Late rains brings on new life

Skyrail Nature Diary: February 2013

Last month was a surprising one. For a while it looked like we were going to have El Nino but toward the end of the month the monsoon and Cyclone Oswald turned up, drenching us. February may very well turn out wet as well. The stress of the late wet season triggered a few big flowering episodes when there normally wouldn’t be any. Several of these episodes should result in late fruiting episodes. The Kuranda Quandong was already putting on a good show in late January and should continue to do so this month. The big tree at the end of the Red Peak boardwalk has already been dropping an abundance of fruit for a while. The fruits are large dull green drupes with a dry floury flesh and a rugby ball shaped husk. The husk has a very thick hard shell that protects the tasty kernel inside. The flowers are cream skirts with frilly edges on the underside of the tree’s branches.  The nuts were collected by the Djabugandjii, who opened them with special nut stones.

Hard Milkwood had a massive flowering episode last month. The flowers are white with five petals each and are borne in large round clusters on top of the tree. The fruits are huge double needles that release large numbers of hairy seeds into the wind. The leaves grow in whorls along the branches and have a velvety texture. The bark and leaves contain copious amounts of white sticky sap the Djabugandjii used to stun fish with at the end of the dry season. These beautiful trees grow up to 30 m and are characteristic species in regrowth areas. Interestingly, despite being a rainforest tree, these trees cope with fire when young and produce coppice shoots from the base and root suckers. Hard Milkwood  produces a useful general purpose timber.

Another flower Pink Evodia, also called Corkwood and Spermwood, started flowering sparsely near Kuranda last month and will be fruiting this month. The flowers are pink and fluffy looking while the fruits are small green capsules. The leaves have three leaflets per leaf. The trunks are light coloured and corky in texture with vertical uneven ridges. These trees are the host to the caterpillars of the famous Ulysses Butterfly. Produces a useful general purpose timber and is reasonably tolerant of floods.