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A Vegetable Man-Trap in Australia (S438b: 1891)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A note printed in the 4 July 1891 issue of The Garden. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S438B.htm

    [[p. 17]] There is in cultivation a small white-flowered greenhouse shrub named Bauera rubioides, which belongs to the Saxifrage tribe. It is a native of Australia and Tasmania, and is quite an innocent-looking little plant; yet in some parts of its native country it is said to have sometimes caused the loss of human life. The following account has been furnished by two gentlemen residing in Tasmania, both of whom have been entangled in its meshes, and only escaped with great difficulty. My friend, Mr A. J. O. writes as follows:--

    The Bauera is not a creeper or climber, but only a plant that is weak in the legs, having a very thin stem so flexible that it usually supports itself against its neighbours, growing up and becoming entangled with them. A Bauera scrub often commences very insidiously, so that a person not used to it may find himself in the thick of it before he knows where he is, for at the outer edge of the patch the plant grows only as an erect little plant about 18 inches high, while in the very heart of the scrub it may reach 10 feet or sometimes even 20 feet high. As you get into the thick of it you find it a more and more tangled mass, till you become at length so enveloped in it as to render movement almost impossible. You cannot cut it with an axe, because it yields and offers no resistance to the blow, and even when cut with a knife or billhook, the confused mass of tangled rope-like stems falls more closely about you. All you can do is to struggle and flounder on to your speedy exhaustion. Moreover, you cannot see where you are going, and may be within a few yards of the outside of the patch without knowing in which direction to go.

    Another gentleman who knows the plant well, and who once only escaped from its embraces in a state of utter exhaustion, gives the following account:--

    A really good specimen of Bauera scrub occupies the whole of the ground, having either smothered the other vegetation, or having covered ground once cleared by bush fires, and usually on low-lying ground. In the gullies leading down to such places it grows mixed with Tea tree and large tussocks of cutting Grass, and here you can force your way through it, though never easily. It is where it occupies nearly the whole ground that the real trouble is. The Bauera throws up from the roots, which grow pretty thickly together, a number of slender stems up to about half an inch in thickness and tapering very gradually. These are interlaced with one another in all directions until the whole becomes one compact mass--if one can apply such a term to what has no solidity. I have seen it growing in this way to a height of 7 feet or 8 feet, the stems being as pliable as a cart-rope and almost as difficult to break. Of course, a track can be made through Bauera scrub by cutting it with strong knives or billhooks, and then tearing and treading down the cut portion as you go on, but to the solitary bushman or explorer it is most formidable. He will perhaps try to wriggle along the damp ground under it, but he soon finds this to be impossible; then he tries to tear the stems apart and struggle through. When he is exhausted with this work he will perhaps climb up some old stump, and try to flounder along the top of the scrub, but he soon sinks helpless into the yielding mass. The most extensive and densest Bauera scrubs are found on the cold damp soils derived from the Silurian and Cambrian schists and clay slates of the west of Tasmania.

    These accounts are interesting as showing what different forms the same plant may assume when growing under different conditions. The species here referred to is found in all Southern and Eastern Australia as far as Queensland, but it is only apparently in the damp soil and climate of Western Tasmania that it attains the luxuriance of growth here [[p. 18]] described, and becomes a real danger to the solitary traveller, who may become heedlessly caught in its tangled meshes.

A. R. W.

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