical components could make solar panels cheaper and more widely available by reducing the requirement for rare and expensive elements such as platinum. Source: Spinach power gets a major boost
New weed control developed in Qld
A new biocontrol agent developed by the University of Queensland could mean a simple and safe way to control woody weeds. Developed from fungi which already occur in the Australian environment, the treatment is delivered as a capsule inserted into the trunk of the tree. In addition to killing the inoculated tree, the fungi could persist to kill seedlings that subsequently emerge in the area, or even untreated mature trees nearby. Commercialisation of the "bioherbicide" for control of Parkinsonia is underway, but it has the potential to control many other types of woody weeds. More information at the University of Queensland website: Australia's first bioherbicide approaching release
Australian natives, Japanese style
The new Japanese Tea Garden at Maroochy Bushland Botanic Garden features traditional design elements of a Soto Roji (outer tea garden), but is planted with species native to the Sunshine Coast. The plants were chosen on the basis of similarities to the species that would have been used in Japan. Australian plant themed Japanese style garden unveiled


Welcome to Issue 10

You've probably noticed the explosion in community gardening over the last few years. An Australian version of Landshare ( also launched last year.

While the emphasis in those cases tends to be on food production, there's no reason the spirit of community can't be applied to other aspects of gardening.

This edition of the newsletter features two stories from Queensland illustrating how cooperation plus a little effort can achieve wonderful things for plants AND people.

Meanwhile, the second part of the iron nutrition story (Part One in Issue 9) has been held over for the next issue. Until then, have a happy holiday season!
Christmas is coming...
Here's a challenge - gifts for, or about, gardening for everyone on your list?
The sale of bunches like this one helped build the Toowoomba Mothers' Memorial after WWI

Feature Article

The Toowoomba Violet Rediscovered

In the city of Toowoomba stands the Mothers' Memorial, a tribute the sons who went to the First World War but did not return. To help fund construction of the monument, flowers of a beautiful fragrant violet widely grown in the region were gathered and sold, at threepence per bunch.

In 1932, Toowoomba declared the violet its official floral emblem, and now forms part of the city's coat-of-arms.

Toowoomba is the main service center for the Darling Downs, one of the nation's prime agricultural regions. Also known as "The Garden City", since 1949 it has staged the famous Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.

With such a proud horticultural history, it was sad that the violet which had been such an important part of that history, and which is a symbol of the city to this day, had been apparently lost.

Nobody knew for sure which (if any) of the assorted strains offered for sale as "Toowoomba Violet" over the years were the original variety. If it had survived somewhere, how could it be distinguished from the many other cultivars, not to mention sports and hybrids, now growing in the region?

Where was the true Toowoomba Violet?

In 2009, horticultural teachers at Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE decided to bring back the violet. First, they asked locals to contribute candidate plants from their home gardens, which were then cultivated at the college. At flowering time, prominent Toowoomba gardener and flower arranger Joan Falvey was asked to identify the flower closest to the Toowoomba Violet she once knew.

The Toowoomba Violet

As it turned out, the Toowoomba Violet had been growing in a TAFE teacher's garden for years! Subsequently, the variety has been identified as Viola odorata 'Princess of Wales'.

Plants have been propagated at the college and sold locally through garden shows and campus plant sales, with some of the money benefiting the Toowoomba Hospice. However, numbers are still limited. Options for making the violet more widely available are currently being explored.

Thanks to the efforts of the TAFE teachers and students, Joan and other dedicated gardeners, the coat-of-arms won't be the only place to see Toowoomba Violets. The fragrant flower is certain to be gracing more gardens in Toowoomba and beyond in the years to come.

Acknowledgment: Thank-you to Mike Wells for contributing information and images used in this article. You can learn more about the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers at
Do you have a gardening story?
Whether you're an individual, club, community group or gardening business, if'd like to share your horticultural experiences or achievements in this newsletter, please don't hesitate to get in touch. Contact Details
 Green Nomads Logo

Feature Article

Greening on the move with innovative program

If you're traveling around Australia but haven't left your green thumb at home, or if you're simply looking for more than the standard tourist experience, why not become a Green Nomad?

Queensland's Green Nomad program connects "grey nomads" with natural resource management (NRM) groups seeking volunteer assistance. It operates with support from the Queensland Water and Land Carers (QWaLC), a non profit peak body representing over 300 NRM community groups and their volunteers.

Outdoor activities could include tree planting, weed eradication or pest surveillance, to improve habitat for native flora and fauna. Alternatively, travelers might assist with local community awareness campaigns, or help with construction jobs or administrative tasks, depending on their skills and interests.

Green Nomads can experience Queensland off the tourist trail, while giving something back to the landscapes and communities they visit. The program is a way to share skills and is an opportunity - for both nomads and rural residents - to meet interesting people and make new friends.

Participants can also earn Green Points, which can be used to obtain discounts and benefits from the program's partners and sponsors.

While currently operating in Queensland only, the organisers hope to eventually expand the network across Australia.

To get involved, simply register at the website to browse the range of activities available and be updated on new projects and other Green Nomad news.

Acknowledgment: Thank-you to Green Nomads and QWaLC for contributing information on which this article is based.

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