Growing coriander in Townsville

Herbs are rewarding to grow in our backyard gardens because they are best when fresh, are used frequently and are only needed in small quantities. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to be self-sufficient in basil, parsley (except in the wet season), rosemary, lemongrass (we have enough to give away – just ask!) and so on. Coriander, however, has been a problem: in our climate, it “bolts” – that is, goes very rapidly to seed and then dies. That’s doubly frustrating because it is an essential flavour in Asian cooking and, when bought by the bunch, it doesn’t keep well.

whte flowers and feathery leaves

Flowers and top foliage of Coriander

Just to be clear, this is the ordinary Coriander I’m talking about (from wikipedia):

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), also known as cilantro, Chinese parsley or dhania, is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Coriander is native to regions spanning from southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia. It is a soft plant growing to 50 cm (20 in) tall. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems.
Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander, also deriving from coriandrum. It is the common term in North America for coriander leaves, due to their extensive use in Mexican cuisine.

thistle-like plant

Sawtooth Coriander with flower stalk

A few months ago we found an alternative, which we bought in a pot labelled “Sawtooth Coriander (Eryngium foetidum)” and planted out in the garden. Its appearance doesn’t suggest any relationship with coriander but crushing a leaf puts the connection beyond doubt: the aroma is exactly the same. The common names recognise the connection, too: Sawtooth Coriander,  Thai Coriander, Pointed Cilantro or  Thorny Coriander. The only tricky one is “Culantro”, just one letter away from “Cilantro”.

Botanically they are both in the family Apiaceae (which I guess is how they came to share the genes for these particular aromatic oils) but not in the same  genus. Wikipedia says:

E. foetidum is widely used in seasoning and marinating in the Caribbean, particularly in Panama, Puerto Rico … and in Peru’s Amazon regions. It is also used extensively in Thailand, India, Vietnam, Laos, and other parts of Asia as a culinary herb. It dries well, retaining good color and flavor, making it valuable in the dried herb industry. It is sometimes used as a substitute for cilantro (coriander in British English), but it has a much stronger taste.

A couple of weeks ago our plant put up a flower stalk, seen in the photo above, making it even more thistle-like than it had been. The flowers are like minuscule pineapples nestled in rosettes of extremely spiky leaves:

green flower

Sawtooth Coriander flower

The cultivation notes that came with our pot said “remove flower stalks when forming” and we did remove them once we realised what they were. The notes also gave another common name for the herb: Perennial Coriander. So far, so good!

spiky flowers

Sawtooth Coriander – “flower spike” acquires a new meaning

Just for completeness, there is also a third herb which is sometimes known as coriander. As far as I know I have never seen it here in Townsville and it might not be called coriander here anyway. Here’s wikipedia’s description:

Persicaria odorata, the Vietnamese coriander, is a herb whose leaves are used in Southeast Asian cooking. Other English names for the herb include Vietnamese mint, Vietnamese cilantro, Cambodian mint and hot mint. The Vietnamese name is rau ram, while in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore it is called daun kesum or daun laksa (laksa leaf).

It’s in a different family (buckwheat or knotweed family) and looks quite different from either of the other two – more like a grass – as you will see if you click on the wikipedia link.

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Sacred Kingfishers

blue-green bird on powerline

Sacred Kingfisher, Todiramphus sanctus, on a favourite vantage point

I have seen Sacred Kingfishers perching on my neighbours’ power-line on several occasions in the last few weeks. It’s a good spot for perch-and-swoop predators because it has such a clear field of view (our own power-line is not so good because it runs between trees) and I have repeatedly seen Rainbow Bee-eaters there too.

The photo above is recent but the one below is much older. I came across it while looking for something else and thought it was worth sharing, even at this late date, to show just how small these gorgeous birds are.

Sacred Kingfisher cradled in hands

A bird in the hand … is better off than a bird in the cat’s grasp

This shot was taken by my camera in 2009 but those are my hands holding the bird so I must have asked my son to pick up the camera. The back-story is, as the caption implies, that the bird was rescued in the nick of time from the grip of our cat and released a few minutes later with no significant injuries.

Sadly, other birds (and reptiles) have not always been so lucky and I have to admit to conflicting emotions around the practice of keeping cats as pets, a topic I may return to on another occasion.

By the way, both birds are definitely Sacred Kingfishers in spite of the rather different green-blue coloration, since this is the only species with a buff spot (rather than a white one) above the eye. Slaters Field Guide says females are “duller and more green” than the male so these two are probably male (top) and female. Six weeks ago we saw both Sacred and Forest Kingfishers on a Wildlife Queensland walk on the Town Common. The photo (not mine) on the WQ report on the walk shows two Forest Kingfishers.

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Introducing the North Queensland Conservation Council

Six months ago I resigned from Reef HQ over GBMPA’s failure to stand up to government and protect the Reef from the miners. At the time I declared (a bit pretentiously, I know, but I was dramatising a point) that I wanted to, “take my skills, my knowledge and my undiminished passion for the environment to groups which are genuinely committed to minimising and mitigating damage to the environment,” and after a couple of months I started helping out at North Queensland Conservation Council because their aims and needs were the best fit with my priorities and skills. 

NQCC describes itself as “the voice for the environment in North Queensland.”  It was established in 1974 as a not-for-profit incorporated association with a broad mandate to endeavour to protect the “land, waters and atmosphere” of the region bounded by Cardwell and Bowen to the north and south, the Northern Territory border to the west and the Coral Sea to the east.

NQCC is an umbrella group, aiming to support smaller, often single-issue, local organisations at state level. (The region has a surprisingly large number of such small groups. There’s a list of them here but I’m sure it’s still incomplete; if you can add to it, please let me or the NQCC know.) Their main focus recently has been Abbot Point, reef dumping and, by extension, Galilee Basin coal.

screenshot of nqcc site

The NQCC site, 2014 edition

I have spent most of my time with NQCC working on their website. It was already a WordPress site like Green Path, which made the job easier for me, but had been somewhat neglected since being set up a couple of years ago. That’s a common problem with organisational websites, by the way. Most people seem to think of them as books – publish and forget – but they are much more like magazines, requiring a flow of new content and regular review of older content.

The redesign is now essentially complete but there is always more to do. My latest project is to add a wider variety of header photographs. If you have any suitable photos, as per, please send them in!

North Queensland Conservation Council shares one trivial incidental advantage with Reef HQ: my easiest route home from both of them is along Queens Road so my collection of photos from the Ross Creek parkland has continued to grow; see my previous post for recent examples.

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Ross Creek mangroves and birds

mangroves with stilt roots in water

Mangroves – not a million miles from the city

One of the nice things about Townsville is the network of parks threading through the suburbs. Some of them seem to have no particular reason for existence until the wet season arrives and they become floodways for a day or two, but the most important network is associated with Ross River; the parkland along its banks is almost continuous from the Dam down to the city, and bike paths run through most of its length.

The city centre, however, is not on the river but on a tidal mangrove creek, Ross Creek, which runs from Hermit Park past the Civic Theatre to the ferry terminal; this map may make the situation clearer. Its inland end looks like it connected to the river not too long ago but the river banks have been built up and the creek now just peters out in parkland.

Between them, the River and Ross Creek are wonderful wildlife corridors between the coast and the inland. Vegetation corridors, too, bringing the rich mangrove eco-systems right into the suburbs. The photo above was taken on the upper end of Ross Creek, where Queens Road crosses it. I stop there often on my way home from the city if I have spare time, because fifty metres from the road might as well be a couple of hundred. My last two visits rewarded me with photos of Brown Honeyeaters, a Great Egret, a flock of Little Black Cormorants and a ding-dong battle between a two crows and a brahminy kite.

small olive-brown bird in branches

Brown Honeyeater in the mangroves

Great Egret taking to the air

Great Egret taking to the air

birds against the sky

Little Black Cormorants

The cormorants were just passing through (this time, anyway – a year ago I saw a similar flock on the ground here) but I was able to watch the other two for much longer. I sat for twenty minutes on a low branch of the mangrove tree which the Brown Honeyeater was treating as his home base, repeatedly flying off and returning to sing; and on my next visit I followed the Egret quite a long way upstream as he fished in the shallows, flew a few metres and resumed fishing.

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Happening now and coming soon

Townsville Cultural Fest has already begun and runs over the weekend. Visit its website for more information and then visit its new location near the Rockpool for international food, crafts, healing arts, etc, and a great entertainment programme.

Sundalah.jpgSundalah yoga day is only ten days away. I’ve been to the event in previous years and enjoyed it as a low-stress, low-commitment way of checking out what yoga can offer.

Visit them on FB or at or simply download the programme (pdf).

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