Chinee Apple

screen shot chinee appleChinee Apple is a declared weed in Qld, NT and WA and is such a pest locally that I had to laugh at the Wikipedia summary (left) which noted its “conservation status” as “least concern”.

The Brisbane City Council provides a good short overview of its growth habits:

A thorny and densely branched small tree. Its young stems have a zig-zagging nature and usually bear a single curved thorn at each joint. … Its rounded fruit (15-30 mm across) consist of a large hard stone surrounded by white fleshy pulp. These fruit turn from green to pale yellow, orange or reddish-brown as they mature. …

A weed of pastures, grasslands, open woodlands, floodplains, inland watercourses, roadsides, disturbed sites and waste areas in semi-arid, tropical and sub-tropical regions. …

Chinee apple (Ziziphus mauritiana) is widespread in the northern parts of Australia, but is most common in the northern and central regions of Queensland. It is also scattered throughout the northern parts of the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia, and has been recorded from south-eastern Queensland.

For more information, download the pdf from Queensland’s Department of Ag and Fish.

Wikipedia notes that, “In Queensland it is known as the Chinee/Chinkee apple as it was believed to be introduced by Chinese miners to areas such as Charters Towers, Ravenswood and Hughenden,” and that is what I have been told by people who grew up here, too. (Our species, incidentally, is Indian but has a temperate-climate Chinese relative.)

Why would they do such a thing? Well, in Asia it is cultivated for its fruit and they probably realised that it would grow well here, where temperate-climate plants struggle. The difference between “grows well” and “runs rampant” is sometimes small, and they probably didn’t realise just how well it would grow. (This is not a unique case, by any means. Prickly pear was introduced deliberately, and I’m not even going to mention escaped ornamental plants except to remind you of the “Grow Me Instead” programme.) Better introductions, like the mango, thrive with no maintenance but don’t take over.

Children growing up in Chinee apple areas in previous generations traditionally snacked on the fruit in season, as well as mangoes (of course), bush lemons (naturalised lemon trees, but that’s all I know) and tamarind. As a Victorian, I missed out, although I snacked in exactly the same way on roadside cherry-plums and apples in South Gippsland. I didn’t get around to sampling a Chinee apple until I picked a few on my way back from Mt Stuart a few days ago.

chinee apple fruit
Fruit on the tree – from left to right: green, slightly over-ripe and ideally ripe

The fruit look for all the world like small plums and have a thin edible skin and a hard stone, again like plums. The reason for the common name ‘apple’ only becomes apparent when you bite into one: at the ideal ripeness, the texture is pleasantly crunchy, just like an apple. The flavour is neither strong nor distinctive, vaguely reminiscent of apple or peach. The fruit softens as it ripens further, passing through a pleasant-enough stone-fruit texture to an unattractive musky-smelling semi-liquid state.

chinee apple
Over-ripe Chinee apple fruit on the ground beneath the tree

Chinee apple as a resource

We are probably not getting the best fruit, of course. Wikipedia tells us that in India, “with sophisticated cultivation the fruit size may reach up to 6.25 cm long and 4.5 cm wide,” and, “there are 90 or more cultivars depending on the habit of the tree, leaf shape, fruit form, size, color, flavor, keeping quality, and fruiting season.” Wikipedia goes on to inform us that:

The major production regions for Indian jujube are the arid and semi arid regions of India. From 1984 to 1995 with improved cultivars the production was 0.9 million tonnes… The crop is also grown in Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Africa. Trees in northern India yield 80 to 200 kg of fresh fruit/tree/year when the trees are in their prime bearing age of 10–20 years.

Where the tree is cultivated, the fruit is eaten raw, stewed, dried, candied, pickled, or used in beverages. Furthermore, all parts of the plant are used – leaves for livestock feed, wood for furniture and house framing, thorny branches for temporary corrals, seeds and bark for medicinal purposes, flowers as a nectar source for honey bees. And finally:

The fatty-acid methyl ester of Z. mauritiana seed oil meets all of the major biodiesel requirements in the USA (ASTM D 6751-02, ASTM PS 121-99), Germany (DIN V 51606) and European Union (EN 14214). The average oil yield is 4.95 kg oil/tree or 1371 kg oil/hectare, and arid or semi-arid regions may be utilised due to its drought resistance.

We’re missing a fantastic opportunity here!

Ergon invests in wind power

Paying electricity bills is never a favourite occupation but the newsletter which came with my most recent account alerted me to good news I had missed: “Our new agreement with the Mount Emerald Wind Farm will increase the amount of renewable energy we’re purchasing by around 170 MW.”

I found an earlier but longer version of the same announcement on RenewEconomy, dated May this year:

Queensland is likely to get its first large scale wind farm after the regional electricity utility, Ergon Energy, offered a 12.5 year power purchase agreement for the 170MW Mt Emerald wind farm.

The wind farm, to be located about 50kms south of Cairns, is owned by Port Bajool and Ratch Australia Corporation, and was one of seven wind, solar and biomass projects short-listed by Ergon Energy in a tender for new renewable energy last December.

The other projects were two solar farms proposed by Spanish group FRV,  another solar farm from Lyon Infrastructure, Infigen Energy’s 75MW Forsayth wind farm, and a biomass project proposing to generate power from chicken pooh.

… The spokesman would not reveal the PPA price, other than to say that Ergon was “very happy” with the deal.

The Cairns Post was upbeat about it then, too …

DEVELOPERS behind Queensland’s largest wind farm expect to break ground on the Tablelands project early next year.

Ergon Energy has announced it will enter into an agreement to purchase all of the electricity generated by Mt Emerald Wind Farm, to be built at Walkamin, through to the end of 2030.

The $360 million project is a joint venture between Ratch Australia and Port Bajool. … Mount Emerald includes up to 53 turbines to potentially generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes each year.

… apart from a cautionary note that the Queensland power industry (including Ergon) was starting from a very low base:

Of the 3500 megawatts (MW) of wind generation capacity currently in the country, Queensland only supplies around 12MW from wind farms at Ravenshoe and Thursday Island.

The wind farm’s own website has more information including a map.Walkamin is halfway between Atherton and Mareeba, and the wind farm will be just West of it.

The latest report in the Cairns Post was published only ten days ago:

CONSTRUCTION on the Tablelands’ Mt Emerald wind farm is expected to start in Dec­ember, following the selection of preferred contractors for the $360 million project.

Developer Ratch Australia has awarded its wind farm contract to Dutch manufacturers Vestas and the Sydney-based Downer Group. Vestas and Downer will share responsibility for the ent­ire 180MW project, including supply and construction of more than 50 turbines, a substation, cabling to the grid, civil and electrical works, and wind monitoring equipment.

The announcement follows Ergon Energy’s decision to purchase all of the electricity generated by the wind farm through to the end of 2030.

Congratulations to all concerned! It’s great to see our local supplier moving in the right direction. Let’s hope they follow up this project with many more.

Mount Stuart’s small wildlife

peacock
Welcoming committee

Castle Hill dominates the central Townsville skyline but Mount Stuart takes over that role from anywhere further up Ross River. From Mundingburra all the way up to Kelso and across the river to the university and the hospital, Mount Stuart looms large.

That doesn’t mean people visit it very often, of course, but a road leading off the Charters Towers road just beyond the city winds up to a lookout beneath the radio masts. When I drove up a couple of days ago I was welcomed by a resident peacock (perhaps the same one who met me five years ago) and, after taking in the magnificent views over Magnetic Island, the Palm group and coastline all the way to Hinchinbrook, I wandered around the loop track.

The summit is a difficult environment for plants and animals alike: very exposed, very dry, and with only a thin covering of soil where there is any soil at all. Vegetation is ‘open woodland’ with a decent covering of tussocky grass, but most of the trees are tiny. Ants seem to be the most abundant invertebrates but there were other insects to be found as well as the spiders which prey on them.

* P.S. The ant has been identified by my friendly local expert as Meranoplus sp.

Lower down the mountain

Conditions half-way down the mountain are not quite so arid and I found more creatures per square metre than on the summit.

Notes

  • The two kinds of paper wasps are the two commonest around Townsville. More about them here and here.
  • The Spiny Orb-weaver pictured, Gasteracantha fornicata, is usually seen less often than its black cousins, Gasteracantha sacerdotalis, but outnumbered them on this trip.
  • “St Andrew’s Cross spider” is a common name which is applied loosely to several similar species. Argiope keyserlingi is the best known, A. picta is encountered from time to time, and this one may be unknown to science – which is a little bit exciting.
  • Golden Orb-weavers (Nephila sp.) are usually very big and not so brightly coloured but I have seen others around 12-15mm, like this one, in Western Queensland – at Aramac and Porcupine Gorge, for instance.

Australian Lurcher and Leafwing butterflies

The Lurcher

orange butterfly
Lurcher on wisteria

The Lurcher (Yoma sabina, Nymphalidae) is a large, beautiful butterfly which we hardly know in Townsville. There have been one or two reports of stray individuals over the years but the accepted range was always to our north – basically the tropical coast from about Cairns to Cape York. Braby notes, however, in the second edition (2016) of the Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia that its “range has recently expanded southwards to Townsville.”

The bold orange and brown markings of its upper side are quite distinctive. The only species it might be confused with, even at a distance, are the Rustic (not so dark near the body) and the Leafwing (below).

The underside is a different story. Like so many other butterflies, the Lurcher pretends to be a dead leaf. Braby speculates that the underside coloration may vary seasonally. That wouldn’t be too surprising, since the the Evening Brown, Melanitis leda, does just that. (This link will take you to a set of photos showing seasonal variations.)

lurcher undersides
Lurcher pretending to be a dead leaf

The background of this image bears some explanation. The butterfly was discovered indoors this morning, having presumably flown in through an open window yesterday in search of a safe place to rest and settling on some clothing. We carried it outside for this photo but when we tried to transfer it to a more natural background it awoke and flew up into the tangle of wisteria which you see in the top photo.

The Leafwing

The Australian Leafwing, Doleschallia bisaltide, is just a little smaller, around 62 mm rather than 67. The species’ range extends right down the Queensland coast and into northern NSW but I rarely see them here in Townsville, perhaps because they prefer rainforest; I might average one sighting per year in my garden, as against weekly sightings of Crows and daily sightings of the Common Eggfly. The photos below, new to Green Path, show two different individuals seen in 2009.

leafwing
Leafwing on pentas flowers
butterfly and leaves
Leafwing demonstrating the appropriateness of its name