Rainforest Blooms

Skyrail Nature Diary: March 2005

Australia's Tropical Rainforests are responding to our annual 'green' season with a spectacular show of flowers and fruits. Some of the more interesting species you will see in your visits to the rainforests in February and March are the Candle Nuts, Umbrella Trees and Blue Quandongs.

Without a doubt the Umbrella Tree (Schefflera actinophylla) is one of the most beautiful rainforest species in Tropical North Queensland. Heavy with its bounty of red fruits at this time of year, the Umbrella Tree is a favourite with the region's rainbow lorikeets and is found growing naturally in the rainforest and also in many private and public gardens. The trees flower 'arms', which are covered with red fruits resembling large raspberries, are visible from the ground and the canopy.

The Umbrella Trees' native habitat is along North Queensland's coastal areas, but they are a hardy plant and can also be found growing in other tropical, subtropical and even temperate regions of Australia and overseas. The Umbrella Tree usually starts its life as an epiphyte on a rock or other tree trunk and slowly sends its roots to the ground; once established in the soil, the tree quickly develops its distinctive spreading crown of umbrella-shaped leaves.

The handsome Candle Nut (Aleurites moluccana) is another rainforest species heavy with flowers at the moment. Its flowers are small and white and occur in clusters between whorls of white leaves.

The fragrant white flowers will be followed by large, globular fruits which contain two hard nuts. These nuts have a very high oil content, up to 60%, making them very flammable.

It is the nuts which give this tree its name, burning brightly even in the rain, the Candle Nuts' seeds can be used as 'candles' to light your way through the rainforest undergrowth.

Finally, the stately Blue Quandongs (Elaeocarpus angustifolius) are currently flowering throughout the region. The Blue Quandong has distinctive, frilly, white flowers which grow on the underside of the trees' branches.

The branches are widely separated with a sparse crown of leaves, making the flowers very easy to see. Flowers will gradually be replaced by blue, ball-shaped, fruits which contain one large seed. The fruits are edible and their green flesh is used to make a very nice jam which is available for sale at many local markets.

The best way to see Australia's Tropical Rainforests is on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.