Sunday, June 17, 2012

Australia: Binna Burra

Lamington National Park
If I had to name my favourite spot in Australia - admittedly a very difficult task - I would probably pick Lamington National Park, a couple of hours' drive south from Brisbane.

Lamington National Park
 Lamington National Park
The park protects a magnificent, wildlife-laden stretch of temperate rainforest atop a picturesque plateau, the remains of a long-extinct volcano (it's the dark green tongue of forest in the middle distance of the upper photograph).  It is a world away from the dubious pleasures of the nearby Gold Coast and Surfer's Paradise. I spent several days there in 1972 at O'Reilly's Guest House, one of the two well-known lodges at the edge of the park.

Going back was the high point, for me, of our trip to Brisbane in 2011, but this time we took a cabin at the other lodge, Binna Burra. Eileen, Sue and I were joined for the occasion by our friend Mui Ling (on the right) and her daughter Alicia (on the left), who flew up from Melbourne to meet us, and on April 6 we piled into the car and headed off up country.

Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata)
On the way up I had another reminder of the changes in Australia's wildlife since my last visit: a Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata). Magpie Geese once ranged throughout eastern Australia, but by the 1970s over hunting had largely driven them from all but the tropical north. They have recovered spectacularly, thanks in part to reintroduction programs, and now range once again as far south as Victoria.

The Magpie Goose is certainly the most peculiar duck in the world: so much so that it is now usually placed on its own family, Anseranatidae. Aside from the only partially-webbed feet (something you can also see in the otherwise-unrelated Hawaiian Goose (Branta sandvicensis)), the Magpie Goose is the only waterfowl in the world known to feed its young directly, rather than leading them about and letting them find food for themselves, as other ducks do. It appears to be the last survivor of a once-worldwide lineage of waterfowl that branched off before the evolution of the other living forms, but after the rise of their nearest relatives, the large, vaguely chicken-like screamers (Anhimidae) of South America.

The forest at Lamington is magnificent, and, and on a misty, rainy morning the atmosphere beneath its towering canopy can be almost cathedral-like.

Though not as rich as a truly tropical rain forest, the plant and the variety of forest structure is considerably greater than what you will find in eucalypt woodland.

Red Bloodwood (Corymbia gummifera)
There are eucalypts, or eucalypt relatives, in plenty, particularly around the forest edge. The flowers of this Red Bloodwood (Corymbia gummifera) behind the main lodge were identified for me by Luke Christiansen, a naturalist guide at Binna Burra.

Watkin's Fig (Ficus watkinsiana)
Inside the forest, however, the dominant trees may include monsters like this Watkin's Fig (Ficus watkinsiana), dwarfing Alicia (who, alone among my traveling companions, braved the forest trails with me). Like many figs, this one starts life as a vine before enveloping and smothering its host tree.

The lower levels of the forest is rich with ferns.

Their variety is considerable - over fifty species have been recorded around Binna Burra, ranging from a series of tree ferns to a cluster of epiphytes.

Birds-nest fern (Asplenium australasicum)
Birds-nest ferns (Asplenium australasicum) festoon the larger limbs...

Fragrant Fern (Microsorum scandens)
...while Fragrant Fern (Microsorum scandens) scrambles up the trunks.

This is one of a number of terrestrial ferns - I am not sure which - whose fronds arise from a rhizome creeping over the forest floor.

Cooper's Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi)
This broad, spreading frond belongs to a tree fern - I believe, to Cooper's Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi).

Walking Stick Palm (Linospadix monostachya)
Walking Stick Palm (Linospadix monostachya)
This understorey plant is not a tree fern but a palm: the Walking Stick Palm (Linospadix monostachya).  Its pendulous necklaces of bright red fruit are most attractive in the dim light; the fruits are edible (but I didn't try one!).

Much less pleasant to encounter are the climbing, vine-like palms of the genus CalamusCalamus palms are studded with needle-sharp spines and recurved hooks that latch into your clothing (or skin) at the faintest touch.  In Australia they are generally known as lawyer canes or bush lawyers, because once they get their hooks into you they don't let go.  This one is probably C. muelleri, the appropriately-named Wait-a-while.

Fungi, including these bracket fungi, are common – not surprisingly, given the humid conditions and the amount of standing wood.

I am not even going to try to identify the species I photographed the forest – I am, simply, not a mushroom man. I would be very glad to hear of any identifications. In the meantime, here is a Lamington Fungus Gallery.

I believe the last of these to be a coral fungus (Clavariaceae), but I could very well be wrong!

This is clearly an aroid, but which one I cannot say.  I need to brush up my botany....

In a clearing in the forest I found one of the Australian grass-trees (Xanthorrhoea), peculiar cousins of the daylilies.  The likely species at Lamington is X. glauca.  Notice the cattail-like flowering spike in the middle - source (along with their blackened trunks, not visible here) of the unfortunate older name for these plants, "blackboy".  It is supposed to recall an aboriginal's spear, and it was actually used as a spear handle in days gone by.

I didn't see many wildflowers (it was autumn, after all), but this rather prickly-looking plant, with its showy white flowers, is probably one of the Australian heaths (Epacris).

This delicate little wildflower is a lobelia, possibly Forest Lobelia (Lobelia trigonocaulis).

At dusk, after a long day in the forest, I watched the sunlight filtering through the trees...

And all of us, non-naturalists included, enjoyed the spectacular Lamington sunsets.  What a place!

1 comment:

  1. Great blogpost Ronald, it makes me feel bad though that I've lived on the Sunshime Coast most of my life and haven't been down there yet. I'm interested in wild edibles and was searching for information on Forest Lobelia and thought perhaps you might know if it's edible or not or perhaps you could direct me to where I could find out. Keep up the good work.