|THE GENUS GREVILLEA - part one
A SHORT HISTORY
BY JEANETTE CLOSS
(Photos by Sue Meech)
Grevilleas – Grevillea Study
Group, Australian Plants Society Victoria – Seminar Papers 2000.
|The first grevilleas collected were amongst the collections
made by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander who arrived on Captain Cook’s ship
the ‘Endeavour’ in Botany Bay on 28th April 1770. The very first grevillea
was given the unofficial name ‘Leucadendroides mitis’ by Solander – the generic
name meaning ‘like a Leucodendron’, a South African genus which was known
to these botanists. The specific name means soft or mild. Robert Brown later
placed this species in his newly elected genus Grevillea and
named it Grevillea mucronulata, in reference to the small mucro
on its leaves; ‘mucro’ means a short hard or flexible point. Leucadendrons
also have mucros.
The next collections were made by these gentlemen after the ‘Endeavour’ struck a reef on 10th June, 1770 and eventually beached at the Endeavour River, near where Cooktown is now situated. The ‘Endeavour’ was under repair here for six weeks and in that time the botanists collected extensively in the surrounding district. Among their collections were three grevilleas G. parallela, G. pteridifolia and G. glauca. The botanical artist on this voyage was Sydney Parkinson and his exquisite drawings of these species are featured in Volume One of the Grevillea Book. (Olde and Marriott)
Early botanists listed grevilleas and telopeas in
the genus Embothrium, a genus now restricted to a small group
of plants from South America. The only grevilleas named by botanists in the
18th Century were:
In 1800 Joseph Banks sent George Caley to Port Jackson and early collections included G. juniperina, G. longifolia and G. ramosissima. Between 1863 and 1878 George Bentham published the ‘Flora Australiensis’. This huge task was begun when he was over 60. This remained the standard work on the Australian flora for over 100 years. He recognised 156 species of grevillea.
The next revision was undertaken by Don McGillivray who, in 1969-1970, served as Australian Botanical Liaison Officer at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. This enabled him to study specimens of grevillea at Kew, the British Museum and other herbaria. In 1976 McGillivray toured areas of Western Australia with Alex George where they studied grevillea species in the wild. His revision of the genus Grevillea was published in 1993. Unfortunately, few botanists or grevillea enthusiasts have been able to support the unusual lumping classification employed by McGillivray.
In the meantime Peter Olde and Neil Marriott were travelling to all the far corners of mainland Australia. Not Tasmania!! I wonder why? Obviously because Tasmania has only one grevillea, albeit a number of varieties and this species, G. australis is also found on the mainland. The prime object of these trips was to collect and record grevilleas. These extensive trips entailed years of dedication, determination and perseverance and many new species and varieties were located. The outcome of this dedication was the publication, between 1994 and 1995, of the three volumes of the Grevillea Book. Book one deals with history, structure, evolution, biology, cultivation, propagation, landscaping and many other details relating to this genus. Books two and three list all the then known grevilleas with a botanical key, detailed descriptions, site maps, illustrations of parts of the flower or leaf and many excellent photographs.
Peter and Neil continue to research and travel Australia finding and describing new species and varieties. I believe that they are preparing a book on the Grevillea cultivars.
The massive work of producing the ‘Flora of Australia’ has been and is being undertaken by botanists throughout Australia over the past 20 years. Bob Makinson worked as an assistant to Don McGillivray from 1981-1993 and has continued his research on grevilleas. He has more recently completed the Grevillea section of the Flora of Australia, which is Vol. 17A: Proteaceae 2. This is a very technical book, whereas ‘The Grevillea Book’ by Olde and Marriott is an excellent scientific publication but it is also a valuable reference book for the amateur botanist and garden enthusiast to use. Unfortunately McGillivray does not recognise any varieties in G.australis, perhaps the Tasmanian forms have not been thoroughly investigated as yet.
Many grevilleas were used by the aboriginal tribes for food. A cool drink was obtained from the roots of G. nematophylla, which often sustained them in their desert crossings. They also sucked the nectar from the flowers and made a drink by soaking the flower heads in water. A paste was made by mashing the bark of certain grevilleas and this was used to heal earache, spear wounds, skin sores and even rubbed on women’s breasts to induce lactation. These pastes were also used for tribal markings. Queensland aborigines utilised the gum of G. striata as ‘cement’ and used it to attach flints to axes and spears. Aborigines appear to have had a name for most species; these names referred mostly to their practical uses.
Grevilleas are members of the Proteaceae family. The name Protea is the name of a Greek god who had the ability to change his form and refers to the amazingly varied shapes of the flowers and leaves of this genus. The flowers are usually composite and this collection of flowers is referred to as a conflorescence. The floral spike is interesting and very typical of the many flowers in the Proteaceae family.