Thinking like a bird

One of the things I love about my regular walk to the the train station is the chance to check out the critters’ daily routines while I’m in the midst of mine.  I’m an everyday intruder, just passing through.  Through the carpark behind the panel beaters’ shed where the glossy black cockatoos do their acrobatics.   Over the slimy patch on the footpath that used to lure eastern waterdragons out to play chicken in the traffic (I stress “used to”. Sad face). Past the carefully tended brush turkey mound in the scrub by the library and round the the blind corner where butcherbirds find their roadkill.  So far I’ve never seen them pecking at the flattened remains of kids on skateboards but I worry.

I was trudging home a few months ago, when there was a kerfuffle in the shrubbery that even the most self-absorbed commuter couldn’t ignore. An aggravated bird was repeatedly hurling herself at an invisible enemy, and making a tremendous din.  I spotted a tail sliding behind the trunk of a halfway up a tree – was it a goanna? a snake?  No, a brush-tailed possum, having a late afternoon snack in a grey butcherbird’s nest. Mum was willing to fight for her eggs to her last breath.  I don’t have any pictures of the stramash, unfortunately, despite roaming around Berowra most days like some bumbling stalker, a chunky camera swinging around my neck.

However, I feel a bit less sheepish about my amateur-hour suburban birdwatching – and a little less clueless about butcherbirds – after  reading Gisela Kaplan’s fascinating book Bird Minds (CSIRO, 2015) this week.

Butcherbird in near silhouette crop

Grey butcherbird makes a rare appearance in the backyard

Bird Minds considers most aspects of avian cognition – social learning, mimicry, tool use, play, abstract thought and emotion  – with a particular focus on the locals.  This, as Kaplan points out, is no mean feat.  Aussie natives are under-discussed in the world of scholarly ornithology, it seems.  She tells (with secret delight, I reckon) how the international community were forced to reluctantly accept that songbirds evolved in the part of Gondwanaland that came to be Australia, overturning 200 years of northern hemisphere prejudice.  The oldest songbird fossil ever found came from here, and recently the discovery of heron footprints from the Cretaceous Era in southern Victoria showed that birds and those other, non-avian dinosaurs cohabited this part of the world, at least, for millions of years.

So, as well as summarising the work of researchers from around the globe, to fill the gap in the published research on Australian natives, Kaplan draws on anecdotes from bird watchers (like the amazing tales of fire-starting black kites that have done the rounds in the papers lately) and her own experience of studying, observing and hand-rearing birds over the decades.  My particular favourite is her story of the adopted 75 year old galah who liked to summon all four household dogs by name in a passable impression of Kaplan’s voice just for the fun of bossing them around.  Every week.  It’s this kind of jolly jape that keeps a bird young.

Galahs in the rain crop

Pair of galahs

Butcherbirds are just the type of birds that Kaplan is interested in, although her own research for the last 25 years has been on another member of the Artamidae family, the Australian magpie.  Currawongs, butcherbirds and magpies, like many other Australian natives, don’t fit a northern hemisphere perspective on avian lives.  Grey butcherbirds are wonderful mellifluous singers, for example (though their tunes are less feted than the improvisational outpourings of the pied butcherbird).  But their carolling doesn’t fit the familiar songbird story.

Kaplan points out, for instance, that while northern hemisphere songbirds are most vocal during the breeding season, the Australian bush is often quietest at that time.  Amongst the much studied birds of high latitudes, males sing as part of a courting display.  In comparison, she observes, “Australian species often seem rather ‘egalitarian’ “.  For many Aussie birds, including butcherbirds “there is often no difference in the song between male and female, no marked difference in plumage or size, brooding and feeding of youngsters and defence” (Kaplan 2015 114).  I have to confess, this whole line of argument really appeals to me.

Magpie with fluff horizontal smaller

Magpie in spring

I also get sneaky pleasure at Kaplan’s observations about the cleverness of Australian birds.  Smarts, she suggests, are one strategy for coping with harsh environments and unreliable climatic conditions.  The humble budgie, a desert dweller, for instance, has one of the largest bird brains for its size, along with Cape York’s palm cockatoo, a formidable tool user.  These clever cockies select, shape and stash particularly excellent sticks, some to use as percussion instruments and others to improve nest-hole drainage.  Behavioural flexibility is a sign of sophisticated thinking: I guess musician cum plumber fits that bill quite nicely.  Birds like this, Kaplan thinks, playful, inquisitive and social, fill the ecological niche of monkeys in an Antipodean environment.

Australian birds often live much longer lives than their northern hemisphere equivalents. Permanent pair bonding means that galahs, for instance, or sulphur crested cockatoos may end up in a 60 year partnership.  Kaplan suggests that these long-term pairings require social nous and a sophisticated communication repertoire.  Forget relationship counselling, it could be time to take advice from the local cockies!

Young Australian birds are also likely to spend a long time hanging around with their parents learning the ropes – an extra year for grey butcherbirds, as much as four for white-winged choughs. Which explains the whiny teenagers I’ve been hearing everywhere lately.

It’s hilarious watching great hulking juvenile wattlebirds, indistinguishable from adults to my untrained eye, sitting in the Japanese maple tree out back, calling plaintively and endlessly for parental attention until someone hops up and gives them a lerp.  And last week on the way home, as I passed Butcherbird Corner, I heard the sounds of a youngster calling out that all-too-familiar refrain: “Mum! Mum! Mum! Mum! Mum! Mum!”.  It drives me mad when my kids do it, but on this occasion, pester-power put a smile on my face.  The lumbering youngster was a survivor of the Possum Bloodbath of 2015, demanding quality time (and a take-away) from its weary parent.

The youngbloods may hang around with mum and dad for ages, but they do get off the couch and help with the housework.  Raising your chicks with the help of older siblings and even unrelated adults – “cooperative breeding” – is surprisingly common in Australia, in comparison to elsewhere. If refraining from tearing your life-partner limb from limb with your own beak during the course of 60 years together is a challenge to a bird’s emotional control, how much more so is long-term living with the extended family?

This is an idea that Kaplan toys with throughout the book – that “negotiated living” might  “require… changes in powers of perception: a watchful eye, powers of observation and careful scrutiny of others… watching others means awareness of others and such habits can change from behaviour reading into mind reading” (Kaplan 2015 122).  Complex social lives go along with complex minds.

I rather enjoyed the sly dig at northern hemisphere birds (they sound nice, but could well be dim) that runs alongside Kaplan’s argument for the evolutionary value of cooperation.

in the competitive mode, learning (in males) is for a well-rehearsed performance: an Eistedfodd of dance or song. In the cooperative model, learning is for communication (Kaplan 2015 119)

Old leftie that I am, I can’t help liking the idea that cooperation, “egalitarianism” of the sexes and general smarts go along together.

Long beaked corellas giving me a funny look long.jpg

Long billed corellas giving me a funny look

I can’t vouch for the rigor of Kaplan’s science, but I loved reading her stories of the cleverness of Australian birds – their “versatility, resourcefulness, complex social and individual problem solving abilities” (Kaplan, 2015, 193).  Reading Bird Minds has given me plenty to look out for as I make my workaday way through the suburban territory we share.

Alhambra on the Hawkesbury

The last few times I passed by Bujwa Bay, on my way downriver from Berowra Waters, it was shrouded in mist.

But last Sunday, in the golden light of late afternoon, there was a revelation.

I’m familiar with the Hawkesbury’s sculpture parks and sandstone art galleries.  But the fact that Berowra Creek had well preserved fragments of an ancient Moorish fortress – well, that was news to me.

When I went home and told RB I’d seen something very like the famous stucco inscriptions of the Alhambra on a estuarine cliffside at the end of Berowra Waters Road, his comment was “You’re barking!”.  And he’s probably right.

After all, the Alhambra is an artistic jewel, a masterwork of European Islam, preserved over the centuries after the Moors themselves were driven first into the mountains and then out of Spain altogether.  Its delicate carved plasterwork miraculously survived Christian conquerors, dodgy architectural restorers, squatters and tourists.  And the sandstone of Bujwa Bay is just, you know, rock.

But I’ve been reading about “thing power” and it’s given me a whole new angle on inanimate objects.  “Thing Power!” – sounds like a killer bathroom cleaner that will sort out all the disturbing life-forms, named and unnameable, in your shower cubicle.

But according to Jane Bennett, its “a creative not-quite-human force capable of producing the new [that] buzzes within the history of the term ‘nature’ ” (2010, 118).  Electrons, microbes, minerals, waste, all busily making and shaping things, inside, around, through, against and despite humans and their fancy-pants plans.  She reckons things and people rub along or against each other in a pattern that’s “not random or unstructured, but conforms to the strange logic of vortices, spirals and eddies” (2010, 118).

Kooky as it sounds, this is not a bad description of how the Bujwa Bay Alhambra came into the world, according to a paper coauthored, in a way that pleases my penchant for magical thinking, by a geologist from Granada, home of the famous palace.

Honeycomb weathering like this happens in all sorts of porous rocks, around the world – from Antarctica to Jordan – and maybe even on the surface of Mars. It might seem like  hollows would form in weaknesses in the rock, but it’s not necessarily so. Blistering heat, frost, chemical weathering and rain are all in the frame – with maybe a little help from the odd patch of algae or lichen. But mostly it’s about salt and wind.

Salty water – in this case from seaspray – seeps into the rock and crystallises, making tiny fractures. If there’s plenty of water, salt crystals forms on the outside surface to form efflorescence, a mineral flowers blooming on a cliffside or a cellar wall or a garden fence.  But the real damage is done deep in the rock.

According to Rodriguez and friends, once a depression is formed in the rockface, wind eddies and swirls inside the concave parts of the stone.  Faster breezes mean more evaporation and a super-saturated salt solution, meaning more salt crystals and more fretted stone. Eventually the rockface becomes lacework, without any intervention by a rock lacemaker.

Alhambra rocks 1 crop long

The other name for honeycombed rock is alveoli.  It’s stone with lungs.  Made of mineral flowers.  Not alive (or mostly not alive – sorry algae) but doing complicated and beautiful things.

Not immortal, invisible, unfathomable.  In fact, as fathomable as the waters of Bujwa Bay at low tide, that is, knee deep to a heron.  Just exceedingly hard to grasp.

And that’s not just me banging my head against a corroding brick wall of “Salt weathering: a selective review” – the geologists are still bickering over exactly how it works. In Bennett’s (possibly slightly loopy) words, it’s vital matter, “hard to discern… and, once discerned, hard to keep focused on.  It is too close and too fugitive, as much wind as thing” (119).  Or perhaps, in this instance, both wind and thing.

tiny crab and shadow.jpg

A crab wondering what I’m on about, on a beach near Bujwa Bay

References

Jane Bennett 2010 Vibrant Matter, Duke University Press

Eric Doehne (2002) “Salt Weathering: a selective review” from Natural Stone, Weathering Phenomena, Conservation Strategies and Case Studies. Vol 205, 51-64, Geological Society Special Publication

Carlos Rodriguez-Navarro, Eric Doehne,Eduardo Sebastian (1999) Origins of honeycomb weathering: The role of salts and wind, GSA Bulletin; August 1999; v. 111, no. 8; p. 1250–1255

Huinink, H. Pel, L, Kopinga, K. 2004 “Simulating the growth of tafoni” Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 29 1225-33

My little herders

We have egg-quilibrium! After a long six months, the eggs produced by the household finally balance out the eggs consumed. At last we can egg-xit the dodgy “free range” aisle of the supermarket (okay, I’ll stop now).
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If we were serious survivalists this would be a tremendous day.  There’s nothing like a sorrel quiche to ring the changes from sorrel soup; sorrel and jerusalem artichoke stirfry and sorrel, mustard and parsley salad.  And lemons.  Lots and lots of lemons.  We’d be hungry but we certainly wouldn’t get scurvy.
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To what do we owe this embarrassment of eggs?  The days are getting longer and chickens do have that proto-third eye (okay pineal gland, but it has photoreceptors) inside their noggins to detect that kind of thing.  But with snow at the Queensland border and  the coldest spell of weather in Sydney for the better part of twenty years, it’s not like spring has convincingly sprung.

My theory is that the egg-drought has come to an end because we’ve gone from being ranchers to herders.
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“Too few and too busy with other endeavours, early colonists lacked the labor force and the time necessary to supervise livestock closely or to contain them adequately within fenced perimeters; livestock were turned out to fend for themselves… ranchers deliberately neglected their livestock and let them roam at will” (La Rocque, 2014, 76)

Sounds like us, alright!  Except we don’t grab a gun and ride out on the range to kill the varmints, which is what LaRocque reckons was was the inevitable outcome of roaming-animal-neglect in the US West.  Although, I’ll admit, when the population of brush turkeys in the chookyard was triple the number of chooks, the temptation was certainly there.

Legal protection for top predators has meant the “git-ma-gun” strategy won’t wash these days, so instead LaRocque advises US ranchers to follow the path of African herders who “have exquisite control over the whereabouts of their animals…[taking them] on daily treks and bring them back at day’s end to a safe haven where animals and humans mingle in a common area.” (LaRocque, 2014, 77).

I wouldn’t say we have exquisite control over Abby (skittish) or Snowball (faster than fluffy greased lightning), but I guess the kids scaring off peckish brush turkeys by leaping around on the trampoline while the chickens have their breakfast might count as “animals and humans mingling in a common area”: “all parties find[ing] satisfaction in a mutualistic interaction of sorts” (LaRocque, 2014, 77).

Has hanging around to watch the chooks eat entirely “resolved [the] ecological contradictions” (LaRocque, 2014, 73) in our backyard? I don’t think so.  The magpies and the brushturkeys still mooch about waiting for me to be so distracted by chicken portraiture that I don’t notice them sneaking in for a mouthful of bean sprouts (Chickens love them.  Who would have thunk it?  Or maybe it’s just our hippie chicks).
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That said, our new herder lifestyle has given us the opportunity to get to know the girls’ table manners a lot better.
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Breeders are feeders it seems – just as poor old Andy Ninja’s lost her spot as Top Chook once she stopped pumping out the eggs, now hen-pecked Abby is back on the lay, she’s shoving the other girls out of the way to get to her tucker.
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And how’s this for a before and after shot?

Treasure – pre and post egg laying.  If you’re ever wondering whether to serve omelette at your next dinner party, take a Dulux colour swatch to your chook’s comb.  Is she Pastel Barren or Fiery and Fecund?

As I’m idling at the bottom of the garden waiting for the girls to finish their meal, I’ve started to think we herders need a new term for talking about our animal friends.  From the wonderful Mildly Extreme blog I’ve learned that evocative word koremorebi for light filtering through the leaves.  I wonder if Japanese can offer me a word to describe the exquisite glow of sunlight filtering through a flushed and fertile comb?

LaRocque, Olivier (2014) “Revisiting distinctions between ranching and pastoralism: A matter of interspecies relations between livestock, people, and predators Critique of Anthropology 2014, Vol. 34(1) 73–93

Dinosaurs in the backyard

I’ve been thinking a lot about chickens’ feet lately. Not as as a convenient snack, like the vacuum-packed ones left on a hotel pillow (alongside a packet of condoms) for my parents to enjoy on a recent trip to China.  But as a little reminder that chickens are actually dinosaurs.

The whole avian dinosaur thing has crept up on us over the years, hasn’t it?  Children’s encyclopedia facts shifting under middle aged feet, kooky science factoids becoming simple commonsense.  The plastic dinosaurs in the kids’ toy basket, made in the 70s, are discredited heritage items now, with not a feather in sight.

When I was a fledgling, Archeopteryx was the only bird-like dinosaur around.  But now, it’s just one of many, and not even the earliest (a title currently held by Aurornis xui, which was covered with fine proto-feathers most likely used for insulation and probably couldn’t fly. Naturally, Aurornis is described as “chicken sized“)

I’ve been reading John Pickrell’s Flying Dinosaurs (University of New South Wales, 2014), and he notes that “there is now good evidence that many carnivorous theropod dinosaurs, even fearsome and well known species – such as Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus – had feathers” (Pickrell, 2014, 84).

Wow!  You could knock me over with one of those proto-feathers.

Dinosaurs did all kinds of bird-like things.  Mei Long tucked her head under her elbow to roost for the night (Pickrell, 2014, 48).  Fossils show Citipati osmolskae crouching over its eggs like a broody hen (Pickrell, 2014, 179). T.rex seems to have suffered from trichomonosis, a potentially lethal parasite that which rots away the jawbone.   Contemporary birds of prey catch it from eating pigeons; T.rex might have got it from gnawing at each others’ faces. (Pickrell, 2014, 60)

I discovered some crazy facts about birds reading this book. For instance, birds have smallest genome of the vertebrates – and bats’ genome is pretty small too.  Smaller cells with large relative surface area means better gas exchange and greater efficiency, enabling the high metabolic rate required for flying.  Apparently hummingbirds, with the fastest metabolism amongst birds, also have the smallest genome (Pickrell, 2014, 58).

Hard to believe that such tiny tiny changes could make a macro difference, but I guess if you’ve given up teeth and a jawbone to save weight, economising on your genome seems like a mere bagatelle.  Inferring genome size from the space of lacunae in bones, researchers have proposed that between 230 and 250 million years ago saurischian dinosaurs – ancestors of the birds – also started to have smaller genomes, while the bones of your triceratops or hadrosaur soldiered on unchanged (Pickrell, 2014, 59).

I was amazed to read that birds don’t breathe like mammals: they have a one-way respiratory system with multiple air sacs that, when inflated, help make them light enough to fly.  When birds breathe, the air flows into their their bones!   And some dinosaur skeletons reveal the same spongy, pneumatised bones (Pickrell, 2014, 49-50)

It’s perhaps ironic that chickens’ scaly feet scream “dinosaur” to me, because one of the earliest feathered dinosaurs was Anchiornis huxleii which actually had feathers on its hind legs as well as its forelimbs.  In fact, there were loads of early feathered dinosaurs that looked like this.  Paleontologists are still trying to work out quite how it could have used these rear legs in flight without dislocating its hips – they were probably for used to enhance aerodynmics or to create drag (Pickrell, 2014, 114).

The startlingly speedy progression of our chicks from tiny bundles of fluff to whopping great layers, made sense of the notion of paedomorphosis, a process in which animals reach sexual maturity at an earlier stage of development

In comparison to the slow maturing reptiles, birds, like mammals, grow quickly in early on.  Interestingly, as they mature, birds’ heads don’t change much in shape; in comparison most dinosaurs’ skulls morphed dramatically, the comparatively large, spherical noggins of babies elongating into the snouts and jaws of adults (Pickrell, 2014, 54).  US researchers Bhart-Anjan Bullar, Mark Norell and Timothy Rowe noticed Archeopteryx’s adult skull is rounded just like the babies of other dinosaur species, and concluded that the ancestors of birds maintained juvenile characteristics later in life.  This process of paedomorphosis (or neoteny) often goes along with smaller body size.  It seems to allow the emergence of a new and unexpected set of features in an organism.  Harvard’s Bhart Anjan-Buller observes “These unique characters may allow the exploitation of radically different ecological niches from other similarly sized organisms” (Pickrell, 2014, 56).

And birds have surely filled those ecological niches.  There are aroundabout 10,000 living species of birds, far more types of avian dinosaurs than all the non-avian kind that ever lived.  “Dinosaurs are now more successful than they’ve ever been, but they all look the same” says Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum, “With the exception of a few aberrations, they are all bipedal flyers” (Pickrell, 2014, 28).

And let’s not beat around the bush, a really really big percentage of those living dinosaurs are chickens.  There’s a global chicken population explosion: there are now about three times as many chickens as there are humansin the 1960s we were about eekies. And that’s not even considering the ratio of domesticated to wild animals.  According to the RSPB, there are maybe 30 times as many domestic chickens as there are the most numerous kind of wild bird, the African dwelling red-billed quelea.

In fact, best not to dwell on this to prevent yourself being plunged into depression about the forthcoming Age of Loneliness, when we humans will mostly likely have few non-human companions.  Better get used to the company of rats, cockroaches, and jellyfish.  Maybe we’ll have a few bats – to my surprise, there are more species of bats than any other type of mammal except rodents (Pickrell, 2014, 107).  And, of course, chickens.  Lucky I love my avian dinosaurs.

(You wouldn’t believe the confused and irritated looks the chickens have given me as I’ve been taking these pictures of their feet.  Sorry guys.)

Sweetness and light

On our shady south-west facing hillside (who went house hunting without a compass, then?) there’s just one spot that gets plenty of light year round: not a bad place for some solar panels on the top of a pole. But right in that spot there’s a native tree, sweet pittosporum or pittosporum undulatum.  And there’s a healthy specimen of the same species dead to the north of our kitchen windows, right where the winter sun might otherwise beam through.

Hornsby Council is pretty proud of its status as a leafy north shore suburb – “The Bushland Shire” – and dissuades its rate-payers in the strongest of terms from cutting down trees.  But not this one.  Until 2011, despite its status as a native, gardeners had a licence to kill sweet pittosporum, along with a select few imported nasties – cotoneaster, camphor laurel, privet and coral trees. But now it’s a different story.  You can chop down quite a lot in Hornsby these days – pretty much any non-native tree.  You can even gaily hack down Australian natives that don’t hail from this part of the Hawkesbury.  But put that saw down!  Pittosporum is now right there on that not very lengthy list of protected local trees, shrubs, grasses and vines.  It’s a dramatic turnaround, from big-league environmental weed to local hero, all in the space of a single year.

So what’s going on here?  Tim Low’s immensely readable book, “The New Nature: Winners and Losers in Wild Australia” (Viking, 2002), a fat but fascinating volume filled with stories about birds and trees, insects and frogs and their complex inter-relationships with human beings, has a lot to say about weeds and natives, and in fact quite a bit to say about sweet pittosporum.  The essential argument of the book is that any quest to preserve untouched wilderness or to maintain nature free from human interference is not just doomed, but essentially ill-conceived.

Human influence has been making plant and animal winners and losers in Australia for many thousands of years, and Low documents not only the way some pragmatic species capitalise on urban environments (think peregrine falcons nesting in high rise buildings) but the way many others rely on continuing human intervention (like firestick farming or stock grazing) to survive.  Sydney’s green and golden bell-frog survives at the Brickpits in Homebush, a location described as “one of the most industrially polluted in the Southern Hemisphere” (24) because these frogs are tolerant of high levels of heavy metals, while the frog-killing chytrid fungus is not. Low points out the limitations of the distinction between “native” and “exotic” as a way of gauging the impact of animals and plants on biodiversity, and argues that decisions about what to conserve and how to do it, are in short, very very complicated.  Koalas can be forest killers and cows can step into the gap left by extinct megafauna in maintaining diverse grassland.  As a greenie and a gardener, I found the anecdotes and ideas in “The New Nature” provoking and intriguing, making me take a good hard look at my weed anxieties and my fantasies of a bird-friendly, local provenance garden.

Hornsby Council’s change of heart about sweet pittosporum illustrates Tim Low’s arguments beautifully.  Don Burke, the Australian Native Plants Society of Australia, Grow Me Instead (The Nursery and Garden Industry Association) and the Queensland Government all agree that it’s an invasive weed. “The New Nature” with its ambivalence about such terms calls pittosporum “our worst native weed” (250), “replacing diverse systems with monoculture” (201).  While a canopy of eucalypts allows a rich understory, pittosporum shades out nearly everything else (although that nasty garden escape, privet, apparently copes well).  Birds enjoy the pittosporum’s orange fruits and disperse its sticky seeds.  Not needing fire or light to germinate, and tolerant of richer soils than many other natives, pittosporum is a native to this neck of the woods, flourishing on the shale ridgetops on Hawkesbury sandstone – most of which are now built on.  Run off from houses and gardens has enriched the sandstone soils on the slopes and pittosporum has moved on in.  According to Low, “If you take eucalypt forest, add fertiliser and water and take out fire, you have a recipe for rainforest.  The pittosporum invasion is really a takeover by rainforest” (248).

Pittosporum undulatum has its defenders.  Jocelyn Howell from the Royal Botanical Gardens suggests that pittosporum can shade out and outcompete other more troubling weeds (although Tim Low would argue that even invasive weeds like lantana can play their own role as a habitat).  Others argue for it in terms of the food supplies it offers and the fact that it *is* a local really. Obviously, Hornsby Council has plumped for this point of view.  Most of the advisories suggest that it’s a weed only outside its home range, using provenance to distinguish true locals from native invaders.

But according to Low’s arguments, its home range isn’t the home it once was.  His book gives poignant examples of Sydneysiders talking about the impact of pittosporum (“pittos”) in terms of solastalgia, the sense of homesickness you have when you haven’t left home, but your home has changed forever.  Orchids and grasses gone, along with the smell of eucalyptus (248).  There are no easy answers here: it’s “a hard one”, “one of the most sensitive issues around” (249).  Are the eucalypt forests of the Hawkesbury slowly morphing into (monocultural) rainforest?  Will the catastrophic fires I expect and dread drive it back?

From a more selfish point of view, it seems like my kitchen windows will remain gloomy and my solar panels a dream, even as my fantasy as a kid growing up in the arid lands of the South Australian mallee, of coming home to a rainforest seems to be coming true…