Away from my own Cornish garden as I am, down under in a Queensland summer, (38°C today) I’m finding more to nourish my horticultural leanings in the remaining wild areas around here than in gardens, public or private, as good as some of them are.
One place I have returned to on several occasions is Mt. Mee. North of Brisbane there is a coastal plain around 25km wide, backed by mountain ranges. Mt Mee State Forest and Forest reserve is part of D’Aguilar National Park and is an area of mixed forest, the highest points of which are around 500m. altitude. From a central carpark/picnic area you can access miles of forest roads and walking tracks. Only a few of the roads are much used, so I have mainly walked for hours without seeing anyone.
There are many very different types of environment within quite a small area, often with bewilderingly rapid changes between them. You move from rainforest to dry sclerophyll forest within a couple of hundred metres. There are Hoop pine plantations, remnants of old growth forest with lots of Hoop pine, towering straight white trunks of Eucalypts and areas dominated by Piccabeen palm.
Very little of what I have seen is familiar. I know a Eucalyptus when I see one, but here there are Eucalypts that don’t look like Eucalypts and things that look like Eucalyptus that are something else. The Queensland Government has a list of plant species for D’Aguilar National Park; 1468 native species. 4 Cycads, 94 Orchids, 65 Ferns and so on. (The list of vertebrate animals native to the Park stands at 587 species) Confronted with an unfamiliar plant, it is at least a start.
My favourite is dry sclerophyll forest. Here the trees are relatively wide spaced, short, often with twisted trunks, the forest floor a mix of grass trees, grasses, Restios, Lomandra, assorted other monocots, mostly not flowering, and a wide range of tough and wiry shrubs. There is a characteristic strong aromatic smell. The trees are unsuitable for timber so these areas are relatively unscathed.
Mt Mee dry sclerophyll forest. I know I’m pushing my luck to squeeze an entire ecosystem into one item, but this is my surrogate garden for just a few more weeks. The two most obvious species are Scribbly Gum, Eucalyptus racemosa subsp. racemosa and grass trees, Xanthorrhoea latifolia.
Dendropthoe vitellina. Long-flowered mistletoe. There are quite often bits of the crown of the Eucalypts that look a bit different; very pendulous, slightly different leaf shape. They are mistletoes, easily overlooked out of flower, somewhat extraordinary when in flower. This one was growing from four or five places on the trunk of this tree, low enough to get a good look at. When I saw the flowers I could scarcely believe my eyes.
Eucalyptus racemosa subsp. racemosa. Scribbly Gum. One of the commonest, and by far the most obvious trees in the dry sclerophyll areas of Mt Mee. A pile of shed bark flakes surrounds each tree and the scribbly patterns are completely unique to each. A moth larva is responsible.
Calanthe triplicata. Christmas Orchid. I saw this plant yesterday, a meter or so from the path, having walked past it the day before. Nearly three feet high it’s a stunning thing. I’d seen one a month ago, then none since, so I assumed it was rare. Not so, once you see one in flower, the identity of the clumps of leaves dotted about becomes clear. There are lots but few in flower. The species is very widespread, from East Africa, through Asia and down to Australia. On Mt Mee it grows in the denser, shadier areas, not quite full blown rainforest.
Archontophoenix cunninghammia. Piccabeen Palm. When it rains around here, it doesn’t hold back. You don’t get hours of light rain, you get torrential downpours that generally don’t last long. A slightly elevated piece of ground with the surface parched and hard will not absorb much, it almost all runs off. The flat areas and slight depressions are the beneficiaries of both their own rain and the runoff. I think this partly explains the variety of habitats mixed together. The piccabeen patch at Mt Mee is in a slight depression and usually has some pools of open water and boggy bits. The palms grow densely and become very tall, to 20m or so. It seeds around very freely and it’s easy to see why it has become an invasive weed in some other parts of the world.
Amongst them are dotted very tall Eucalyptus trees, providing them with some shade.
Araucaria cunninghamii. Hoop Pine. Mr Cunningham did rather well when they were handing out plant names way back when. I came across a few bits of what looked like old growth forest with a substantial component of Hoop Pine in it. The logging in this area started in the 1870’s and finished in the 1980’s. Looking at it now it is hard to see which bits have been much changed and which have not.
I think I’ll only get one more post in before coming home. I am really starting to wonder how the garden there has survived and what is now stirring. I’m going to be checking out other posts linked to The Propagator’s Six and it’s going to get me thinking about sowing and planting and so on.