Winter Wonders...

Skyrail Nature Diary: August 2004

Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforests boast some of the most beautiful and perfumed flowers in the world, some of the most interesting of which grow on vines and orchids and are blooming right now!

Orchids are hardy plants which flourish in both the lowland and highland rainforests of Tropical North Queensland. In fact, these rainforests are home to over 230 different orchid species which represents approximately 30% of Australia’s total orchid population.

Most rainforest orchids are epiphytes, which means they live in the tree tops with no root attachment to the ground, but do not harm their host tree. Orchids draw their nutrients and water supply directly from the air and each orchid produces millions of microscopic seeds that are easily dispersed through the rainforest by insects or on the gentlest of breezes.

Some of the distinctive orchids you may see flowering this month are the King Orchid (Dendrobium speciosum) and the Golden Orchid (Dendrobium discolour). The King Orchid grows in clumps up to three metres in size and presents as many as 60 racemes of fragrant flowers at a time. The flowers range in colour from white to cream to rich yellow and vary in size. This particular orchid is extremely adaptable and can be found growing high in the rainforest tree tops or on rocks in open forest throughout the high rainfall coastal areas of north-east Australia.

Another orchid you may see flowering in August is the Golden Orchid, which is more specific to the coastal regions of Queensland. This species is very hardy and can be found in the rainforests, open forests, mangroves and even on exposed rocky coasts and islets. The Golden Orchid forms extensive colonies, taking root wherever a pocket of soil is available. Its flowers are particularly long lasting.

While orchid flowers are renowned for their delicacy and colours, the rainforest’s flowering vines will impress with their size and perfume. One such is the Glory Vine (Faradaya splendida), which is found in the rainforest and even growing alongside the roads from Ingham in the south to Cape York Peninsula in the north. An energetic climber, the Glory Vine has large, perfumed blooms which can measure up to 6cm across and are a favourite with many of the region’s butterflies. The Glory Vine flowers in abundance from late July onwards, its white petals make it easily recognisable.

Meantime the Jungle Vine (Neosepicaea jucunda) provides an interesting colour contrast with its purple, pink and maroon tubular flowers. These flowers, which begin to appear in late winter and early spring, are clustered at the end of shoots or branches and attract native honeyeaters. They will gradually be replaced with the vine’s fruits which are brown, pea-shaped pods. Unlike the Glory Vine, which can be found at pretty much any height in the rainforest, the Jungle Vine will mainly be seen on the forest floor and it grows almost exclusively in the rainforests of Tropical North Queensland.

Of the 3,000 different plant species living in Australia’s Tropical Rainforests, more than 395 are considered rare or threatened and 330 are found no where else in the world! The best way to see the rainforest is on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which will take you on a 7.5km journey over the canopy and deep into the forest with two rainforest mid-stations providing the opportunity to explore this unique environment from the forest floor.