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Nursery Update: Dealing with Rats, Sparrows and Caterpillars

The trials of a nursery manager are not just about how to germinate and grow plants. Last growing season rats began eating seeds, particularly those of acacias and other peas, and plants of many species once the seeds had germinated. This year the flock of sparrows that now live with the chooks in the adjacent yard have started pulling new seedlings out by the roots, as well as feasting on salad greens – the leaves of Berry Saltbush (Atriplex semibaccata).

To address these issues, a wonderful small team of volunteers, John, Will, David and Fi, constructed 29 cages to cover tubestock in the entire nursery (photo shows an early prototype). It does make tending to plants more difficult but at least the plants are still there!

cages Bmont Nursery Oct 22 1 1
Early prototype of cages to protect tubestock from rats and sparrows.

On the whole, plants have germinated well, if slowly due to the cool and wet conditions through most of spring. We now have about 6,000 tubestock of about 50 species, ranging from grasses and understorey plants through to trees such as eucalypts, sheoaks and native pines. And there are more plants still in seed trays ready for pricking out over the coming month.

The highlights the past year have been growing our first Native Lilac (Hardenbergia violacea) from seed from the Frahns Farm property, and collecting seed from the grass-tree or yakka (Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata), collected from plants on a property adjacent to Frahns Farm.

An additional challenge, noticed by the ever-vigilant Barb, was small black caterpillars feasting on the leaves of two species of Senecio (a daisy) under the cages (photo below shows a caterpillar eating leaves of Cotton Fireweed (S. quadridentatus)). These very distinctive hairy caterpillars with orange lines down their backs and two long pencil-like appendages at the head end are those of the Magpie Moth (Nyctemera amicus).

Magpie Moth caterpillar on S quad Beaumont nursery 29 Jan 2023 1
Magpie Moth (Nyctemera amicus) caterpillars eating leaves of Cotton Fireweed (S. quadridentatus)

They are a day and night-flying moth and well-known for laying their eggs on Senecio plants. As the plants in the nursery have been covered with cages since pricking out, it seems that the clever moths got in through the small holes in the wire to lay their eggs. I tried to rescue the caterpillars and sacrifice a few tubestock to keep them alive so they can pupate successfully, but they did not like being moved. Some had already pupated, so we may have helped to boost the Adelaide population anyway.

Penny Paton, Nursery Manager

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