Nature diary: Wonderful diversity of bush-peas in local forests

PEAFECTION: The region has been blessed with a large number of bush-pea varieties, from the very common to the incredibly rare, and many are putting on a show now.
PEAFECTION: The region has been blessed with a large number of bush-pea varieties, from the very common to the incredibly rare, and many are putting on a show now.

This year the various pea species in the region are putting on a wonderful show with the large leaf bush-peas covered in huge, healthy-looking yellow and orange flowers. 

The peas are a very important plant group in our local forest and surpass even the wattles in their variety of form and colour.

There are orange and yellow peas, known colloquially as egg and bacon, and also peas with purple, yellow and red flowers.  They occur as small shrubs, large shrubs, ground covers and as creepers both large and small.

The flowers are pollinated by tiny native bees and flies, which then provide food for insect-eating birds. The seeds are eaten by birds, reptiles and insects, and the leaves are browsed on by black wallabies, hares and deer.

There are bush-peas, bitter-peas, flat-peas, parrot-peas known by their common names, and in some cases the common and Latin names are the same – Bossiaeas, Hoveas and Austral Indigo or Indigofera. 

The bush-peas are Pultenaeas and the large-leaf bush-pea pictured is Pultenaea daphnoides.

Our other local Pultenaea has a very different form; the matted bush-pea (P. pedunculata) has a very tight mat-forming ground cover that can be seen in the drier forests such as those around the Blowhole.  

The wombat bush-pea (P. reflexifolia) is listed as rare as it is only found in the Wombat State Forest region. This small shrub has quite yellow pea flowers and small pointed leaves that point sharply away from the stem, hence the Latin name reflexifolia. Wombat bush-peas are locally common around Trentham.

Bitter-peas are small to medium shrubs, also with the classic egg-and-bacon flower. The narrow-leaf bitter-pea (Daviesia leptophylla) is very common in dry heathy forests such as the slopes above Tipperary Springs.

As you head into wetter forests towards Trentham, the gorse bitter-pea (D. ulicifolia) becomes very common. Gorse bitter-pea is a small shrub with a pointed, dark green leaf.

Around Porcupine Ridge and Glenlyon, we have the hop bitter-pea (D. latifolia) with very large, wide leaves and absolutely magnificent sprays of golden and red flowers.

Our most common ground cover pea around Daylesford and Trentham is Podolobium procumbens. This has a flower with an almost-fluorescent pink tinge. This is called a trailing shaggy-pea – a new common family name for me.

We have two common types of parrot-pea. The grey parrot-pea (Dillwynia cinerascens) is a lovely low-growing shrub also with orange and yellow flowers, while the bushy parrot-pea (D. ramosissima) has tiny leaves and is a sparse, one-metre high shrub and very common throughout drier forest types.

Bossiaea are a very interesting group and in Porcupine Ridge, Glenlyon and the Daylesford area there is a beautiful ground cover known as matted bossiaea (Bossiaea buxifolia).

Matted bossiaea is locally common here, and in most parts of Victoria this plant is actually the very similar creeping bossiaea (B. prostrata) which, just to make things confusing, is also found here albeit much less often. 

In the wet areas such as Trentham and Blackwood, the ground cover Bossiaea actually has a climbing habit – the wiry bossiaea (B. cordigera). This species is listed as rare.

Also rare, are the odd-looking shrubs known as leafless bossiaea. The pea flowers actually grow out of the flattened green stems. There is a beautiful specimen of mountain leafless bossiaea (B. bracteosa) growing at Tipperary Springs.

The rarest pea locally is definitely the wombat leafless bossiaea (B. vombata). This leafless pea shrub was rediscovered in 2010 in the vicinity of Spargo Creek by the rare plants team of Wombat Forestcare.

This plant was known by the Herbarium to be present in only one location, and the rare plants team discovered several more populations and were awarded Certificates of Recognition by the then-Department of Sustainability and Environment. 

Tanya Loos