Australian bats and gardens

Some of the world’s largest bats hang around at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia.

Courtesy of Lynn Hunt
What appear to be large seedpods or fruits on trees are actually a species of bat found only in Australia. These 'flying grey foxes' are among the largest bats in the world. But they're a problem in public gardens.

As I wrote in my last posting (Enjoying rose gardens Down Under), my husband and I are visiting Sydney, Australia, for son Sam’s wedding.

One of our first sightseeing stops was the Royal Botanic Gardens where we checked out the Queen of Flowers and learned that Australian roses suffer from many of the same pests and diseases we cope with in the US.

Not long after visiting the Palace Rose Garden, we wandered over to the Palm Grove, where I spied what appeared to be some hefty coconuts hanging from the trees.

Imagine my surprise when one of the “coconuts” suddenly started shrieking, unfurled its wings, and flew over my head on a path toward the Sydney Opera House.

Grey-headed flying foxes

What I thought were hundreds of hanging fruits turned out to be a colony of grey-headed flying foxes. Named because the faces of the creatures resemble a fox (I didn’t care to get close enough to confirm that), they are actually one of the largest species of bats in the world.

Flying foxes weigh as much as two pounds and have a wingspan of up to five feet. Although they generally feed at night, the bats often take a noontime zoom around the gardens. No wonder folks at the snack bar suggest sitting under umbrellas while dining.

The bats are reputed to be very intelligent with large eyes and an acute sense of smell and hearing. During their nightly sorties they can venture as far as 25 miles from their campsite at the gardens.

And because they are one of the few species that pollinates the flowers and spreads the seeds of rain forest trees, flying foxes are a vital part of the local ecosystem.

They're messy guests

Sadly, though, they are considered a messy nuisance anywhere they decide to hang out.

And since they are damaging the trees in areas such as the Palm Grove, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service has granted the gardens permission to begin a two- to four-week noise disturbance program to encourage the bats to settle elsewhere.

A similar program succeeded at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.

Here’s hoping these amazing creatures will find the welcome mat out in another location on Australia’s southeastern coast. The future of rain forest trees including many varieties of eucalypts may well depend on them.


Lynn Hunt, the Rose Whisperer, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's an accredited horticultural judge and a Consulting Rosarian Emeritus for the American Rose Society. She has won dozens of awards for her writing in newspapers, magazines, and television. She grows roses and other plants in her garden on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. To read more by Lynn, click here.You can also follow her on Twitter.

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