Stop the presses right. Hah, well I still think this is pretty cool. The last time the cycad sprouted new leaves was almost 4 years ago.
Cycads are ancient plants that in some ways resemble palms or tree ferns. They have tough evergreen leaves that grow in a fan like arrangement from a single central trunk. Cycads are slow growing and can live for a long time, up to 1000 years. They are thought to have been much more widespread in the ancient past 100’s of millions of years ago, today they are still found around the world in tropical and subtropical climates.
The new shoots emerge at the top of the plant like a ring of spears from the central ball of coralloid roots. They grow very rapidly, up to 20cm per day for the first week after they emerge. As the spears emerge the leaves are each individually coiled up tight in intricate spirals. At first the leaves are very soft and flexible, and the undersides are covered with a film of fine hair/fur. Once they unroll the hair is lost and the leaves become stiff and hard.
I’m not sure what is behind the strategy of waiting years then growing all the leaves at once. Not long after the last time the leaves grew there was a scorcher of a day that burnt some of the new leaves leaving them dead and brown. That cant be good when new leaf growth is years away.
[Update] I originally posted this as Malurus elegans – The Red-winged fairywren. It still looks very much to me like the Red-winged fairywren but due to it’s location it’s almost certainly a Variegated fairywren.
In an effort to get some new material to post I camped myself out the back of the house with a camera for a while. I had a first try with Tom but sitting silently in the bush with a 3 year old was never going work! It turned out to be a productive trip in the end, if this bird is what I think it is I cant find any reference of it being present in the Sydney area.
After 15 minutes or so if sitting a pair of these tiny grey birds came into view, playing and chasing each other through the scrubby undergrowth. They really are small, not including the tail I would say less that 10cm from beak to bottom. Their call was a soft shrill, almost like the cross between a buzzing insect and a cherp.
After a bit more waiting a similar sized but much more brilliantly coloured individual appeared. He was always on the move, it was hard to get a good photo as he flew around in the trees and undergrowth, always avoiding exposed locations.
When I got back and had a chance to process and study the photos I identified the birds as female and male Red-winged fairywrens. Yet another bird I’ve not heard of, but most interestingly they are only meant to be found in the south west corner of Western Australia. After some more searching it seems there is a very similar looking species called the Variegated fairywren that is much more widespread across Australia. It consists of 4 subspecies, one of which, Malurus lamberti lamberti is reported in suburban bushland in Sydney.
The Variegated fairywren is found in forest undergrowth, they are constantly on le move and avoid open exposed positions. Like other fairywrens they are notable for their sexual dimorphism, with the male being very pretty and the female smart but a bit dull. They nest near the ground in a coarse dome of bark, leaves and grass usually concealed in dense vegetation.
Breeding is from September to January, I spotted these guys today ( December ) maybe I was watching a courtship.