A pleasantly overcast day after good February rains allowed us to enjoy the feast of flowering and fruiting plants on the edge of a patch of vine scrub on the slopes of Mt Kinnoul in the Taroom district.
Sadly being penetrated by the ever spreading buffel grass, the scrub that has survived millenia of bush fires while surrounded by softwood scrub with its protective edging of wattles is now at risk should the heavier fuel load provided by the exotic grass catch fire during a dry spell.
Plants whose names are hardly known live side be side with iconic trees like Crow’s Ash (Flindersia australis), its close cousin the Leopard Ash (Flindersia collina), and the rare and stately Ooline (Cadellia pentastylus). Many Scrub Ironbark, (Acacia fasciculifera) had been in glorious flower only a fortnight before, but were now quietly grey-green, their display of cream flowers having fallen off rapidly during the rains.
The middle canopy of the scrub sported Silver Croton (Croton insularis) whose immature grey-green fruit was much less noticeable than its occasional orange leaf, a conspicuous identifying feature of this plant. Had the Croton not obviously been in heavy fruit, the observers might be forgiven for thinking that a strange fan-shaped growth commonly found on the ends of its branches could be a weird grey-green flower. It seems to be a sort of high rise apartment for various tiny creatures who live in the distorted leaf buds that whorl out from the swollen mass that ends the branchlet. Our limited knowledge led us to think of some sort of gall.
Another middle-canopy plant was the Capparis loranthifolia, the Narrow-leafed Bumble Tree or Wild Orange into which it is not wise to bumble, given the sharp hooks on its branches and the unexpected random spines sticking out of its innocent-looking trunk.
Within a few metres a great variety of vines and shrubs were on display. Acalypha eremorum, called Turkey Bush by some, had recently flowered, the empty calyxes still conspicuous along its slender stems where the petals had already fallen away. Currant Bush (Carissa ovata) sported a rich crop of edible blue-black berries as well as its ever present and ever-sharp thorns. Native Witch Hazel (Turraea pubescens) were also in fruit, their spidery white flowers having recently dropped. Scrambling over and among this rich growth were the vines from which these scrubs get one of their common names, Semi-Evergreen Vine Thicket.
Some Dianella caerulea (Blue Flax Lily) were doing as well untended as in many gardens, their iridescent blue berries half hidden in the vigorous grass.
The magnificent Native Passionfruit (Passiflora aurantia) was flowering, its whole range from cream buds through salmon to bright red displayed across the obliging branches of Currant and Turkey Bush.
Much more demure in appearance, but more likely to smother its host, the fine-leaved Secamone elliptica with its milk-white sticky sap was in prolific bloom, its tiny bright yellow flowers preparing to produce double back-to-back cylindrical pods called follicles that are pointed at both ends and tightly packed with seeds attached to a soft silky ‘coma’ so they can blow away in the breeze. Where this vine has been growing for decades, its sturdy ‘trunk’ may be 30mm in diameter, its surface furrowed vertically, producing wing or keel-shaped ridges, giving rise to its common name – Corky Milk Vine.
More elegant with its delicate tendrils and divided leaf is Clematicissus opaca, commonly called Water or Pepper Vine. Its fruit looks a bit like a black grape, and it is reputed to be a source of vitamin C. Glossocarya hemiderma was about to flower, its distinguishing features being the sinister-looking backward-pointing hooked spines that lack the sharp point one imagines, and the very different appearance of its tiny juvenile leaves which are less than one tenth the size of adult leaves, are often much darker green, and are more likely to have toothed margins.
Leaving this rich site, we passed a Scrub Boonaree (Alectryon diversifolius) also called Holly Bush because its young leaves are toothed to resemble a slightly flatter, paler and more elongated Holly leaf. Once big enough to be out of the reach of most native browsing animals, its leaves are less often toothed, giving rise to its technical descriptor ‘diversifolius’ – having different leaf shapes. This shrub was loaded with bursting double-lobed fruit, the inner flesh or ‘aril’ a bright orange, splitting to reveal a shiny black seed that gives the various Boonarees another common name – Bird’s Eye.
Our tour took us to a rocky platform on the edge of the top of the Mountain from which we were able to see the pad built by SANTOS to drill a deep gas well. On the way, we travelled through more open scrub where Rosewood (Acacia rhodoxylon), Bitter Bark (Alstonia constricta), Emu Apple (Owenia acidula) and Prickly Pine (Bursaria incana) were more common. The white candle-flame-shaped panicles of the Bursaria flowers and fresh pale green leaves were at their best following good summer rain.
Around the rocky ledges, Flindersia and Acacia rhodoxylon grew alongside one of the smooth-leafed native Figs and a Psydrax odorata among whose foliage could be seen some strangely enlarged branches as a result of the movement of a community of ants who tunnel up inside the branch which then scars around the tunnel, swelling the branch into a square shape.
There were other plants we were unable to identify, and time did not allow in-depth scrutiny, but the trip gave us a taste of the great variety of this part of the natural world we have been privileged to visit. Our thanks to property owners and guides who made this excursion possible for us.
- Story by Ann Hobson, Secretary, Wildlife Queensland Upper Dawson Branch
- Images copyright Suzanne Norman