Over two hundred species of native plants have survived a century of sheep grazing where we live, but sadly the Blue Devil is not one of them.
If this tasty relative of parsley, celery and carrot did once thrive here, it would have been quickly eaten out. Any left by the sheep were likely to have been actively destroyed by farmers, as they are often mistaken for thistles. Its past presence is suggested by the smattering of Blue Devils along a nearby roadside, but numbers are so small that it is unlikely to find its own way back to our now sheep-less native grassland, where such a treasure would be revered. There is no point looking in the adjacent paddocks – the devil is very sensitive to grazing and has disappeared from most parts of its once-wide range in Australia’s southeast.
It is the astounding blueness of the plants that fascinates, because it is not simply that they have blue flowers, lovely as that would be. They start the growing season rather pale green, forming a rosette of succulent but spiny leaves in winter. In late spring they push out a spreading flowering spike about 30 cm high and heavily branched. The entire spike is an amazing bright metallic blue. This is a rare, and not particularly sensible colour choice for a plant. Usually blue light from the sun is the energy source plants use to grow; they absorb it, and reflect the green light back, which is why most plants look green. The devils reflect the blue light – much less efficient, but a spectacular vision against the green grass of early summer.
I could not resist trying to (re-)establish a population of these beauties in the native grassland on our place, and they did well from seed in small cultivated and weeded patches, growing slowly but steadily, with some watering to get them through the 2006 drought. The first flowers were celebrated 18 months after sowing.
Ten years later, these plants are still thriving and producing generous flower spikes and viable seed in good seasons. There is only one problem, despite their spiny leaves: the kangaroos love to graze them, hard, just as the sheep did. So my beautiful Blue Devils suffer the indignity of having to cower under wire mesh cages. Some of them are corralled in a larger fenced area referred to as The Devils’ Playground.
I have a theory that if I can establish thousands of plants rather than the few hundred I have now, they will not be so vulnerable to grazing pressure and be able to hold their own without me. This ambition is being challenged by drought, warming, and kangaroo numbers. Moreover, we cannot restore the soil condition or recreate the fire and grazing patterns that might be ideal for their survival. But for the short time that I can, I will be the Devils’ friend, cheering them on while seeding, weeding and willing them to thrive.
Contribute your Rescue story