A Later Wet Season

Skyrail Nature Diary: June 2014

May was an unusually wet month. It seems that the wet season starts later these days than it used to, the result of which is noticeable early flowering in the traditional dry season. The Candlenut was certainly at it again last month, flowering in moderate numbers along Skyrail. The flowers are tiny and white and tend to be overshadowed by the very obvious white leaves which surround them and stand out in the canopy. These trees are incredibly large when young and growing in the shade. This is to compensate for the lower light intensity under these conditions. When the tree reaches the canopy, the leaves shrink to minimise dehydration. The fruits are large furry capsules containing three or four seeds encased in hard husks. The seeds contain up to 60% oil and were often stringed together in chains with a long wick and used as candles, hence the name. These trees are very fast growing pioneers and can reach heights of up to 40 metres in ideal conditions. In the Barron Gorge, being dominated by shallow granitic soils, they never grow that big. The average height seems to be around 20-25 metres. Logs of this species are usually used in competition wood chopping events at shows here in North Queensland. The seeds were often eaten by the Djabugandjii and the hollow husks used as whistles.

Mararie flowered in small numbers at Skyrail last month. The tiny white flowers have no petals but instead have six white sepals. They are borne in dense clusters on either a raceme or a small panicle (bush shaped flowering structure). The woolly fruits are yellow and brown round capsules covered in tiny hairs. The leaves are trifoliate (one leaf consists of three leaflets) and have serrated edges. Despite occasionally growing up to 30 metres, these trees have an appearance of scraggly bushes on top of a slender trunk. The base of the tree is often significantly and widely buttressed. Mararie was occasionally harvested for its general purpose timber.

Caledonian Oak flowered extensively along both lines last month. The mildly fragrant flowers can be either white or light pink in colour and are borne on small panicles between the leaves. The fruits are medium sized woody follicles filled with one or two winged seeds. The fruits are often eaten by sulphur crested cockatoos before fully ripe. The strongly serrated leaves are compound (each leaf consists of several leaflets), opposite and generally consist of five leaflets of varying sizes arranged in a whorl. These beautiful trees grow up to 30 metres and are naturally found in the uplands and highlands between Cooktown and Ingham. The largest specimens tend to grow on rich basaltic soils. Caledonian Oak produces a dark reddish, richly coloured timber which was used in house construction in the heyday of logging. The timber is quite hard wearing and was sometimes used for sanded and polished floors.

Murray’s Laurel flowered in small numbers along the back line last month. The tiny white flowers have a rather unpleasant odour and are borne on small panicles on top of the trees. The fruits are small black berries that are known to be eaten by cassowaries. In all likelihood they are extremely toxic to humans. The leaves are large and oblong with distinct veins and a hairy midrib. The leaves’ texture is slightly cardboard like. The twigs are terete (rounded), quite unlike its very similar cousin Mackinnon’s which has fluted (furrowed) twigs. Also the flowers of the latter are mustard coloured rather than white, at least in Barron Gorge. These beautiful trees grow up to 30 metres talled.

By Tore Lien Linde