Wildflowers, Photos … and Rattlepods or Crotalaria

Our vehicles aren’t the only things that can develop a rattle out along some desert racks. There are some plants that get a rattle up too. Crotalaria is a genus of herbaceous plants and woody shrubs in the Pea Family (Fabaceae) commonly known as rattlepods. There are about 600 species of Crotalaria worldwide, mostly from the tropics.

The common name rattlepod comes from the seeds that become loose in the pod as they mature, and rattle when the pod is shaken. The name derives from the Greek word for castanet.

There are about 30 species of Crotalaria native to Australia and a number of exotic species have become naturalised. Growing mostly in tropical regions, they are generally small to medium shrubs or herbaceous species. Some species contain toxins that accumulate in the liver and produce long-term damage which is often fatal.

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Desert travellers will be familiar with Crotalaria cunninghamii or birdflower, so-called because its green flowers resemble a bird attached by its beak to the central stalk of the flower head. This is a fairly common shrub that grows on unstable dunes right across central Australia.

It grows to about 3 metres tall and has hairy branches and foliage, giving plants a greyish appearance. The leaves are oval shaped and about 30 mm long. The large, greenish pea flowers occur in winter, spring and sometimes in autumn, forming long spikes at the ends of the branches. The flowers are streaked with fine, black lines. The seed pods are a club-shaped pod, about 4-5cm long, which is swollen, hard and velvety.

The sap from the leaves of this species were used by aborigines to treat eye infections and the sinewy stems were used to make sandals.

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Another widespread desert rattlepod is the Bluebush pea, Crotalaria eremaea that has yellow flowers carried on a woody shrub about a metre high. Its leaves can vary between being densely woolly to hairless.
It is found mostly on sand dunes and sand plains in mulga communities, often on bare or unstable areas. It has a system of underground roots from which it is able to regenerate after soaking rains. This hardy plant flowers in spring, and is often eaten by sheep.

Some Crotalaria species are implicated in livestock poisoning. They contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids which accumulate in the liver and produce long-term damage which is often fatal. Horses and cattle are more susceptible to poisoning than sheep. Poisoned horses develop a condition in which they become unaware of their surroundings and wander blindly. A major cause of this poisoning is Crotalaria crispata, a small plant common in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Other Crotalaria species cause a similar disease in the remainder of tropical Australia.

I have seen the green birdflowers along the Canning and around Coongie Lakes, but I have very few photos. Do others have photos from other locations?

Cheers,

Val.
J and V
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Reply By: Member Boroma 604 - Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 10:05

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 10:05
Gooday,
Thank you for your enduring Botany knowledge and photos you generously share with us all.
Do not have an example of this species to share but wonder if you can identify the fruit and plant in the attached photo I took along the rim of Fortescue Falls Gorge at Karajini last year.
Cheers,
Boroma 604.

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 10:29

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 10:29
Hi Boroma,

Thanks for your kind comments. It has been fun to do and the level of interest has made it worthwhile to continue.

Im not too sure about your plant - great shot by the way - but I think it could be a Hakea or something in that family (Proteacae). Not a Grevillea though, as your pods look like they will go on to be quite woody which is what happens with Hakeas. Its unusual in that there are so many seed pods formed, they look like a little bunch of bananas!

Hope that helps.

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: TTTSA - Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 11:55

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 11:55
Howdy, I entered "hakea seed pods" into Google images, and Hakea Aborea looks very similar. Have a look and see what you think.

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 13:33

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 13:33
Hi TTTSA,

Thanks for googling - you could be on the mark.

If you want to make an identification down to species level (eg Hakea aborea) ideally you need to see buds, flowers, leaves etc as well as seed pods as the differences between species can be quite small and subtle. That can mean seeing a plant at different times of the year to see all the stages of growth and flowering.

I am usually happy enough to identify a plant to Genus level (eg Hakea), and if its something that is unfamiliar to me I'll be content with getting it to the Family level (eg for Hakeas the family is Proteacae).

Same principle applies to animals, birds etc. There are fewer of them but they don't stay still in one place like plants do!

Its all good fun and adds interest and purpose to our travels.

Cheers,

Val.
J and V
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Reply By: Member - Chris & Debbie (QLD) - Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 16:10

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 16:10
Hi Val
Thanks for the information very interesting.

Debbie took these in the Simpson last year and I assume are of the Crotalaria cunninghamii , not that I knew that before. The first two were taken on the Western end of the QAA Line and the third, although not a very good photo, was taken between the Colson Trk and Geosurveys Hill.

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Also thought you may find this heart shaped Poched Egg Daisiy interesting, which stood out from the many around it.

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Chris
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Follow Up By: Member Boroma 604 - Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 18:23

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 18:23
Gooday,
Thank you Val and others, next time I will also take one of the foliage as well to make it easier to identify.
Have a swag of other flowers I took on that WA trek Aug, Sept 2010, was just the most magnificent season for nature.

Just adore your heart shaped Poached Egg Daisy Chris.
Thank you everybody.
Cheers,
Thomas J. ( Boroma604).
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 19:49

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 19:49
Thanks Chris and Debbie for those Simpson Desert photos - they are indeed C. cuninghamii.

Love your heart shaped daisy, very appropriate at the moment.

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 23:23

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011 at 23:23
Hi Val

Thanks again for another interesting story on a plant that we have seen in a few desert location, being the Simpson Desert and north of Roxby Downs.

Here are a few more images of the Green Bird Flower taken in a few locations and at different cycle of its growth.


Cheers

Stephen

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Sunday, May 01, 2011 at 18:34

Sunday, May 01, 2011 at 18:34
Thanks Stephen, yes its a fairly widespread plant, but as it flowers when we are travelling we don't see much of the rattling seed pods. The "birds" show up well in your photos too.

Cheers,

Val.
J and V
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