Wet Season in the Dry Season?

Skyrail Nature Diary: July 2015

June was a big surprise this year. Who would have guessed that it would rain as much as it did?! As a result, the Skyrail Rangers were still mowing and brushcutting which is very unusual at this time! Along the Cableway, this unseasonal rain resulted in more flowering and fruiting than normal. Briar Silky Oak started fruiting mid June. The white to brownish flowers are borne on slender racemes arranged in clumps on top of the trees. The fruits are woody capsules that start out covered in rusty coloured hairs. When these capsules ripen, they turn greyish brown and split open, releasing the papery seeds into the wind. The leaves are large and strongly lobed with shiny brown hairs on the undersides of the saplings because of the low light levels on the forest floor and mid levels. When the trees reach the canopy, the leaves shrink and lose the lobes whilst turning yellow green. The timber of these magnificent trees is quite useful and the young saplings are popular indoor plants. Along the revegetation corridor just outside Kuranda station, the Northern Tamarind flowered in small numbers. The tiny flowers are borne on small racemes and have a brownish tinge to them. The fruits are yellow, three chambered fleshy capsules containing three seeds, each covered in a yellow edible aril. The aril is occasionally used to make a refreshing drink. The slightly hairy light green leaves are oblong and covered in rows of sunken nerves. These beautiful trees are popular in landscaping and are excellent shade trees.

Alexandra Palm flowered in moderate numbers last month. The flowers are borne on special bush like structures known as panicles. The flowers are tiny and have no petals. It’s believed the palms are pollinated by the wind but interestingly, certain native bees occasionally visit the flowers. Since the flowers don’t produce any nectar as far as anyone knows, it’s fully possible the bees are eating the pollen! The fruits are small red drupes each containing one seed. These fruits are very popular with birds. All palms tend to prefer moderately wet areas and the Alexandra Palms in Barron Gorge, all grow next to streams, even if they only flow a short time every year.

Mistletoes flowered surprisingly last month. The orange and red tubular flowers were however, more sparse than they usually tend to be. The fruits are small berries that contain seeds with a sticky thread on one end. When birds eat the fruits, these sticky threads make them stick to the birds’ rumps when voided! As a result the birds have to rub the seeds off on a branch which is exactly what the mistletoe wants! The seeds soon germinate and drill into the branch with a structure known as a haustorium until it reaches the tree’s sap. So the mistletoes are parasites but unlike other plant parasites, they still have small functional leaves. Large mistletoe infestations in an otherwise healthy rainforest are always a good sign, as strange as that sounds!

By Tore Lien Linde