The Rainforest’s Winter Harvest

Skyrail Nature Diary: August 2009

This month on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, you can see the bright berries of the Blue Quandong and creamy flowers of the Alexandra Palm.

Did you know that palms are one of the world’s earliest types of flowering plants? They have inhabited the Australian continent for more than 55 million years. There are many palm species in the Wet Tropics World Heritage listed Rainforests, one of the most graceful is the Alexandra Palm.

This species flourishes in dense groves in moist rainforest, favouring swampy areas, watercourses and tracts of land that are prone to periodical flooding. Growing up to 25 metres tall (80 feet), the Alexandra Palm often stands out from the rainforest and is easily seen from Skyrail, particularly either side of Red Peak Station.

The Alexandra Palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae) began flowering in late July and will continue through August. The small, creamy white flowers have no petals and are pollinated by the wind. They grow on leafless ‘arms’, called panicles, which extend directly from the trunk underneath the base of the leaves.

The flowers will gradually be replaced by clusters of bright red fruits, which are an important and reliable food source for many rainforest residents, including Flying Foxes and fruit pigeons.

Another popular food supply for rainforest critters is the Blue Quandong (Eleocarpus angustifolius). Like the palms, the Blue Quandong favours growing along watercourses, although it can also be found on coastal plains with poor drainage.

At Skyrail, the Blue Quandongs can be seen throughout the rainforest, with fruiting examples easily seen this month, in the revegetation corridors alongside Smithfield and Kuranda Terminals.

Blue Quandong fruits are bright blue / purple and measure between 15-30mm in diameter, as well as being popular with the Southern Cassowary, Musky Rat Kangaroos and Wompoo Fruit Doves, these fruits are also edible for humans and make a pleasant jam.

The fruits contain a small, hard stone which is covered in pits, ridges and wrinkles. These attractive seed cases were used by the Aborigine people to make decorative necklaces, a practice still followed today. You can purchase seed jewellery at many places in Tropical North Queensland, including Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park and at Kuranda.

Alexandra Palms and Blue Quandongs are popular plants with many landscapers and can be seen in gardens and public areas around Cairns and Tropical North Queensland.