Two years on…

I recently camped for a few days on a block that was totally burnt out in those unstoppable bushfires two years ago. This property lost everything, including the house; in fact six homes were lost along this road in that inferno.

The two years since, including the last extremely wet season, has seen much green growth (including weeds).

And while the eucalypts now have plenty of leaves, like fingerless gloves they cannot disguise the dead black claws that remain unclad.

The far ridgetops remain a thin filigree of the worst burnt. On the slopes at times the lines of dead smaller trees appear like wraiths of grey smoke.

Close by the claws are ghostly grey, not black, and they now define the silhouette of the forest, rather than the old mopheaded gum treeline. 

The variety of greens in these vigorously regrowing eucalypts once again gives the lie to the ‘boring bush’ idea put about by the early colonists.  Yes, some are greyish-green…

Others are vividly bright green…

Others are almost purple-green…

And many have no green at all.

I admit to my eyes being taken with these new tree lines… and to my heart being saddened by the pleading of those bony scarecrow fingers…

Artful Nature

Through burnt country, the water runs constantly, cool and clear in these mountain streams. Splashing over dark tessellated rock shelves, landing hard to fizz and spray sparkling drops into the shallow pool below. Such energy and action!

Yet higher up at Brushy Mountain camp that stream is small and steadily busy as it winds through ferns and lomandra, the pink of the new ferny foliage counterpointing the green.

There was pink in the new gum leaves too, but these clumps of pink trigger plants (Stylidium) won the day for me, as I had never seen them. Each flower has a column or trigger that releases when an insect lands, ensuring it will do the work of cross pollination. There was another variety nearby, of paler pink.

More monochrome than colour, the trunks of the Coachwood trees sang with pattern and subtlety.

One seemed to be adding ink drawing to its pastel range…

I was on the lookout for fungi, but saw very little on the ground, except for this small isolated clump, nestling shyly yellow like fleshy buttercups amongst the damp leaf litter.

It is always heartening to see how Nature makes use of even burnt logs. A veritable colony of tiny coffee and cream fungi had claimed this tree.

As we walked back to camp, a Goodenia guard of honour flanked the path with brightness and colour. A surprise, like so much in Werrikimbe.

I’ll be back…

The greens of Werrikimbe

Werrikimbe National Park is high country, a World Heritage Wilderness oasis of cool temperate rain forest where tall Antarctic Beech trees and tree ferns dominate above ground.

Green is overwhelmingly its colour, but it was the mosses and ferns that held it most.

Amongst the areas that had been burnt out in the unstoppable fires two years ago, the ferns held such bright greens that they seemed lit from within.

Fallen logs grew green velvet.

Entire rock faces grew clumps and lumps of green softness to cascade down its slopes like a waterfall. 

Yet just above, the ridgetop forest had burnt… and not recovered.

The green decoratively draped itself over the large fungi on this Beech, not quite succeeding as camouflage.

In the drier, more open burnt sections, the blackened tree fern trunks valiantly flaunted their green parasols above the ferns.

Lower down the mountain, stepped above a rushing creek, impressively tall buttressed Carrabeen trees bore the green softness in all their folds as if integral to the trees.

Sometimes the mosses left the bright limes behind and seemed almost blue.

And as if to show that moss rules here, this tiny starter had taken over a conveniently horizontal surface. Go mossling!

Tea time

Many coastal dwellers or visitors will be familiar with brown tea-coloured creeks and lakes.

The paperbark swamp I walk past is overflowing now, the ‘tea’ spreading across the dirt road.

These Melaleucas or Paperbarks are often called tea trees because early settlers steeped the leaves in boiling water to make tea.

Their papery soft layers of bark have long been used by Aboriginal people: from carrying and warming, cooking, receiving and wrapping babies, to cups and domestic uses, to art and spiritual practices… paperbark is versatile. We are less imaginative, mainly using it as lining for plant baskets.

Many species are happy with wet feet. There are plenty of paperbark swamps in this mid coast area, but I have often seen them dry,

Tea-filled, the reflections of the trees add to the delights.

I was hoping to get past the reflections and find, on closer inspection, some sort of water-loving life, like the frogs I could hear. But the trees’ reflections won out, and by then I was sent hurrying home by the fine drizzle that has been our frequent companion here in between real showers.

Bridal whites

These gorgeous bouquets of fragrant white flowers, with their four seductively waving stamens, belong to a small isolated sample of the native tree called Hairy lollybush or Clerodendrum tomentosum. The developing fruit you can see here is green now but will become strikingly bright with a black-dark blue centre surrounded by red calyxes… hence the lolly looks?

This particular tree had a most unusual trunk, like a periscope, with viewing holes. How did it come by them? It is in a public park, so perhaps man-made…

Not at all isolated, this smallish tree, Blueberry Ash or Eleocarpus reticulatus is evidently common here, as its dainty flowers are so eyecatchingly abundant.

A rainforest tree, it is also commonly called Fairy Petticoats or Prima Donna, referring to the pretty fringed bell skirts of flowers. These scented flowers do indeed develop blue berries, much loved by birds.

(As these two local trees were unfamiliar to me, I thank local Robyn for her identification help.)

And not at all white, but eyecatching for me, was this bark slope of flowering moss (?), like a miniature forest in perfect profile.

I love equally the minutiae and the grandeur of Nature… all on free show for us to marvel at.

Tree hugs?

Strangler figs are extraordinary plants, but this large one seemed to be a cannibal as well. It was likely newer aerial roots embracing the original fig… and who knows what sort of tree it had strangled.

The labyrinthine inner root system sat within the older one’s arms. No wonder fairy stories anthropomorphise trees…

At other times the figs cuddle up to a different species, embracing it so closely it merges. These two seem on equal terms as yet, but I know which will win in the end. Treehugging gone too far?

As always I am fascinated by the apparently wilful choices made by trees, like this small one on a heathland. Having decided ‘up there’ was too windy and exposed, it headed back down, curving in on itself in an almost embrace.

Curves are favoured by others, like these wattle seed pods. After popping open to release the seeds, they curl up into spirals as fascinating as the flowers were.

Isn’t Nature amazing?

Coast walk surprises

The Coast Walk from North Haven near Laurieton to Grants Head near Bonny Hills can be done in sections, quite varied, and not always well signposted.

It was only because we got a bit lost that we found this wonderful avenue of flannel flowers through low banksia forest. It was an unmarked sandy sideways trail that did reconnect with the Coast Walk and its much taller forest.

There were few other plants in bloom at this late stage of Spring, so those that were, like this melaleuca(?) or callistemon (?) were even more appreciated.

The track leads one to the beach before Grants Head, where this seemingly man-made rock mirrored its slope in reverse.

To avoid retracing our beach steps — plus the tide was coming in — we walked up through a low heath.

Here candles of creamy blossoms were out in profusion amongst windswept low banksias.

My new plant guru Robyn tells me this bountiful and hardy plant is Hakea teretifolia.

The walk winds back down to take you back past peaceful paperbark swamps, now mostly dry but with healthy reed carpets.

This coastal area is a paperbark paradise… !

The weird and the white

I am hoping somebody can tell me what these strange extra-terrestrial looking clumps are, congregating under the graceful weeping branches of the Horsetail She-oak, Casuarina equisetifolia.

With that grey-green colour, from afar I thought they may have been immature Flannel Flower (Actinotus helianthi) plants, not yet leggy and stretching skyward.  But hardly likely…

Yet a few weeks later, those weird clumps on the stony headland, where little else grew, had bloomed… indisputably with Flannel Flowers, though small and still unlike the usual ones, now also in bloom in sandier soil.

These open foliaged, taller Flannel Flowers are the norm… 

There’s a lot of white flowers now, although much of the Spring show has finished.

And is this an Isopogon???

But the most mysterious of all to me was this shrub or small tree that a few weeks ago was to be seen in profuse white blossom in much of the Reserve. So widespread and numerous was it that I expected it to be touted, like the Flannel Flowers, as one of the sights to be seen here.

Any clues?

Pretty and profuse, and equally unidentified.

As for weird, the nubbly bark of this Banksia tree takes the cake!

Mighty mangroves

The tidal rivers and creeks here, close to their ocean destination, are edged with mangroves and mud. Despite growing up near mangrove-fringed Erina Creek on the Central Coast, I had never thought them attractive, never stopped to look more closely. I knew almost nothing about mangroves.

Now they are my neighbours, I need to learn.

Until I came here I hadn’t thought of mangroves as actual trees; the only sort I knew grew low and dense like big shrubs. These clearly are trees, stretching and arching out for long distances.

In fact, mangroves come in trees and shrubs.

We have at least five species in NSW; here they are the taller Grey Mangroves, and perhaps the fringing shorter River Mangroves.

I used to wonder about all those short spiky things that you saw when the tide was out. ‘Ouch’ was my first thought! Shoots, I imagined. But they are ’peg roots’, the air-breathing roots of these plants, so cleverly adapted to tidal inundation and salt.

You can see the mangrove fruits fallen amongst the peg roots, as well as the resulting young seedlings.

These residents of the zone between land and sea are essential: as buffers protecting coastal land, as filters and carbon sinks, as habitat and food, as breeding grounds for many species of, for example, fish or prawns and crabs. 

They and their accompanying salt marshes are too often considered ’wastelands’ and cleared and filled for development.

While we have ‘lost’ about 17% of our mangroves since white settlement, the salt marshes have fared worse, with around 30% gone… and now listed as ‘vulnerable’.

Next to this salt marsh is an isolated mature mangrove, surrounded by its roots and its seedlings: I now see it as a mother tree.

Not pretty… pretty scary, actually! Bare feet not advised.

I haven’t seen the little crabs that must live in these mangrove mudflats but their patterns are as artistic as their beach counterparts, if a little murkier.

I promise to pay more attention to my front yard, come high or low tide!

Tuckeroo stone garden

I am slowly exploring this Camden Haven area of the NSW mid north coast, taking any turn-offs that catch my fancy. ‘Tuckeroo car park’ in Kattang Nature Reserve was one such. The word intrigued first, then the tree itself that invited me to the green tunnel ahead.

A large specimen with wrinkly elephantine bark, it was loaded with bunches of creamy-lemon blossoms, buzzing with bees.

It is properly called Cupaniopsis anacardioides, and also commonly known as Beach Tamarind, or Carrotwood. Birds love it too, because those flowers are followed by orange-red fleshy berries containing showy orange seeds.

The surprising reward at the end of the short walk was a rocky headland, the northern end of the long unbroken Dunbogan Beach.

I gravitate to small coves and clumps of rocks like this, but what was surprising here were the forms the rocks had taken…

Iron-rimmed geometric shapes, infilled with millions of pebbles…  what gardener had been at work here?

Some still held seawater; at a certain point of tide change the higher rocky rims would be stepped moats.

Other rocks ran in parallel like railroad tracks, or formed crosses in this pebble-crater’s garden.

Others formed backbones for arching ribs…

Or enclosed miniature sea lettuce pools and waterfalls, with small oyster-like shellfish…

Brooding over the stone garden was this ancient wrinkled giant lizard, its smooth head lifted, on alert for any misdemeanours — or for dinner?

Banksias and bijous

On such an exposed part of the Connors Track, the banksias grew low, their golden candles safe from being extinguished by the wind.

On the walk up to that headland other banksia species grew tall and woody, covered in an enormous number of dark seed cones like hairy hand grenades.

Other banksias in that coastal woodland were sized in between, sporting slim pale new candle flowers, older lemon and amber and woody ones all at once.

It is truly a banksia garden, all growing virtually on sand.

Around the Hungry Gate campground, hoary old paperbarks and strangely grown figs dominated, all reaching great heights just in sand.

On the walk, many tiny dainties graced the sandy banks, often making just one appearance. I had to be sharp to spot them; I am sure I missed many such jewels, as I only saw some on the way back.

On some it was the seed pods that caught my eye more than the flowers.

Others, like this vine, literally stepped in front of me, flaunting its curlicues and brilliant colours.

These Isopogons, also called Coneflowers or Drumsticks, are relatives of the banksia and also have woody seed heads.

This solitary large sample turned out to be a fungus, not a flower at all.

And these three were the only sundews I saw, boldly flashing their sticky red rosettes to lure insects.

The trackside bank held many surprises, from the tiniest mosses and flowers to virtual hedges of lilli-pilli.

But the whole walk was full of surprises. Next time I’ll go the whole way and be prepared for more…

Lichen decor

On my morning walk, this unusual decorative wall drew me across the road for a closer look. It looked intentional, with the defined cut-off line at the top.

But in fact it was not made by man, but by Nature. It proved to a most painterly smattering of lichens, opportunistically taking over a stretch of black shadecloth.

Up close, the lichen was both pretty and delicately varied, the shadecloth host giving it the effect of paint on canvas.

Further along the road, different lichen had ‘painted’ just four of a whole fence of timber palings. What did they have that the others didn’t?

Of course we are most used to seeing lichen on trees, as here on the south side of a palm tree in that same street.

Lichen is not a parasite, so it does not harm the trees.

Lichens are formed from a symbiotic relationship between two organisms — fungus and algae. The fungus grows on the tree and can collect moisture, which the algae needs. The algae, in return, can create food from the energy of the sun, which feeds the fungus.

How clever is that?!