Trying to get back to regular posts

2015 has been one hell of a year, brought about by a proposal for a major motocross facility in our community.  Most of our time this year has gone into working with community members trying to get this proposal squashed.

There were a few posts on the fight earlier in the year, and in reality it took up much of the time of many people from mid-December 2014 when we first found out about it to the end of May, when the proposal was refused in the local Council by a seven/nil vote.

In our more hopeful moments we ventured to think that this would be the end of it: 232 objecting submissions to Council (vs 2 supporting submissions) and a resounding defeat in Council; you would think that the proponent might have realised that he had picked the wrong place and the wrong community.

Unfortunately the proponent appealed in the Planning and Environment Court in July.  Even though the Court rules require that appeals are progressed within six weeks (or three months depending on which document you read – but the six weeks seems to take precedence), there was no movement on the appellant’s part for some four months.  Since then they have undertaken to provide documents to all the other parties, but these have not been received more than one month after their own, self-imposed deadline for providing them.

The delay is very stressful for all concerned, and I cannot help wondering whether this is the intent of the delays.

But we will fight on.  Seven members of the community have elected to become co-respondents to the appeal, as has one non-government organisation – and of course the Council is the main respondent, since it is their decision that is being appealed.

Regardless of the ongoing motocross business, our attempts at living as sustainably as possible go on, and will be the focus of part of the posts on this blog from now on.

If you are still among our patient readers, thank you for your patience.  It is very much appreciated.  And if you are one of our new viewers who joined during 2015, welcome, and we will attempt to give you more of what has attracted you to this site.

Amazing as it seems, despite the fact that I managed only eight postings here since the beginning of the year, the readership continued go grow right through to October when it peaked at 1,665 views by 1,175 visitors for the month.

Since then numbers have slightly declined, with only 811 visitors so far this month (not surprising given the lack of new material) – though that is nearly twice as many as in January.  Year on year, we have had twice as many views and visitors in 2015 as in 2014, and four times as many as in 2013.

 

 

Looking after your security in rural areas

There was an incident in the Lockyer Valley last week when a landowner in a fairly remote area was driving to work and saw what was clearly a pig hunter’s ute parked just outside her boundary, opposite her rainforest gully. She took photos of the ute with her phone. There was no number plate on the front, but she made a note of the rear number plate.

While she was taking the photos, two men, with five pig dogs, emerged from the gully.  One of the men was armed with a knife. One man yelled vicious abuse at her. He did not hesitate in coming towards her and grabbed her, trying to get the phone. She held him off as long as possible, but he did eventually get the phone, tried to stamp on it and then threw it as far as he could down the gully. The men then drove off.

She has reported this incident to the police, on grounds of trespassing and assault.

The following very useful advice has been received by Citizens of the Lockyer Inc. – an active community group here in the Lockyer Valley – from the Stock & Rural Crime Investigation Squad (Forest Hill)
Sir/Madam,
 Recently there was an incident along Sawpit Gully Road, Rockmount during which a resident has been confronted by two males, believed to be pig hunters, exiting her property.  During the confrontation, the resident was assaulted and her mobile phone was stolen.  Fortunately, the resident did not receive any injuries and she was able to recover her phone after the two males left the scene.  This matter is being investigated by Detectives from the Forest Hill Stock and Rural Crime Investigation Squad (SARCIS).
 
This incident is a timely reminder for people who live in rural and remote areas, to be on the lookout for suspicious persons or vehicles, and take precautions to ensure their own personal safety, and the security of their property.  Residents should be aware that people moving through these rural areas may be engaged in unlawful hunting activities and/or associated rural crime.  Such people may be armed with knives and/or firearms, and may be accompanied by hunting dogs.
 
What can you do if you locate an illegal hunter/trespasser on your property?
 
The most important thing is to ensure your own personal safety.  Confronting illegal hunters/trespassers has the very serious potential to result in your personal injury.  We DO NOT recommend that you confront these people.  Consider calling the Police, and if it is an emergency, call “000” immediately.  If it is possible, record details of the time, date, place and description of the people/vehicle/dogs (This information is required for Police to investigate and prosecute offenders).  If you do not want the offenders prosecuted, please still report the incident to Police for their information.  
 
If you choose to take a photograph of the offenders or their vehicles, you should be aware that photographing offenders can quickly escalate into a confrontation.  Photographs of vehicles, registration numbers, and offenders are very good evidence, however ONLY do so, if you consider it to be safe.
 
What is Rural Crime?
 
Rural Crime includes offences such as property theft, fuel theft, stock theft, arson and wilful damage.  Properties in rural and remote areas are often targeted by offenders who consider them to be soft targets.  Please take the time to ensure your property is secured before leaving home.  Ensure you have recorded serial numbers and marked property that is not otherwise identifiable.  Remove and secure keys from vehicles and motorbikes.  Secure firearms in an approved gun safe, and take the keys with you.  Consider other security measures such as security screens, alarms and CCTV cameras.
 
Please do not be alarmed.  These types of crimes do not happen often.  If you find yourself in the very unfortunate situation of locating an illegal hunter/trespasser or you are the victim of Rural Crime, you should contact your local Police.  You can also report these, or any other offences to Police by calling Police Link on 131 444.  Information can be reported to Police anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
 
For further information or advice, please contact your nearest SARCIS office.  SARCIS locations and contact numbers can be found at http://mypolice.qld.gov.au/sarcis
 
Thank-you,
 
Troy WHITTLE
Detective Sergeant 11425
Stock & Rural Crime Investigation Squad (Forest Hill)
State Crime Command
( (07) 5465 4200 | 7 (07) 5465 4580 | È0428 741098
+ PO Box 84 Forest Hill QLD 4342 http://mypolice.qld.gov.au/sarcis

Studies on health and environmental concerns related to hydraulic fracturing

My apologies for the gap in posting.  I’ve been flat out on a number of fronts, from going to Sydney to catch up with two Lao friends who were at the Parks Congress, searching for data to support a friend’s immigration case, getting our place (more) fire-ready in the face of the crazy hot weather over the last weekend (43degC here on Saturday, with very low humidity and high winds), setting up a greywater diversion system, and getting my Dragon Fruit cuttings potted – among other things.

One of the things I’m working on is a post on the Texas town of Denton which voted in a municipal ordinanced banning fracking within the city limits early this month.  Still some work to do on it, but it seems like a nice case study to give people an idea of what could be in store here.

On the Frack Free Denton website I found a small bibliography of studies in health and environmental issues associated with hydraulic fracturing (fracking).  I can’t vouch for its completeness or accuracy, but it is worth a look for anyone wanting to amass material to fight coal seam gas activities in the Lockyer Valley Region.

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A great information resource

In the process of researching for a post I’m planning on companion planting I came across a great information resource at the website of the University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture website.  They aren’t dealing solely with permaculture or organic farming, but much of the material is very relevant to those approaches.

I’ve edited the list of topics that their website links to, to make it a bit more relevant, but when you click on any one of the links below it will put you into their whole list of topics, so you can wander through it as you wish.

Companion Planting Compost Cover Crops
Crop Rotation Disease Management Fruit Production
Grower Resources High Tunnels Native Bees
Food Service Other UT info Pest Management
Seed Saving Soil Management Weed Management

Growing Dragon Fruit from cuttings and looking after your growing plant

This post is a work-in-progress compilation of material on growing this delicious and low maintenance fruit.  I will edit it from time to time as I come across more/better material.

[Sunday night Oct 5: Have just revised the links at the bottom of this page – quite a few useful sites there now]

[October 6: added table of nutritional values of pitaya, added photos and associated text, added new links to source]

Our Dragon Fruit Experience

We started out with some cuttings of red dragon fruit in 2010 or early 2011.  They grew successfully in large pots, but we didn’t have anywhere where we could plant them out, so they stayed in the pots for ages, with some eventually extending roots through the bottoms of the pots and into the ground.  These plants are nothing if not hardy.

Three of them were planted out on a beam trellis in a shade tunnel in mid-2011 (the 30% shade cloth on these tunnels is extended only during the hotter parts of the summer).

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First dragon fruit bud – February 2012 – while the plant was still in the original pot

Two buds were produced in late summer 2012 – probably in late summer because the plants were not sufficiently established to flower earlier that summer.  Neither of these produced fruit.  In the 2012/13 summer we had two flowers and two fruit.

In October 2012 one-third of the floor or the shade tunnel was dug out to a depth of 200-300mm and filled with dead timber, including tree trunks, branches, twigs and leaves, and chip mulch from our annual firebreak clearing, then covered over with the soil taken out of the hole (or rather the two-thirds of the soil that remained after the rocks had been sieved out)  to make a modified heugelkultur/raised garden bed.  That’s the lush area in the background of the photo below, 10 months later.

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One of the dragon fruit on the trellis – late July 2013.  This shot gives you an idea of the post and beam trellis.  It actually recommended for red dragon fruit, but I fail to see why, and I know a commercial grower who has changed over from this to post and frame trellises.

In late July 2013, just before the photo above was taken, the remainder of the floor of the shade tunnel was turned into a modified heugelkultur bed.  The raised bed on top of the timber was a lasagne bed with layers of straw, poultry manure (including quite a few carcases), and compost.

By late December 2013, only five months later, the dragon fruit had responded dramatically.

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The same plant as above, but five months later (there is a second plant growing up the post in the background, but the branches here are from the one in the foreground).

We eventually had seven fruit from nine flowers on four plants from the 2013/2014 summer, harvesting the last of the fruit in May and June.  One fruit didn’t develop, and one was on a new plant growing out in “possum land” beyond the electric fence and was eaten by the possums before it was ripe.

DSCF4472_120414 crop_small

The same plant in mid-2014 prior to pruning

In hindsight it was really dumb to plant dragon fruit above a vegetable bed inside a rather narrow shade tunnel.  These things need to be able to grow as wide as they want, and they need to have a combination of old and new branches hanging down (fruit comes from both).  It just doesn’t work, and forgetting that the vines are there and standing up under one to get one of those small spines in the soft part of the ear is not fun.  As soon as we get an extension to the garden fenced we will be planting lots of dragon fruit there, from cuttings off these plants.

Propagating via Cuttings

While it is possible to propagate dragon fruit from seeds, it is along process and does not result in a vine with the same fruit producing properties as the parent.  With the cuttings you are getting a clone of the parent, and much more quickly.

You can make multiple stem cuttings from the one piece of stem, but focus on the lower and middle portions of the stem (away from the growing tip) to get the most robust material.  If you have an “intermediate” section of stem with narrow stem portions at each end, then it probably doesn’t matter where you take the cutting.

Try to use a stem that is a few inches in diameter (> 2 inches), but smaller stems will work – the danger is that the stem may dry up too much when being “cured” or before it produces roots in the pot. Thicker cuttings suffer less stress.

When you make a fresh cutting, it’s best to place it in a shady location for a week or more to allow the cut end to dry and “heal” to avoid fungal infections, before placing it into soil.  You may see roots starting to develop during this period, but it is not necessary to wait for roots before potting the cured cutting.

Thereafter, a good, well-drained potting mix will serve to encourage roots to grow.

Water once every one to two weeks and let the soil dry up, too wet can cause fungus attack.  Keep mulch away from the base of the plant to avoid introducing fungi and rot.

With filtered sunlight and warm temperature, the vine will grow a root first, then, once the root is established, new branches will sprout from the nodes.

When new growth appears (this may take as long as four months, depending on the weather and season) they are ready to plant in the ground in a sunny location.

 

Growing the Mature Plant

Dragon fruit need to grow up a trellis, but they need to be able to “hang” their side branches out from the main stem (or from a beam or frame on top of the trellis) in an arc.

Remove lateral growth until the stems reach at least a few feet up their support. Then you can prune the tips of the stems to induce multiple branching, and eventually, fruiting.

This cactus develops some pretty thick and heavy stems, so your support will need to ultimately hold quite a bit of weight. Use twine or bands of fabric to help attach it to the support, avoiding wires that can cut into the weighty stems.  Eventually the stems will grow aerial roots to grip onto the support.

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A man inspects dragon fruit trees on a plantation in rural Cambodia. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post: 30/7/12

This plant is very efficient because it can grow roots on any surface. It can also absorb water and nutrient through any surface. It can also utilize low light or partial shade but it grows better in full sun. BUT be careful when the plant is moved from low light to full sun – on very hot days the vine can sunburn easily.  Growth and fruiting are better in full sun (and the plant needs at least half a day of sun), but in the hotter part of summer I use 30% shade cloth.

Flowering, Pollination and Fruit Development

The main flowering is in summer and then fruit develop into autumn and winter, however the time taken to reach maturity depends on the size of the fruit, so from flowering to ripe can be as short as six weeks or, more usual, several months.

[Need to add more information here]

Feeding Your Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit needs low nitrogen and high phosphorus in the soil, particularly as it approaches, and during, the growing and fruiting season.  They “hibernate” in winter in our climate.

Pruning

When your plant is at least one year old, strong and vigorous, and ideally having proven its ability to bloom and fruit abundantly (this may take 18 months to two years in our climate), you can begin to take stem cuttings.  Because the plant needs to be pruned once it is mature and has fruited (in order to produce many new side stems and therefore many fruit) you will have an opportunity every year to make cuttings from the pruned material.

It is on the new branches sprawling over the top of the support structure where most of the new flowers are produced, although flowers can pop-up anywhere on the plant.

The Nutritional Value of Dragon Fruit

Nutritional Value of Pitaya

Click on the table to go to the source at: Dragon Fruit: Nutritional Value, Health Benefits and Calorie Count for more information

 Some useful links

NT Government AgNote D42: The Pitaya or Dragon Fruit A four-page technical note on key aspects of cultivation.

NT Government Growing Note: Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) One-page note with some material not covered in above AgNote

Dragon Fruit Production Guide (Pinoy Bisnes Ideas) A lot of good information, some of it in more detail than the above publications.

Pitaya Growing in the Florida Home Landscape  One of the most complete sources I have found on growing dragon fruit.

Dragon Fruit (Pitaya) – How-to Guide for Growing   Includes a video on hand pollination.  A very good source of information on growing dragon fruit, with some information that I hadn’t seen elsewhere.  This is actually an Australian self-sufficiency website, and the author is based in South East Queensland.

Pruning Pitaya (Dragon Fruit) (Sub-tropical Fruit Club of Queensland Instruction with photos for pruning. Use the search box on this page “pitaya” for a huge amount of useful/interesting information on Dragon Fruit

Dragonfruit Cactus (Botanical Growers Network publication) Some of the information fills gaps in the above sources, or gives a different slant on some topics.

Improved Production Technology for Pitaya (Philippines Bureau of Agricultural Research) Check info on when to prune, time to first production and time from flowering to harvest.

http://dragonfruit.foodlywise.com/ An annoying site because of its strange links but there’s some good information if you can figure out how to follow them.

http://dragonfruit.foodlywise.com/how_to_grow_dragonfruit/growing_dragonfruit_commercially/growing_dragonfruit_from_cuttings/dragonfruit_stem_cuttings/  Covers several aspects of growing dragon fruit from cuttings.

http://www.vivapitaya.com/dragon-2.htm A selection of photos of dragon fruit growing in different circumstances – some ideas for supports, and indications of what healthy plants look like in the tropics.

A refreshingly different approach to food forests

I’ve just been reading a post by Tom at Sustainable Veg with the intriguing title: A Forest Garden Without the Forest.

It first caught my eye because of my scepticism about permaculture “food forests” as an efficient use of land for producing our daily meals.  I’m not talking about the food forests that surround hamlets and households in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.  I’ve had a lot of contact with these, and in general these food forests are fruit, leaf and herb production areas, often with some poultry, and which also provide shade to cool the area around the house.  Their production supplements the range of day-to-day basic foods from more distant wet or dry rice areas or upland gardens.

My scepticism relates to the tendency of many permaculture followers to focus the majority of their production efforts on food forests dominated by fruit trees of one type or another.  And there seems to be a common belief that if it doesn’t have a food forest, then it isn’t permaculture.  Permies coming into a new garden will frequently ask “where’s your food forest?”.  Of course, many people with food forests also have “kitchen gardens”, but even so, there is often a serious over-allocation of area and effort to the food forest, out of all proportion to the negligible volume of “staples” produced there and the generally low productivity per unit area.

As Tom says in another post: “Billions of people need feeding … (w)e can be an alternative, organic movement but we need to produce carbohydrate, protein and vitamin dense food, in large amounts…” (I’m not suggesting here that Tom shares my views on food forests – to be honest, I don’t know).

A view of part of Tom’s garden – click on the image to go to a gallery of photos of the garden

Tom’s describes his back garden (he also has an allotment) as “a productive, organic, kitchen garden with substantial amounts of perennial vegetables, some annual vegetables and five dwarfing fruit trees”.  But he also calls it a forest garden, and refers to his techniques as forest gardening, and for good reason.

His reason for classifying his approach as forest gardening is that he is concerned with the ecology of the garden and of the soil, and therefore uses many of the techniques of forest gardening, while stopping short of trying to create either a closed tree canopy or a climax forest situation – not least because he doesn’t have the space to grow more trees without shading out his vegetables.  Nevertheless he has adopted an impressive array of permaculture / food forest techniques –

I’ll don’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading his post for yourself, but in summary these are the forest gardening techniques he uses:

  • Vertical stacking, with three diverse layers of plants, in association with individual fruit trees.
  • The use of support plants, with half the area of his garden devoted to these, but with the difference that he composts the prunings from the support plants before putting it around the food plants.  In this way he can focus on the needs of the support plants in one area and those of the food plants in another.  I also suspect, from what he writes and from the photos in his gallery (including the one above), that many of the things growing in his food production area are supporting each other.
  • Growing a wide range of perennial vegetables.
  • Adopting a “closed loop fertility” approach whereby he grows all of the ingredients for the compost on his own land.  You can see a separate post on it here.  I find this an admirable but daunting prospect.  I certainly wish I could imagine getting to that stage on our stony dry ridge.  At the moment the bulk of our compost ingredients come from off-site (but within 10km).

Please do yourself a favour and read Tom’s article for yourself.  What Tom has done is to apply the key food forest approaches without having his productive area dominated by forest.  I’m in awe of what he’s doing and the strong ethical approach he takes, and I’ll be adopting some of his approaches as I develop and expand our food production area.

As I finished writing this I noticed that Tom has added a post about compost which gives more insights into his approaches.  Enjoy.

Madeira Vine – a permaculture food plant, or a rampant and destructive invasive?

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you will know that I’m very concerned about the encouragement of the use of invasive or potentially invasive species in permaculture (you can see where I’ve written on the subject here and here).

Now the folks at Milkwood Permaculture have thrown up a curly one – they’ve just posted on how Madeira Vine not only has edible leaves and tubers, but is widely eaten and cultivated in Japan, where it is known as “land seaweed” (okawakame)

Typical effect of unchecked Madeira Vine [from Milkwood Permaculture blog]

As they point out, Madeira Vine is an already “adapted, perennial, zero footprint and highly nutritious food plant” with the following characteristics which are desirable in a food plant:

  • “It grows without much assistance, is hardy and produces prolifically.
  • It requires minimal cultivation.
  • It dominates an area where it is planted (meaning far less weed control is needed)
  • It is spread only* by humans and by water flows distributing the bubils – an easy factor to contain with good design.”

The Milkwood guys are  planning on having it as a food plant in their garden.  They recognise that it is a potential problem, and will manage it by eating it and stopping it from spreading.

So, should we incorporate Madeira Vine into our permaculture food production?

My first question would be: Just how weedy/invasive is it really?

Madeira vine grows prolifically at rates of up to 1 m per week in high-light environments.  It produces large numbers of subterranean and aerial tubers that not only act as reproductive bodies, but also provide the plant with a carbohydrate source that enables it to survive through difficult times. As a consequence, Madeira vine can tolerate a range of adverse conditions including drought, snow and frost, and it has been found growing in areas as diverse as rainforests, riparian fringes, rocky outcrops and frontal dunes (source).  This same ability to tolerate adverse conditions also means that the tubers can survive for very long periods of time in suspended animation, before they experience the right conditions to shoot (source).

The vine reproduces through the proliferation of aerial tubers and also from rhizome (subterranean tuber) fragments that may be broken off (source).  The aerial tubers can persist for two to 15 years and rhizomes for five to 10 years, with tuber germination rates of up to 70 per cent (source).  Although Madeira Vine is widely believed not to set seed in Australia, up to 5% of dried flowers collected from southeast Queensland were found to contain germinable seed (see #Vivian-Smith et al, below).

Dispersal is believed to occur primarily* via human spread (cultivation for ornamental purposes, disposal of vegetative material and tubers, e.g. in green waste (source), or being spread by machinery and/or gravel during road construction).  However it also spreads downslope under the influence of gravity and water movement from ridges and down watershed, and via floods (source).

Saying that it is spread primarily by humans needs to be considered in relation to just how widespread it is, what a significant destroyer of habitats it is once established, and how extremely difficult it is to eradicate once established.  Here is how the Environment Australia weeds database summarises the facts about Madeira Vine:

Madeira Vine is a Weed of National Significance (WONS). It is regarded as one of the worst weeds in Australia because of its invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic and environmental impacts.

Madeira Vine has aggressive vegetative growth which competes with and replaces other vegetation, and is difficult to control once established. Its aggressive nature gives it the potential to smother other desirable plants. Its sheer weight is capable of breaking branches off trees, thereby reducing them to poles, potentially causing collapse of the rainforest canopy (ISSG 2006). It restricts light and thereby prevents germination of desirable native species (Harley undated).

Should we then include Madeira Vine in permaculture food production?  I think there are two things to take into account before making a decision on this.

First, the permaculture ethics of care for the Earth and care for people.  The potential impacts on the Earth from Madeira Vine escapes are obvious (see the sources and photo above) and well documented, as are its impacts on the people whose properties and amenity are impacted.

Second, based on an assessment of invasiveness and impact, Madeira vine was ranked 5th worst of1060 naturalised south-east Queensland plant species (#Batianoff & Butler, below).  How are you going to ensure that:

  • no seed is set, and neither seed nor tuber material is distributed by animals, or other agents of dispersal, including water (i.e. the area where you will grow it will never flood or be exposed to high volumes of water runoff;
  • everyone who works on your garden or caretakes for you while you are away is as careful as you would be not to allow any dispersal of aerial tubers, (fragments of) rhizomes or seeds;
  • before you move on, you will have somehow removed all aerial tubers and every last fragment of rhizome before you leave, or failing this, you have some guarantee that the next landholder is going to take the same careful management approach as you?

– – – – – – – –

*I consider the statement that it is spread “only by humans and by water flows distributing the bubils – an easy factor to contain with good design” to be dangerously simplistic for a number of reasons.  First, once a Madeira Vine has established itself in a vegetated area it does not sit and wait for humans or water flows to come along and move its tubers or rhizomes.  The tubers are spread naturally when they fall from the adult plants where they have climbed up and across the canopy (often a considerable distance) from where they originally grew. Second, anywhere that an established population of Madeira Vine grows over a waterway that even only occasionally flows, this will distribute the plant to any and all areas downstream.  Third, saying that it is spread “by humans” without mentioning the many ways in which human activity can spread the plant, or the very long viability period of the tubers, gives a very misleading impression of the ease with which human activity can (even unwittingly) result in spread.

Here is a rather more informative account of how it is spread:

The most common means of reproduction and spread is via asexual tubers formed on the roots and stems. Prolific numbers of aerial tubers are produced throughout the year, which drop to the ground when mature or in response to stress. Research indicates that aerial tubers can persist for two to 15 years and subterranean tubers for five to 10 years, with tuber germination rates of up to 70 per cent. In areas of heavy infestation, soil tuber densities are up to 1500 per m2. Madeira vine is also capable of shooting from sections of severed vine.

Dispersal occurs primarily via human spread such as cultivation for ornamental purposes, disposal in green waste, or spread by machinery during road construction. It can also spread via gravity and water movement from ridges and watersheds or during floods. Mammals and birds may also play a minor role in localised spread.
While seed production is believed to be rare in Australia, research indicates that up to 5 per cent of dried flowers collected from southeast Queensland contain germinable seed. It is speculated that seed set and germination may only occur under ideal environmental and seasonal conditions.

 Sources which aren’t linked above:

#Vivian-Smith et al, Alan Fletcher Research Station QLD Unpublished data (cited in this source)

#Batianoff, G.N. and Butler, D.W. (2002). Assessment of invasive naturalized plants in south- east Queensland. Plant Protection Quarterly 17: 27–34.