Possum X is female. Not only is she female, but she is a nursing mum, as I discovered when she invaded the feeding bowl I'd just put out for a refuge wombat. I have been referring to Possum X as 'he' for years, from the time I accidentally evicted her from her home, the nest in the now chopped down loquat tree.
She didn't stay homeless for long. She moved to the living room ceiling, and eventually to the bedroom ceiling, from which she can shimmy down the pergola, nibbling the climbing Iceberg roses on the way. It turns out that the male possum she snarls at is her mate, with whom she refuses to share the most tempting rose buds, cumquat leaves, lemon leaves or in this case, lucerne pellets. Last night he cowered in the remaining loquat tree till the pellets were finished, and Possum X joined him, nibbling the new leaves.
Sex can be complicated in a garden. It should be easy to tell a male from a female possum, especially as the female has a pouch and the male its own obvious differences to a female possum, or any human who captures one for a closer look. As our possums tend to be six metres up a tree - or sliding down the roof - I can usually only tell which is which if there's a baby in the pouch, or on her back, or feeding nearby.
Birds are easier, especially in spring, when bird colours tend to be more vivid. The majority (but by no means all) male birds have more colourful plumage than the females, though sometimes not on a spectrum that's visible to us humans. The male blue wren in the vegetable garden is particularly vivid just now, but a female - or another male - will see him as even more gaudy.
It's simple to identify the male bower bird eating the broccoli leaves - he's a dark almost-black blue, while the females are bigger, plumper, and green and brown. Sadly, juvenile males look pretty much like the females, though just now there are some youngsters losing their green plumage and becoming blue, a bit messy looking, the bower bird equivalent of acne.
As for your garden lizards, a big head and a fat tail is supposed to indicate a male bluetongue, but she might be just a big female with good fat storage in an excellent feeding season with plenty of luscious snails about. The fool-proof way to tell male from female lizards - or snakes - is to use a probe, a subject I won't go into here as a) I have never done it and b) the reptile will strongly object. But if your lizards - and sometimes snakes - begin fighting each other, especially before a major thunder storm, they'll probably be males. I have only seen it happen once, and it was slightly terrifying, balls of lizards rolling around snapping, and snakes attacking each other. It was a heck of flood afterwards, too.
The bushflies that hang around you tend to be female ... except there will probably be males hanging around the females. Mozzies are simpler - if they bite you, they're female.
The sex life of plants is even more complicated and variable. Garden catalogues offer the supposedly perfect pollinator for varieties of cherries, apples, pears, almonds and hazelnuts, but what if the trees fail to flower at the same time because your climate varies from the place where they were bred? We had no almonds or cherries for years till the self-pollinating varieties came along, and no matter how many pollinating varieties I plant for the hazelnuts, they refuse to mate.
The double-grafted pear tree, on the other hand, still fruits magnificently even though an enthusiastic pruner cut off one of its varieties, leaving the remainder theoretically unpollinated. It's produced just as many pears ever since. Our feijoa refused to fruit for years, till I read that they often needed another for cross pollination. Sure enough, as soon as I planted its companion, our feijoa set fruit, and has fruited ever since. It's companion still hasn't bloomed, so no cross pollination has taken place. Maybe it was just lonely.
I've given up trying to match apple pollinators. The apples all bloom - though some old varieties bloom most every second year - and they all set fruit, except when it rains all the time when they are flowering and the bees et al can't get to them, which is why this year some of our apples are laden and others barren. The best bearers this year happened to bloom in the short periods of dry weather. The avocadoes, however, seem to be much cannier than apples. They have been blooming - sort of - for about three months, but their flowers only open when it's sunny. I've never known a season for avocado flowers to linger so long.
Avocado's male and female flowers are supposed to open at different times of the day, hence the need for a pollinator, but as our seedlings mostly bear identical fruit to their parent, unless I do some work with a paint brush to try to breed a new variety, the trees seem to be doing a lot of pollinating to themselves, or rather, the bees are doing it for them, possibly lingering long enough as they collect pollen to do so.
I've pretty much given up trying to arrange the sex life of our plants, just as I don't attempt to see if a wombat who's just moved into the area is male or female until I see a baby in the pouch, or a sagging pouch which has held several baby wombats and never recovered its tautness (I sympathise). Wherever possible I buy self-pollinating varieties. That's possible nowadays with almost all fruits, and as any single feral apple by the side of the road may tell you, most apple and pear trees will flower without a pollinator nearby, though the seeds inside them may not be viable.
As for Possum X and Mr X: I have not put the steel wool around the pergola posts as I threatened, to stop them using them it as a convenient highway, nor have I put wide plastic possum guards on the cumquats or the roses. This is a season of plenty, including for possums, and enough for us all. The new wombat who found her dish empty, however, may not agree.
This week I am:
- Pruning off silver beet and rhubarb seed heads: when seeds form many plants stop putting out leaves. This is why you should always pick the flowerheads from your basil, too. Let one branch go to seed and your basil will turn woody, without the new lush leaves for tomato salads;
- Watching the tomato plants - and everything else- head for the sky with all the rain, and feeding everything in the brief bouts of dry weather- lush growth means the plants need more tucker;
- Planning the plants to give for Christmas. Hopefully no recipients are reading this. I'm going for 'gorgeous' rather than productive this year, a new variety of dwarf white agapanthus that blooms all spring, summer and autumn; a mock orange for someone who asked where that wonderful scent in our spring was coming from; a Chinese pistachio for a friend with a lot of space but a lack of autumn colour- Chinese pistachio is about as colourful as you can get. It's also a great a climbing tree for kids. As for the rest- it will depend what looks stunning n the nurseries in a few weeks' time, as there are always new specialties for Christmas;
- Mowing, mowing, mowing and trying to encourage all other members of the household to mow too - a good way to get rid of the weeds in what we sometimes call 'lawn' that invaded after the drought;
- Planting more seeds to replace those that rotted in the cold wet spell, or were eaten by slugs or snails before I noticed they had germinated.
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