Festive Forest Fruits

Skyrail Nature Diary: December 2009

The World Heritage Rainforest is themed for a tropical Christmas this month, its green foliage contrasting with an array of red fruits, seeds and berries.

The Fibrous Satinash, also known as the Rain Cherry, is just one of many species bursting with clusters of red fruit in December. The fruits of this lilly pilly are edible, but are very sour and best used for jam.

The Fibrous Satinash (Syzygium fibrosum) grows up to 15 meters high in the rainforest (usually much smaller when cultivated for gardening) and prefers warm, wet sites at lower altitudes. New leaf flush varies in colour from red to purple and brown, before maturing to shiny, dark green. Its flowers are quite inconspicuous, ranging from white, to apricot and dull orange. Its fruits are popular with many birds, including the Torres Strait Pigeon.

Another fruit popular with rainforest birds are those of the Glossy Laurel (Cryptocarya laevigata), which is an understorey plant growing between 3-5 metres tall.

Considered one of the most handsome of the rainforest shrubs, the Glossy Laurel has glossy, dark green leaves that can grow up to 15cm long and contrast beautifully with its bright orange to red fruits, which measure approximately 1.5cm in diameter.

This is an excellent garden plant: indeed, the Glossy Laurel has been grown in glasshouses in England since the early 19th century . Quite compact and hardy once established, the Glossy Laurel produces perfumed flowers which are followed by its red-ribbed fruits, which are very poisonous to humans.

The Candleberry (Pothos longipes) is another plant fruiting this month; its red berries grow in clusters or singularly and often accompanied by the long-lasting, white flowers. These fruits are edible, raw or cooked, but are quite tasteless. They are popular with Flying foxes, Fawn-footed Melomys and many birds.

Unlike many other rainforest vines, the Candleberry thrives in the rainforest understorey, cloaking the lower trunks of many trees. This hemi-epiphyte uses its wiry, claw-shaped rootlets to climb trees, braches and rocks in moist rainforest from northern New South Wales to north-east Queensland. The common name comes from its leaves, which look like candles, with a flame on them.

Finally, we look at an unusual rainforest plant, the Scarlet Bean (Archidendron lucyi). Thriving in the warm, wet lowland rainforests from Mission Beach to Cape Tribulation, the Scarlet Bean is a spectacular species which is also a great ornamental for gardens.

Growing anywhere between 5-20 metres tall, depending on soil and conditions, the Scarlet Bean has stunning, white, honeysuckle-scented flowers which are followed, many months later, by a very unusual fruit. The fruits are curled pods, which start green, before 'ripening' to orange and red and then splitting down one side to reveal a brilliant yellow interior with black seeds.

These and many more rainforest species can be seen flowering and fruiting in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforests this month. Skyrail Rainforest Cableway provides the perfect vantage point, gliding just metres over the canopy and then allowing closer inspection on the forest floor, at its two rainforest mid-stations.