Tag Archives: Trees

Moreton Bay Fig

A young palm stands in shadow of a towering Morton Bay Fig and a jungle climber makes it’s way up to the canopy to get it’s share of the valuable sunlight.
Just outside of the small village of Maleny on the wet eastern side of the Great Dividing Range I saw a sign for the ‘Fig Tree Walk’. This is a small 1km long board walk through a small piece of rain forest with some spectacular trees. The most prominent tree and the one from which the walk takes it’s name is the Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). This tree with its wide spread canopy, broad buttresses and tangled roots begins its life as a tiny parasitic plant high up in the canopy of another tree. The seed is deposited on a branch by a bird or fruit bat. The roots of the fig then twine their way down and around the host tree until they reach the ground. It’s at this point that the fig really takes off with all the additional nutrients from the forest floor and eventually strangles it’s host to death. Over time the host will rot away leaving a hollow lattice of roots that grow together to form a single trunk. The hollow trunk forming valuable homes for the forests wildlife. As well as housing and feeding the wildlife these trees are invaluable fore their vast root systems that hold together the forest floor to prevent flooding erosion.
A tree worthy of four photos.
A Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) in its prime.
A second notable tree, not for its necessary grandeur but for it’s notorious leaves, is the Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide moroides). This is not the tree to be wandering around beneath with bare feet but by the time I saw the signs I was too far from my car to be bothered to go back and put on my shoes, so while I marveled at the forest I had to keep a close eye on the path ahead. The large soft leaves are covered with tiny stinging hairs much like those of stinging nettles. Insects feast on these leaves as among the leaves they are safe from most predators that are deterred by the stings. Some insects store the toxins within them so they themselves become toxic and there for unpalatable. The tree can cope with the loss of leaves as the large leaves are soft and have little structure so the tree can quickly grow more without exhausting itself.
Looking up into the canopy of the large leafed stinging tree (Dendrocnide moroides).
One of the soft sting leaves laying on the path. Mission successful, no leaves stepped on, no stung feet.

The Botanical Gardens of the Western Woodlands

There was no apple picking to be done the other day due to the rain so I took a 400km round road trip (not far in Aussie terms) to the inland boarder town of Goondiwindi (pronounced gunned-a-windy) to take a look at the Botanic Garden of the Western Woodlands. On first appearance they were sparse, dry and not particularly colourful. Unlike the majority of Australia’s botanic gardens located on the coastal fringes and displaying a wide variety of species and cultivated plants from around the world, Goondiwindi Botanic Garden features only native plants from the local regions of southern outback Queensland and northern outback New South Wales. The plantings in the garden represent 27 defined botanical habitats from ranging from the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range across the dry planes to deserts of the interior. All of the plants from these regions have adapted to endure prolonged periods of drought and on rare occasions may be submerged of weeks or months at a time when deluges from the tropics slowly make their way down the dry inland creek systems flooding their way slowly south to Lake Eyre and some years all the way to the Southern Ocean, as has happened this year. The town of Goondiwindi received very little rain from the skies though the Macintyre river rose to 10.63 meters above normal levels coming within a few inches of the top of the towns levies.
Goondiwindi Botanic Garden of the Western Woodlands
The grass in the garden was golden, crisp and fissured with cracks as the soil dries and contracts. The plantings are more like that of an arboretum, as the spacing of the plants is critical for the survival of the collection. This is how they would occur in habitat as there wouldn’t be enough moisture in the ground in dry times to maintain a continuous canopy. The garden was conceived in 1986 and it was envisaged right from the very start that it would be a showcase for native floras. The first plants went in the ground in 1988 and several thousand trees and shrubs have been planted since that time. A large percentage of plants have been lost to drought and replaced. Drought cycles may be ten years or more and young plants don’t make it through these times. Young plants are mulched and are helped with trickle irrigation but the loss of some plants, it seems, is the reality of gardening in this region. The original time scale for the evolution of the garden was planned in decades as apposed to years as many under story shrubs and delicate ephemeral plants will only be able to survive once a mature over story has been established.
The drought in Goondiwindi persists in any regions beyond the towns flood levies.
The main canopy colour is silver to glaucus green although some trees like the Queensland Lacebark Brachychiton discolor with its swollen bottle shaped trunk to act as a reservoir looked distinctly glossy, lush and green among it’s counterparts. Being high summer now there were no trees or shrubs putting on grand floral displays as blousy water hungry petals would get burned to a crisp in no time. On closer inspection there were plenty of species in flower, filling a niche, the majority of which are comprised of  only the bare essentials.
Callostemma purpureum (Garland Lilly) and (Bauhinia) Latin name unknown
Eremorphila neglecta ‘Olive’ and Callistemon ‘Injume Pink’
Acacia salicina (Doolan) and Acacia species
Eremorphila polyclada and Eucalyptus species
The main foliage type is schlerophyll (tough leaved) like those of Eucalyptus species and often their colour is glaucus or silver. Eremorphila glabra ‘Compacta’ has small hairy leaves held close to the stems. Others like Cassia artemesioides (Silver Cassia) have reduced their leaves to needles and Hakea purpurea has done away with leaves all together photosynthesising through the green stems.
Cassia artemesioides (Silver Cassia) and Eremorphila glabra ‘Compacta’
Hakea purpurea and silver foliage, plant unknown
Many of the more showy early flowering trees are now shedding their seeds. The flowering of Brachychiton species are supposed to be spectacular and it is often used as an ornamental in parks and gardens. I’ve yet to see one in full bloom.
Brachychiton discolor (Queensland Lacebark) and Senna circinnata (Spring Pod Cassia)
Pittosporum phylliraeoides (Native Apricot) and black seeds, unknown plant
Another adaptation to cope with the harsh environment is to develop symbiotic relationships like the ants living inside the galls on the Acacia pendula which help defend the tree against browsing and aid pollination. Unfortunately not all the ants live in the trees and I seem to have developed the knack stopping to take photos right on top of their nests.
Acacia pendula (Myall) with ant gall and Brachychiton discolor (Queensland Lacebark) leaf and Shield Bug
Brachychiton rupestris (Bottle Tree) leaves made into spider nests and a row of eggs on a leaf
Here is a bit about Lake Eyre.
There is still a few months of apple picking to be done, then my plan was to travel inland to the Simpson Desert for a week or so then double back and head north to the tropics of northern Queensland. These plans may change and I may now turn south and follow the inland creeks down to Lake Eyre to see the transformation of the floods, the greening of the desert and the accompanying boom in wildlife. Not having a four wheel drive I’m not yet shore how feasible this plan would be, but there is still plenty of time to research and make a decision.

Volcanos and Giant Cordylines

As I’m still very much in the UK, and busy helping to prepare my friend Will’s garden for winter, I thought I’d take a look back at a past adventure.

A stalwart of all temperate exotic gardens, and vital for winter structure, is the good old Cordyline. These robust Palm like plants are used so much so, especially in the south west of the UK, that they have acquired the common names of Cornish and Torquay palm or less elegantly the Cabbage Palm. While travelling a year or so ago around New Zealand, during the southern summer I came across a couple of fine specimens in habitat.

 One of the defining features of the north island of New Zealand is Mt Taranaki (above) soaring 2518 metres above the flat pastoral land. The mountain known commonly as Egmont is in fact of volcanic origin, being thrust up through the landscape by immense forces below the crust. Craig Knight, who I was travelling with, and I set out for the summit on an unremarkable grey and drizzly day. Zig-zaging our way through the lush forests that ring the lower slopes, marvelling at the trees laden with Mosses, Ferns, Astellias, Orchids and where the mosses and leaf litter had settled in the crux of swollen bows, small trees and Cordylines that would otherwise reside on the ground. These dripping forests of moss laden and tangled branches became the setting for the Goblin Forest in the Lord of the Rings. As we hiked further up the volcano, the steeper the path rose and the lower and thinner the forest canopy became. Here, where there is much les competition for light and an abundance of water peculating down from the ice cap on the summit and regular rain fall, grows the imposing Mountain Cabbage Palm, Cordyline indivisa.
These distinctive plants with their lush heads of broad leaves (10-30 cm wide and 1-2 m long) seem almost alien among the surrounding bush. This is a striking plant and could create an air of exoticism in any garden. Cordyline indivisa is however notoriously difficult to cultivate. Growing primarily in elevated areas it needs a constant supply of water and a cool position free from all but the lightest of frosts. Below are some young plants in Tresco Abbey Garden in the Isles of Scilly.
Leaving the tree line behind and climbing beyond the grey cloud, the path became steeper still and we emerged into warm sunlight catching our first glimpse of the summit, the looming grey snider cone piercing the sky above. There was no more zigzagging from there on, those ahead of us making a bee-line strait to the top. We were now on all fours, calves burning, scrambling at no great speed up a steep loose pumice slope. Pausing for a breath at a jaunty angle we remained alert as we dodged rocks hurtling by at great speed, dislodged by those higher up.
The cone of Mt Taranaki remains plugged with ice throughout the summer months and is pockmarked with holes made by fallen rocks that heat up in the sun and slowly sink out of sight. The summit provided views out across a cloudscape in every direction. The only landmark visible was the broad bulk of Mt Ruapehu and the perfect flat toped cone of Mt Ngauruhoe out to the east in the Central Volcanic Plato. (Below Craig at the summit.)
Driving east through mile after mile of  irrigated, fertilized intensely green pastoral land, Mt Taranaki still a good size in the rear view mirror, we came across a loan Cordyline australis standing just off the road. This had to be the biggest by many times and certainly the finest of all the Cordylines we saw across both islands. This chap would rival an oak. Rather irritatingly, good old Wikipedia informs me that the biggest Cordyline in fact stands at the northern tip of the South Island in Golden Bay. It is said to have a circumference at the base of 9m and a height 17m and is estimated to be 400 to 500 years old. If this one isn’t the biggest it must be the most perfectly formed.
On my next venture to New Zealand I’ll have to visit Golden bay to see if it really does harbor the biggest Cordyline.