Springtime Blooms

Skyrail Nature Diary: September 2004

September is the official start of the flowering season in Australia's Tropical Rainforests, as our native plants get ready for the on-set of the annual 'wet' season.

Generally speaking, most rainforest flowers are small and difficult to spot amongst the canopy and undergrowth, but they are definitely worth looking for!

Examples of some of the more distinctive species blooming this month include the Bumpy Satin Ash, Red Beech, Native Gardenia and Red Fruited Palm Lily.

The Bumpy Satin Ash (Syzygium cormiflorum) is quite a unique rainforest tree in that it flowers and fruits directly from its branches and trunk. Found almost exclusively in Australia's World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforests, from Townsville to Cape York Peninsula, there are two forms of this interesting species, the ramiflorous and the cauliflorous.

The ramiflorous form is a large tree found growing mainly in lowland areas, its flowers and fruits grow directly from the branches; the cauliflorous form is a smaller tree growing in the highlands and its flowers and fruit form on the trunk. The Bumpy Satin Ash has beautiful, 'fluffy', white flowers which are popular with rainforest birds. After a period of intense flowering the Bumpy Satin Ash replaces its coral-like blooms with multitudes of white fruits; these are tart and are not so popular with rainforest animals.

Another particularly beautiful rainforest flower belongs to the Red Beech (Dillenia alata), which is a 6-18 metre tree usually found growing on the rainforest fringes of tropical beaches and adjacent to streams.

The Red Beech is suited to moist, seasonally swampy soils and areas of high rainfall with some salt influence; they have short trunks with flaky maroon coloured bark.

A generally unremarkable looking tree, the Red Beech becomes very easy to identify in the springtime when it bursts into bloom with its large, yellow, hibiscus-like flowers. While individual blooms last only a day, the flowering season extends over a couple of months. The flowers are replaced with equally attractive red fruits featuring white-arilled seeds, these appear on the plant at the same time as the flowers.

The Native Gardenia (Randia fitzalanii) is another rainforest species flowering in September. With glossy, dark green foliage the Native Gardenia is an attractive plant and is somewhat similar to the 'garden' gardenia in that its delicate white blooms have an exotic perfume.

Native Gardenias are found in rainforests along Queensland's tropical coast, mainly along the margins and watercourses. Although this is a spring bloomer, the fruits don't develop until late autumn.

The Red Fruited Palm Lily (Cordyline ruba), usually well camouflaged amongst the rainforest undergrowth, is another species recognisable for its flowers this month.

Found in most rainforest types, the Red Fruited Palm Lily grows up to three metres high, its thin trunks supporting heads of short, broad leaves which are approximately 15-50cm long. The numerous purple coloured flowers begin to appear in spring and continue through into summer; they are replaced by shiny, scarlet berries which bunch closely along the stem and contain several black seeds.

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.