Rainforest Pines

Skyrail Nature Diary: November 2007

When you think of a pine tree, you probably imagine a tall, thin tree with dark green needles and fragrant pine cones?

Well, the pines of Australia’s Tropical Rainforests are very different, and in this edition, we will learn more about two unique rainforest conifers.

The first is the mighty Kauri Pine (Agathis Robusta); living up to one thousand years old and growing up to 50 metres high, the Kauri Pine is undoubtedly one of the tallest and most majestic trees in the rainforest.

It is also one of the most ancient: the Kauri Pine is a primitive, native conifer dating back more than 100 million years to the Jurassic period! Needless to say, the Kauri has evolved over time and today it boasts several unique characteristics, which enable it to stay clean and healthy.

One of these characteristics is its ability to constantly shed its bark, which allows it to stay 'clean' of any creepers, climbers, epiphytes and parasites. This makes the Kauri very distinguishable in the rainforest; it is one of the few trees not to be covered in mosses, lichens and vines.

Unlike a typical pine tree, the Kauri Pine does not have pine needles; rather it sports broad, flat, leathery foliage, which is a dark, glossy green.

The Kauri Pines’ Latin name "Agathis" means "ball of string", interestingly, this is because the pine cones it produces are similar in size and shape to a ball of string!

Another rainforest pine is the Weeping Brown Pine (Podocarpus Grayae), which occurs in lowland rainforest from the Torres Strait to Townsville.

The Latin name "Podocarpus Grayae" translates as "foot fruit", and is so called because of its oddly shaped cone that looks similar to a foot.

The seeds of the Weeping Brown Pine are poisonous but it has an edible "hat" on top, which turns red when it is ripe. When the fruit ripens in October/November, the entire tree looks as if it is covered in red berries.

The Weeping Brown Pine is a bushy tree with very long, dark green, strap shaped leaves that droop down in clusters, giving the tree a weeping look. Its new leaves are a brilliant yellow and are often mistaken for flowers.

The Kauri Pine and the Weeping Brown Pine are not pines in the same sense as the pine trees of the Northern Hemisphere; they are actually conifers from the Jurassic period. In early settler days, they were called pine trees because the timber looks similar to that of the northern pine trees.