A horse named Caesar

A horse named Caesar

By Susan Prior

Dotted around Brisbane are many, often small, bushcare reserves. One such is a small pocket of bush in the suburb of Chelmer, at 112 Queenscroft Street, and is known as Caesar’s Place, after a former resident. It can also be accessed from Roseberry Terrace.

Caesar’s Place is just one of many reserves that make up Habitat Brisbane.

So who was Caesar? Owned by a gentleman called Vic, Caesar was a horse and a long-time resident of this plum slice of Chelmer riverside real estate. He has long gone, sadly, but his erstwhile home is now being revegetated along the creek that runs through the reserve.

Paths and walkways lead you through the area. It is an enchanting spot, just a short stroll will take you from one side to the other, but you could be a million miles from the city.

We can thank a group of local volunteers, who provide their labour, for much of its upkeep. The Brisbane City Council, under the auspices of Habitat Brisbane, coordinates efforts and provides the plants, and any weed control products that are used, along with some basic training. This particular bushcare group was started by Cathy Roche and has been going for 13 or 14 years. Back then there were virtually no native plants in the place.

Bushcare volunteer, David Holdom.

I meet up with the group on one of their monthly working bees and speak to David Holdom. I ask him about the importance of the role of volunteers to the reserves. ‘Without the volunteers Council would have to either abandon these places, or would have to spend a lot of money to maintain them,’ he says.

The sign at the entrance to Caesar’s Place states ‘Bring back the Birdwing’. David tells me that this reserve is a secondary ‘linking’ site connecting Oxley Creek in a corridor to Cubberla woodland. Like in many reserves this bushcare group is active in planting and maintaining the birdwing butterfly vine to try and keep the butterfly population healthy and sustainable. Having said that, the flood in 2011 created havoc but fortunately there is one thriving mature vine remaining and they plan to establish more.

In the course of our conversation, I discover that the Richmond birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia) is the largest and showiest subtropical butterfly in Australia.

The Richmond birdwing butterfly

Linda Sulakatku of the Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network sent me the following:
Protected in Queensland, where it is listed as vulnerable, it is ranked as a critical priority by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP). Fragmented populations of the once common Richmond birdwing butterfly survive wherever food plants for the larvae are growing.

In the past, the Richmond birdwing butterfly roamed freely from Maryborough in Queensland to Grafton and the Clarence River in New South Wales. Early settlers reported it flying in the streets of Brisbane. Sadly, the patchy and isolated breeding colonies are at risk of losing their genetic diversity.

Richmond birdwing populations have been severely affected in Queensland with the loss and fragmentation of habitat, mainly rainforest. The clearing and burning of under-storey vegetation, invasion of native vegetation by weeds, and the mining of rainforest valleys for volcanic rocks are ongoing threats. 

If that wasn’t enough, the poisonous South American Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia elegans) has become a serious invasive weed since it was introduced as a decorative garden plant. The vine engulfs trees and other vines, while chemicals in its leaves attract the Richmond birdwing to lay her eggs. But when the caterpillars feed on the leaves they are poisoned. This exotic weed needs to be eradicated from bushlands and from wherever it remains on private properties. You can really help this butterfly by removing any of these plants in your garden.

The Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network (RBCN) is a community-based conservation group operating within Wildlife Queensland. The RBCN’s goal is to restore the ‘vulnerable’ Richmond birdwing butterfly and its essential lowland food plant, the birdwing butterfly vine (Pararistolochia praevenosa), across their natural ranges. The Network will do this by rehabilitating habitat corridors between existing fragmented populations and extending these corridors into areas where this beautiful butterfly has disappeared. 

The RBCN runs regionally based workshops on the conservation and biology of the butterfly and the propagation and planting of its food vines. The birdwing butterfly vine is listed in Queensland as ‘near threatened’. In Queensland, the nurseries supplying the vines are required to hold a propagating permit issued by the government. Birdwing butterfly vines, once established in the ground, are hardy, provided they are in well-drained, damp soil and are semi-shaded.

How can you help bring back the Richmond birdwing?

  • Go to the RBCN website for more information. Follow the links to find out more about the butterfly, the birdwing butterfly vine and how to cultivate the vine.
  • Join the RBCN – your small membership fee helps with recovery efforts for the butterfly and connecting corridors. See the details below.
  • Visit the RBCN Facebook page to follow developments and share your Richmond birdwing stories.
  • Adopt a butterfly. Your contribution will help us plant more vines for the butterfly larvae. 
  • Eradicate the poisonous South American Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia elegans) from your garden.

For information about bushcare groups, visit the Habitat Brisbane website.

Contact your local nursery about stocking these vines, and plant one in your garden.
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