Flowering on the Cableway

Skyrail Nature Diary: June 2013

Although there normally aren’t masses of flowers out in June, there seems to be widespread flowering of Red Tulip Oak along both sides of Red Peak. A close relative, Brown Tulip Oak is also flowering on the lower slopes of the front line at Skyrail. The trifoliate leaves (three leaflets to a leaf) are noticeably smaller and more bunched up than its active relative. Brown Tulip Oak generally prefers better soils derived from basalt than Red Tulip Oak does. The flowers are white and are borne in large clusters on the surface of the canopy. The fruits are large seeds without the small “spines” of the Red Tulip Oak fruit and have a smaller papery wing attached on one end. Before the development of fibreglass and carbon fibre, the timber was sometimes used in the manufacturing of fishing rods. The timber is general purpose and suitable for house construction in areas not exposed to the weather. The Bull Oak is now fruiting in small numbers along both lines at Skyrail. The fruits are woody capsules that look like large kidney beans. They are filled to the brim with papery seeds which are spread by the wind. The unripe fruits are very popular with the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos. The flowers are borne on large spikes on top of the trees and are white or cream. Bull Oaks, known in South Australia as Northern Silky Oaks, produce some of the most useful timber in North Queensland.  The timber can be used as in cabinet making as it is easy to work plus cuts and polishes well to reveal a beautiful oak grain on both back-cut and quarter-cut boards. It is also a useful and moderately durable wood and many homes in North Queensland were largely constructed of this species.

Mistletoe of several species are now flowering at Skyrail. The flowers are small red or orange tubes. The fruits are always small berries, usually black or red, and are very popular with several small local birds, especially the Mistletoe Bird. The seeds have a sticky thread attached to them that causes it to attach to the bird’s tail feathers when voided. This forces the bird to rub its rump on a branch to get rid of the offending seed, thereby putting the seed exactly where it wants to be. Once attached to the branch the seed germinates and literally drills into the sapwood for its mineral and water needs. All mistletoe has leaves and carries out some photosynthesis to supplement their diet. It is interesting to note that a moderately large mistletoe infestation is a sign of health in the rainforest as an unhealthy one would be unable to support mistletoes as parasites. It is not in a parasite’s interest to kill its host, its main source of nutrients.

Queensland Silver Ash is now flowering in moderate numbers. The flowers are dull white and are borne on large ball shaped clusters on the tops of trees. The fruits are large woody pods shaped like spiny gherkins. When ripe they split into five fingers and release their papery seeds into the wind. The leaves are quite distinct. They are compound (several leaflets make up a single leaf) like those of all the other Flindersias, but are larger and rounder with a velvety texture with only a faint vein pattern, giving these trees their unusually beautiful appearance. The bark, like that of most Flindersias, contains compounds of considerable chemical interest. These trees produce a very pale high quality cabinet timber which takes a high polish that was formerly used in the manufacture of barrels (cooperage), cricket stumps, billiard cues and tool handles.

Hard Milkwood is also now fruiting in moderate numbers. The fruits look like large double pine needles which split in half, releasing numbers of tiny, hairy seeds into the wind. The flowers are white and are borne on several round clusters on top of the tree. The leaves grow in whorls of three around the branches that also grow in whorls, and have soft velvety hairs. These trees grow in a distinct way by having the longest branch in a whorl take control and grow upwards until a new whorls starts growing, repeating the process. Both leaves and timber are saturated with white toxic sap designed to discourage sap sucking insects. The Djabugandjii people used this sap to stun fish at the end of the dry season. Hard Milkwood is also a useful general purpose timber.

By Tore Linde