Sunday, 14 February 2016

A fruity meal

Common Eggfly

After 30 years of developing our local native plant garden at Coutts Crossing, north coast New South Wales, the ecological benefits are very obvious.  Planting and regenerating local native plants means that the local fauna is pre-adapted to these plants and many species, in particular the insects, rely on a narrow range of native species for their life cycle to play out.  Common Grass Yellow (Butterflies) lay their eggs on the leaves of the Coffee Bush or Dwarf's Apple Breynia oblongifolia and other butterfly and moth species use other local plants species.

Caterpillar of moth Psilogramma menephron in backyard, Coutts Crossing

Adult male Eastern Koel perched on fruits of a Bangalow Palm with a Native Grape in front

In recent weeks a number of these local plants have been fruiting and this has attracted the frugivorous (fruit-eating) birds to the garden.  These include the Eastern Koel, Australasian Figbird, Olive-backed Oriole, Lewin's Honeyeater, Satin Bowerbird, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Mistletoebird and White-headed Pigeon.  The main fruiting plants have been the Bangalow Palm Archontophoenix cunninghamiana,  Cockspur Thorn Maclura cochinchinensis, Red-fruited Rice-flower Wikstroemia indica, Cheese Tree Glochidion ferdinandi and Native Grape Caryratia clematidea.

Adult male Eastern Koel eating a Bangalow Palm fruit

 The red fruits of the Rice-flower are toxic to humans but have no detrimental effect on birds.  There are a few old-wives tales (or maybe old-husbands tales to be politically correct) concerning the toxicity of wild fruit.  One states that if a bird eats a fruit it is not poisonous to humans - this is certainly incorrect with the Rice-flower being a good example.  Another states that all red fruits are toxic but the fruits of the Walking Stick Palm are red and are very sweet and tasty to humans and are not toxic.  In determining the potential toxicity of wild fruits there is no easy rule to follow.  You have to rely on a knowledge of other people's experience such as whether the fruit was consumed by aboriginal people or what has been written in the various books on wild fruits.

Immature Australasian Fig perched in bottlebrush searching for fruit on nearby vines

The stage of ripeness can also be a factor in the toxicity of fruits and closely related species may also vary in their effects.  Most Lilly Pillys are edible but I know of a group of people who became ill after eating the fruit of a particular species in northern New South Wales.

Immature Australasian Figbird eating the fruit of the Cockspur Thorn

Adult male Mistletoebird