Rain brings a new lease of life

Skyrail Nature Diary: June 2004

What a wet, wet year it has been, in fact, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway's Rangers report that more rain has fallen in the first five months of this year than we received in total for 2003!

While the downpour wasn't really enjoyed by the region's human residents, who were experiencing prolonged clothes drying angst, Australia's Tropical Rainforests have relished the rainfall responding with lush new growth and an array of flowers, fruits and seeds.

Some of the species which are particularly active this month are the Kuranda Quandong, Rusty Fig, Pink Ash and Mountain Silkwood.

The beautiful Kuranda Quandong (Elaeocarpus bancroftii) began flowering in late April, and as we move into June the flowers are being replaced with large, green fruits.

These fruits contain thick shelled nuts which are shaped like rugby balls and have slender almond-shaped kernels inside; the fruit and kernels are edible and are a favourite food source for the rare Southern Cassowary.

To access the tasty Kuranda Quandong kernels, you have to hit the seed at the point where the 'lines' meet and the seed will split open. Due to the unique flavour of these kernels, which is also popular with humans, farmers on the Cairns Highlands have recently been conducting trials to assess the viability of commercial production of the Kuranda Quandong.

The Rusty Fig (Ficus destruens) is another rainforest plant which is flowering and fruiting this month, showering the forest floor with its small orange fruits. The Rusty Fig starts its life as a young sapling growing in the canopy of a 'host' tree; its dispersal throughout the rainforest is assisted by birds. A vigorous growing species, the Rusty Fig quickly lowers its roots, criss-crossing the trunk of the host tree, to reach the nutrients of the forest floor. As it matures, the Rusty Fig's roots become thicker and stronger eventually 'strangling' and killing its host tree, that is why this tree is also known as a Strangler Fig.

The Pink Ash (Alphitonia petriei) is a fast growing pioneer tree. Its bark and leaves contain methyl salicylate and if rubbed smells like liniment which gives rise to another name for the tree, the Sarsaparilla. The Pink Ash flowered earlier this year and this month it can be spotted sporting numerous clusters of small, dark, wooden, gumnut-shaped fruits. This tree is commonly found in disturbed rainforest, alongside roadways and in rainforest regrowth throughout Queensland's rainforest and into northern New South Wales.

Many trees of the Flindersia genus are also now flowering and fruiting, including the beautiful Mountain Silkwood (Flindersia oppositifolia). The Mountain Silkwood fruit is quite unusual looking; its rough woody capsules splitting open into five distinct fingers to release a multitude of flat papery seeds which carry through the rainforest on the lightest of breezes.

The Mountain Silkwood has a very defined habitat and can only be found in montane rainforest in Tropical North Queensland, specifically on Mount Bartle Frere, Bellenden Ker and Spurgeon.

The plentiful plant activity certainly reflects a rejuvenated rainforest environment, which has undoubtedly benefited from this year's rains. Australia's World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforest extends from Cooktown in the north to Townsville in the south and is the world's oldest continually surviving rainforest. It is home to more than 3,000 plant species from 210 families; more than 395 of these plants are considered rare or threatened and 330 are found no where else in the world.

The best way to see the rainforests is on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.