Communities of geophytes in Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia, by vegetation type

(writing in progress)

The southwestern region of Western Australia has a mediterranean-type climate, flat topography, generally nutrient-poor soils, and a natural regime of intense wildfires.

Geophytes ( in this region consist mainly of orchids with small root-tubers. However, the incidence of stem-tuberous droseras is significant.

An odd category of geophytes has evolved within the speciose genus Stylidium (

In southwestern Western Australia, the monocotyledonous geophytic flora contributes 7% of the total flora. This is only half the value for the Cape Flora of South Africa, which is environmentally similar ( and

If comparison is made with California, another region of mediterranean-type climate, the main difference is in bulbous plants - which differ greatly in incidence and type in the two regions.

Unlike all other regions of mediterranean-type climate on Earth, Australia lacks any form of fossorial/ subterranean, geophyte-eating rodent (mole-rat or gopher).

In this Post, I summarise the incidence of the various types of geophytes in the main vegetation types in Fitzgerald River National Park (FRNP).

Coastal forest (moort) of EUCALYPTUS PLATYPUS and Melaleuca lanceolata (moonah), on deep calcareous sand

Incidence of geophytes variable (nil in Melaleuca lanceolata over moss-crusted, undisturbed calcareous sand, so perhaps split off Melaleuca lanceolata into another category)
Incidence of geophytes very similar to inland E. platypus, despite the different substrate
Community of geophytes poorer than in woodland of Eucalyptus occidentalis
up to 6 spp. of orchids (only where E. platypus)
Thysanotus patersonii (only where E. platypus)

Low forest (moort/marlock) of EUCALYPTUS conferruminata/lehmannii/macrandra etc. on various substrates
sampled by 11 plots
Clear result, but unknown after wildfire
a few (up to 5) spp. of orchids
Thysanotus patersonii
sometimes no geophytes detected in a given stand, even in spring
no droseras
no geophytic stylidiums
no stem-tubers of any kind

Low forest/woodland (sheoak) of ALLOCASUARINA
Note landform duality, which reflects role of nutrients, P, K
Richest in geophytes where combination of alluvium and fresh weathering?
Similar to the richer communities in woodland of E. occidentalis
Thysanotus patersonii (and T. aff pyg)
Orchids variable, up to 11 spp.
Stylidium crassifolium ( and Stylidium dichotomum (
Drosera spp. (?not as uncommon as in woodland of E. occidentalis)
Chamaescilla corymbosa and Chamaescilla spiralis
Hypoxis lept ( (is this Pauridia glabella?)
Wurmbea tenella (
Glycine clandestina/rubiginosa (geophyte?)( and
Ptilotus spathulatus (
Caesia parviflora uncommon (
Utricularia violacea (geophyte?)(
Craspedia (

Mallee of EUCALYPTUS spp.
Similar to marlock, but additional geophytes present
as in marlock, a few spp. of orchids, and Thysanotus patersonii
In some plots, a stylidium is the only geophyte present
Orchids (0-4 spp. per plot) usually including Pterostylis
Drosera does occur here, including geophyte? (macrophylla,
Stylidium e.g. albomontis ( occurs as geophyte, different from marlock
Ptilotus drummondii ( and Ptilotus holosericeus (, different from marlock
In one plot on well-drained deep soil, Wahlenbergia multicaulis ( other landform was this geophyte found on?)

Mallee-heath of EUCALYPTUS spp. over a diverse lower stratum, in duplex substrates (sand over clay)
most geophytes on well-drained duplex over granite
poor in orchids, as in scrub-heath
in general, as many or more Drosera spp. than orchid spp. per site (true for geophytes?)
more lilies and Haemodorum than in scrub-heath (as statedii by Brown and Hopkins)
never more than 2 spp. of orchids per plot
Stylidium piliferum and Sytilidium schoenoides ( and Stylidium albomontis
Drosera a few spp. including D. menziesii
Anigozanthos humilis (
Haemodorum paniculatum (also in wandoo, but not found in scrub-heath)
Chamaescilla spiralis ( in wandoo, but not found in scrub-heath)
Why no Thysanotus, not even patersonii?
Compared with mallee: shares Stylidium, orchids, and Drosera, but differs in that Thysanotus patersonii of mallee is absent, and the ptilotus (and wahlenbergia) of mallee are replaced in mallee-heath by sparse Chamaescilla and Haemodorum (sand elements)

Woodland (yate) of EUCALYPTUS OCCIDENTALIS on loam
Machaerina occurs where wet in winter
The incidence of geophytes on alluvium under yate is very variable, partly owing to variation in drainage. Geophytes are rare on winter-inundated (which is surprising)(and saline) sites
Overall, richer (in stem tubers?) than mallee, especially in terms of taxonomic diversity (families)
Radical difference according to drainage, but some well-drained plots also poor, for unknown reasons
Stylidium geophytes strangely absent, but other stem-tuberous geophytes present
ANNUALS (cf mallee and moort)
geophytic droseras rare (just D. menziesii in one plot)
Where well-drained, orchids 0-17 (large variation)
Thysanotus patersonii (and T. aff pyramidalis, in one plot)
Wurmbea tenella ( uncommon
Chamaescilla corymbosa ( uncommon
Hyp glabella uncommon
Lagenophora huegelii
Convolvulus erubescens (
Glycine clandestina (geophyte?)(
Ptilotus spathulatus (
Gonocarpus dura
Marsilea drummondii (geophyte?)(

Note: no Wurmbea, Ptilotus spathulatus, Craspedia, or Caesia
Stylidium, Drosera, and orchids are usually present, with similar numbers of spp. per plot
orchids up to 5 spp.
Thysanotus patersonii
Stylidium spin and dichot and piliferum and albomontis and squamellosum
Drosera parvula, stolon, zon, neesii, mac, and menz
Chamaescilla spiralis and Chamaescilla corymbosa
Hypoxis lept
Haemodorum paniculatum (surprise?)
(Poly tenella)
Now cf Cas hueg

Scrub-heath of PROTEACEAE, MYRTACEAE and FABACEAE on deep siliceous sand
Poor in geophytes (0-6 spp. per plot)
All tubers small
Why no Haemodorum?
few orchids (0-4 spp. per plot)
Drosera scorpioides (geophyte?)(
Anigozanthos humilis (not geophyte, but explain)(also found in mallee-heath)(
Thysanotus patersonii
Stylidium piliferum ( and Stylidium albomontis (

Thicket of PROTEACEAE, MYRTACEAE etc. on rocky slopes of quartzite
poor in Drosera
variation in orchids poorly understood, but poverty of drosera noteworthy compared to scrub-heath and mallee-heath
Thysanotus patersonii (rare)
Drosera menziesii
Orchids 0-9 spp.
Stylidium spinulosum ( and schoenoides ( and squamosotuberosum ( and piliferum and albomontis
Poly tenella

Vegetation complex on exposed granite bedrock
Need more plots
Wurmbea tenella
Hypoxis lept
Pauridia glabella ( and and
orchids up to 22 spp.
Stylidium dichotomum (
Thysanotus patersonii
Chamaescilla corymbosa
Drosera mac menz bulbosa
Pol ten
Compared to wodjil: fewer stylidium, no Haemodorum paniculatum, and more orchids in gran exp than in wodjil

Acacia scrub
Inadequate data
(writing in progress)


As in woodland of Eucalyptus occidentalis, the variation in the geophytic community in forest of Eucalyptus platypus is poorly understood. It is not simply a question of salinity.

Now take all moort and marlocks together, and split off all Mel low forest/thickets

Wurmbea (Colchicaceae) is a genus shared between Australia and southern Africa ( It possesses corms (

Caesia (Asphodelaceae) is a genus shared among Australia, Madagascar, and the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa. It is root-tuberous. However, the development of the tubers is minimal in C. parviflora.

Trichocline (Asteraceae) is mainly South American, with one species occurring in Australia ( The tubers are xylopodia (, in at least some spp.

Gardner (1949) states that, in southwestern Australia, Glycine is associated with granite rocks, as are droseras and orchids.

Posted on November 27, 2022 09:14 AM by milewski milewski


Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

Slee (2003) is one of the most detailed studies of geophytes in southwestern Australia:

The following are the geophytes found in the study area, in 'dry sclerophyll forest'.

Caladenia flava (
Caladenia reptans (
Drakaea gracilis (
Eriochilus dilatatus (
Pterostylis nana (
Pyrorchis nigricans (
Thelymitra crinita (

Haemodorum sp. (

Chamaescilla corymbosa ( and

Burchardia umbellata ( and

Patersonia babianoides (

Ptilotus manglesii (

Craspedia variabilis (
Lagenophora huegelii (
Trichocline spathulata (

Drosera erythrorhiza (
Drosera glanduligera treated as geophytic here but this is contradicted by other sources (
Drosera scorpioides (
Drosera stolonifera (

Clematis pubescens (
Ranunculus colonorum (

Stylidium amoenum treated as geophyte but this is contradicted by other sources (
Stylidium brunonianum treated as geophyte but this is contradicted by other sources (
Stylidium bulbiferum (
Stylidium ciliatum (
Stylidium junceum (

Ptilotus manglesii is stimulated by fire.
Clematis pubescens is a liane.
Stylidium amoenum prefers shade and litter.
Haemodorum is the only bulbous species in this flora.
Patersonia babianoides is the only iridaceous geophyte in southwestern Australia.

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

Gardner C A (1949) The vegetation of Western Australia. Presidential Address, 1942. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 28: 11-87:

In winter, "the ground is carpeted with a wealth of bulbous Liliaceae, Orchidaceae, Drosera, Stylidium, and Polypompholyx, together with certain ephemeral Compositae and Centrolepidae."

Swamp formations: "a number of annuals and bulbous or tuberous-rooted plants such as Tribonanthes, certain Orchidaceae...Drosera."

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

Baird (1977)

Geophytes in Kings Park, Perth:

This is a reference to the fact that the local geophytes flower after autumn fires, but are damaged by wildfires in winter and spring. Frequent fires cause stunting in droseras, and stunting and cessation of flowering in the orchid Lyperanthus.

"Herbaceous species with extensive root systems are more or less lacking in the undisturbed bush."

This is a reference to the small size and slow germination and growth of annuals in kwongan.

Burchardia umbellata the most widespread and abundant geophyte here
Sowerbaea laxiflora (
Caesia parviflora (
Arthropodium preissii
Haemodorum spicatum
(Haemodorum paniculatum)
(bulbous, but only just qualify as geophytes, if at all, owing to partial persistence of above-ground parts in dry season) " Both Xanthorrhoea and Haemodorum flower profusely after fire but very rarely in unburnt bush"
Thysanotus sparteus (
Thysanotus patersonii
Thysanotus thyrsioides
Thysanotus triandrus (
Eryngium pinnatifidum
Drosera erythrorhiza (
Drosera menziesii
Drosera stolonifera
Orchidaceae 19 spp.
"the greenhood orchids...Pterostylis...are always at their best in long unburnt areas with deep organic matter"
"Many of the orchids flower better but not exclusively after fires. This is true of the most common species of orchids...and also of Eryngium...The rosette Stylidium brunonianum and S. piliferum deserve a special mention as they...survive both fire and summer drought with the small dry leaves closed over the growing point."
(Note: Pate and Dixon record S. brunonianum as a stilt-plant, not a geophyte.)
Stylidium carnosum
Stylidium schoenoides (geophyte?)
Lagenophora huegelii
Clematis microphylla

Poaceae: "There is only one minor grass, Microlaena stipoides, in the herbaceous rhizome geophyte category,"

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

Wood J G (1937) Handbook of the flora and fauna of South Australia: The vegetation of South Australia. Government Printer, Adelaide.

Calcareous coastal dunes: noteworthy lack of geophytes (1% of flora); only Clematis microphylla present.

However, where the coastal dunes are colonised by savanna woodland of Allocasuarina verticillata (, geophytes constitute 9% of the flora (mainly orchids).

Low sclerophyll forest on poor soils (e.g. Kangaroo Island): geophytes constitute 7-14% of the flora.

The main vegetation type on poor soils on western Kangaroo Island, southern Eyre Peninsula,and southern Yorke Peninsula is of Eucalyptus diversifolia ( Here (as in low forest dominated by Eucalyptus obliqua,, geophytes constitute 13% of the flora.

The geophytes penetrating woodland of E. obliqua are the root-tuberous ones: Caesia, Burchardia, Arthropodium, and orchids.

Woodland of Eucalyptus leucoxylon ( and Acacia pycnantha ( has an understorey of grasses, Asteraceae, and geophytes (23%).

Mallee vegetation: geophytes constitute 6.5% and 2.5% of the flora on Yorke Peninsula and in the Murray Mallee respectively.

In relatively nutrient-rich mallee of Eucalyptus odorata/oleosa ( and, geophytes are Arthropodium strictum (, Wurmbea dioica, Pauridia glabella (, and Pterostylis.


Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

@tonyrebelo @jeremygilmore

Glycine clandestina is indigenous to southern Australia. It may possibly qualify as a geophyte, but seems ambivalent. Firstly, its rootstock is woody. Secondly, I do not know if the above-ground parts necessarily die back each summer. I suspect that its semi-geophytic nature manifests mainly in its regeneration after fire.

My question to the two of you is: do you know of any fabaceous plant, herbaceous above ground, which similarly combines a woody rootstock and a semi-geophytic habit?

I doubt that any such plant would be regarded as a geophyte in South Africa, because the flora is so extremely rich in true geophytes. However, I am curious as to whether there is any analogue in the Cape Flora.

Glycine clandestina has a 'woody rootstock':

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

Harrold A (1979) Heathland regeneration after fire at Noosa. Queensland Naturalist 22: 88-96.

This is a reference to the slightly positive response, but not clear dependence, of the orchids and Sowerbaea to/on fire.

There is rapid post-fire regeneration of Xanthorrhoea and Tricoryne elatior (, as well as Patersonia, Themeda, Pteridium, and Lomandra spp.

Regeneration in Sowerbaea is not particularly rapid (10-14 weeks)(also see Baird 1977).

Prasophyllum sp. (, Diuris sp., and Caladenia sp., as well as Sowerbaea, flowered as usual.

This is a reference to the clear phenological separation among orchid spp. in flowering.

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

Wood (1937) CONTINUED

In savanna woodland of Eucalyptus odorata over Schoenus over annuals, the main geophytes are:
Hypoxis glabella
Burchardia umbellata
Caesia vittata
Bulbine bulbosa
Chamescilla corymbosa
Caladenia spp.
Diuris spp.
Microseris forsteri 'native yam'
Phylloglossum drummondii
Isoetes drummondii
Drosera whittakeri
Drosera peltata

Allocasuarina verticillata/Eucalyptus odorata-Eucalyptus leucoxylon woodland, mainly associated with broken ground (Mt Lofty range)
ground cover herbaceous and graminoid (and deciduous)
Fewer geophytes in the drier type (A. verticillata) than jn the eucalypt type
Shrubs include Acacia armata 'kangaroo thorn'
Geophytes 23% of flora, except where Schoenus common

Description of relevant vegetation types:

Eucalyptus leucoxylon savanna woodland: trees 10-30 m high, with 10-30% cover, over tussock grasses (Poa, Danthonia, Stipa), on red-brown earths.

Eucalyptus odorata low woodland, trees <10 m high, with cover 10-30%, over tussock grasses, on red-brown earths.

Ref.: Carnahan J A (1976) Natural vegetation. Atlas of Australian resources, 2nd series. Geographic section, Division of National Mapping, Dep't of Natural Resources, Canberra.

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

Cribb A B and Cribb J W (1974) Wild food in Australia. Collins, Sydney. 109 pp.

Chapter 5 'Roots, tubers and bulbs'
Glycine tabacina taproot liquorice-flavoured
Marsden app. "native potato'
Wurmbea dioica 'small bulb...reortedly eaten by the aborigines'
Bulbine bulbosa 'slender bulb with a tuft of oniin-like leaves' Aboriginals ate the bulbs.
Burchardia umbellata aboriginals ate the roots
Crinum flaccidum ''large underground bulb' one species eaten
Dichopogon strictus aboriginals ate the roots
Gastrodia sesamoides saprophytic
Geranium some app. develop a tuberous taproot, eaten by aboriginals
Haemodorum slender bulb-like horrible to eat
Hypoxis hygrometrica lcommin in grassland in moist areas' meagre underground storage organ, eaten by aboriginals
Microseris scapigera 'yam daisy, native dandelion' 'fleshy roots' eaten by aboriginals
Murdannja graminea
Orchids tubers pea size eaten by aboriginals

One sp of Podolepis has thickened, edible roots
Portulaca some app. have tuberous roots eaten by aboriginals
Thysanotus tuberous roots eaten by aboriginals
T patersonii tuberous
Platysace incisa = Trachy 'wild parsnip' 'thickened taproots'
Trachymene glaucifolia 'native carrot'
Triglochin lrocera eaten by aboriginals
Cyprus rotundus nutgrass eaten
Eleocharis dulcis eaten, tasty
Scirpus eaten
Underground storage organs eaten: Arthropodium millef, Caesia vittata, Calostem, Erodium, Hardenbergia, Psoralea, Tribulus

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

Chinnock R J (1980) The vegetation and flora of Redcliff Pont and surrounding areas, South Australia. Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Garden 2(4): 329-351.

This is a good reference for the lack of geophytes under a semi-arid climate (mean annual rainfall about 300 mm) adjacent to the mediterranean-type climate, even where relatively nutrient-rich - in association with nitrogen-fixing and halophytic plants.

Pauridia glabella ( is the only real geophyte here, and is restricted to the moistest, nutrient-richest site. The vegetation is Myoporum platycarpum ( Low Open Woodland.

On this same site are the following species:
Microseris scapigera ( few individuals)
Convolvulus erubescens (, which is typical of dry climates and fairly nutrient-rich soils in eastern Australia, and may not be a geophyte although it is tuberous.
Thysanotus baueri (, which I do not know to be geophytic.
Ranunculus pentandrus ( and, which has been described as annual, rather than geophytic.
Casuarina cristata (, a nitrogen-fixing tree.
Also: Zygophyllum, Pimelea, Lycium, Heterodendrum, Santalum, Geijera, Calandrinia, Disphyma, Pittosporum, Alyxia, Tetragonia, Myoporum, Sida, Bulbine, Maireana pyramidata, Maireana sedifolia, Stipa, Atriplex, Enchylaena, Danthonia, Euphorbia, Senecio and four other genera of Asteraceae, Cratystylis, Gnaphalium, Crassula, Chenopodium, and Sclerolaena (Frankenia absent).

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

The genus Wahlenbergia (e.g. is indigenous to Fitzgerald River National Park, and is potentially geophytic. Various spp., at least elsewhere in Australia and southern Africa, possess rhizomes, a thickened taproot, or a tuber.

Posted by milewski over 1 year ago

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