An Unusually Dry 'Wet' Season

Skyrail Nature Diary: January 2014

This year the wet season appears to be late. At the moment there is a 50/50 chance there will be an El Nino event. El Nino is a high pressure system starting off the coast of Peru that ends up pushing the monsoon north so that it just misses us. In such cases most of our rain comes from cyclones, a decidedly bad situation. Most flowering has finished with the occasional event making the view even better for the observant. The parasitic Dodder Laurel is flowering in small numbers. The flowers are tiny and dull yellow in colour which are often overlooked. The fruits are tiny green berries much favoured by birds. The Dodder Laurel starts life as a twining vine with normal small leaves. Once the vine reaches the canopy, it makes a haustorium, an uneven mass of tissue designed for penetrating the sap of a host tree. As soon as the haustorium has access to the host tree’s sap, the root is permanently severed and the leaves are shed, never to return. A pleasant surprise along Skyrail currently in flower is the Maple Silkwood. The dark red flowers are not as immediately obvious as the flowers of this tree’s relatives, Hickory Ash and Queensland Sliver Ash. The fruits are spiny wooden gherkins, the spines arranged on narrow ridges. These fruits split open into five fingers when ripe releasing numerous papery seeds into the wind. The leaves are compound, each leaf consisting of several leaflets, and each leaflet has a distinct drip tip.

Cream Mahogany is currently fruiting on both sides of Red Peak. The fruits are small white drupes that split in two and contain two brownish seeds with a tiny white slab of fruit flesh known as an aril (fruit flesh attached to a seed) on one side. The flowers are very tiny and often overlooked. The leaves are distinctly yellow/green and compound, seceral smaller leaves making up the entire leaf, each leaf oblong and broader at he tip. These beautiful trees grow up to 40 metres tall and are buttressed at the roots.  

Robertson’s Tuckeroo is a medium sized tree that is currently fruiting at Skyrail. The fruits are light orange and split into three when ripe, containing three black seeds with a tiny yellow aril on one end. The flowers are dull white and borne on small panicles, bush like flowering structures. The leaves are compound with a rather small number of pointy leaflets with marked veins on the surface. These nice trees grow up to 16 metres tall and may occasionally be buttressed. There are several of these trees growing at Barron Falls Station where they are generally only noticed when they are fruiting.

Brown Walnut is showing early signs of a moderate flowering episode. These large trees have quite distinct flowers that look like clusters of dull white wool on the tops. The fruits are black drupes that are eaten by cassowaries. Like most laurels the fruits of these trees are toxic to humans. The leaves are extremely variable in shape which may account for the difficulty of identifying them correctly. Here in Barron Gorge National Park, the leaves are oblong with round tips and have very tiny barely visible hairs ion the undersides. In other areas in the Wet Tropics, the leaves are more pointed. Like most laurels there are few veins. Brown Walnut grows up to 30 metres tall and is also usually buttressed. This laurel has been the subject of some confusion in the timber industry in the past as well but does produce millable logs with a useful general purpose timber.

By Tore Lien Linde