Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière (1755-1834) was a French botanist, explorer and plant-collector noted for his collection and descriptions of the flora of southern Australia. He came to our shores in 1791-93 as a member of a voyage under the command of Admiral d’Entrecasteaux in search of the lost ships of the La Pérouse expedition. His 1000 specimens collected were captured by the British as spoils of war when the French ships docked in Java, but entreaties to the Admiralty made on his behalf by Sir Joseph Banks had the specimens released in 1796.

He published in 1799 a famous popular account of his oceanic journey and today many Australian plants recognise his botanical discoveries. He is also commemorated in the name of the small marsupial, Tasmanian Pademelon, Thylogale billardierii, of which several specimens were captured by the French on what is now known as the Labillardiere Peninsula on Bruny Island.

Billardiera is a genus of climbing and twining plants named by James Edward Smith in 1798 to recognise de Labillardière. The local species, Common Apple-berry, Billardiera mutabilis, Latin for changeable, referring to the flowers, that range in colour from apple-green to a soft green-purple. (See p.156 of reference below) We have several specimens growing on the fences around the ANGAIR propagation compound and these set large green seed pods that turn brown when ripe.

commonapple berryCommon Apple-berry

Unfortunately, a WA species that has escaped from gardens, the Bluebell creeper, Billardiera heterophylla, has become a widespread ‘pest plant’ in the area and, when located, should be grubbed out while young. It was originally sold commercially in the period 1970-90 as Sollya heterophylla and varies between a thick bushy shrub and a vigorous climber. As its species name indicates (heterophylla) the leaves are extremely varied.

bluebellcreeperBluebell creeper

More recently, a finer-leaved climbing form named Billardiera fusiformis (meaning tapered form) has been identified. I believe we have both forms as weeds in our area that can be identified by the bright bluebell flowers.

Another plant species we propagate at ANGAIR bearing the Labillardière name is the Common Tussock-grass, Poa labillardierei (Poa is a Greek word which means ‘fodder’).

commontussock grassCommon Tussock-grass

Labillardière collected his first specimens on Kangaroo Island. This species is a dense hardy grass that forms a small mound 60 cm high with very fine long leaves that are dull grey-green with slender branches of seed heads up to a metre. It is found inland in woodlands and can survive fire. I prune my plants in autumn and scorch them to concentrate the mound. We also propagate Blue Tussock-grass, Poa poiformis, which forms a smaller mound and grows about 60 cm in total height. It is distinctively bluish-green in colour and is found on the dunes and cliff tops rather than inland.

ANGAIR propagates eight species of grass of different heights and characters that can be used to create swathes, either as a border or as a vertical contrast behind smaller flowering plants. We encourage members to plant some grasses.

Reference: Flowers of Anglesea and Aireys Inlet 2009. Edited by Margaret MacDonald.

Neville Millen

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