Gibraltar National Park is an easy drive inland from Glen Innes, on the Gwydir Highway. It is a high country of rocks of all shapes and sizes, so these tall granite columns, called The Needles, were the aim of the first walk I chose to do from where I was to camp for three nights at Mulligans Campground.
The view from the lookout was spectacular, but as always, my eye was drawn to detail, and there were several of these striking plants in flower. Commonly called Native fuschia, Epacris longiflora, I am informed.
The walk out to there goes through mostly rainforest, where the damp fosters fungi and I kept checking for hitchhiking leeches.
Back up on the heights, the regrowth of shrubs and trees was heartening amongst all the blackened trunks.
Not all the Xanthorrhoeas had survived, and many looked like amputees.
The walk was meant to be a two-and-a-half-hour one of medium difficulty; there were quite enough inclines for me, and some rocky scrambles where I feared to turn an ankle.
But up top, for long stretches, Dampiera purpurea formed an avenue beside the path, showing their pretty mauve flowers, the plants often as tall as myself.
I had missed the main flowering of the Gibraltar Range Waratah (Telopea aspera), but enough bright remnants remained on the tall stems to signal their past glory.
But this Park for me was less about flowers than lichened rocks and survivor trees, about blacks and greys and browns.
The lower storey of next generation greens was hopeful, but the tough oldies showed they were not to be taken lightly.
Unfortunately this oldie tripped and fell flat out when almost back at the campground, landing on my camera, which had been slung around my neck and shoulder. Neither soft flesh nor fragile ribs are a match for such a hard object. So part of me was purple and black as an aubergine (only not as firm) and I could do no more long walks for the week. But I know I was lucky not to break a wrist or wrench a knee… so let’s say The Needles were worth it.
I did survive to wince and do tiny walks, and will return another time to do all those other walks.
At The Bluff campground in Mt. Boss State Forest the Wilson River audibly dominates, rushing over and around huge boulders.
There are very few places to walk except along the dirt road in, or risk twisting an ankle on the round riverside rocks.
But alongside that track I was delighted to see this Spangled Drongo darting about in the regrowth bush.
I have always loved the name (!), and I am grateful for the distinctive mermaid tail that allows even me to identify it from a distance.
That track also offered several botanical treats, like these pink Stylidium, Trigger Plants, which snap to release pollen when an insect touches them.
One area was generously strewn with these Ground Lilies, Tripladenia cunninghamii, which I had only been shown recently, in Kattang Nature Reserve on the coast. These were perhaps a paler blue, but unmistakable.
And even more generously, this bank carried the daintily lacy Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum). always a sight that makes me smile. Why? Maybe because it is so gentle…
The Bluff itself runs steeply down into the river, with a spectacular wall of Xanthorrhoea on one face.
Nothing gentle about this, but certainly impressive.
On a cliff edge in Kattang Nature Reserve is a most amazing and unique sight. A colony of dome-shaped casuarinas, Casuarina glauca in a prostrate form endemic to this reserve. ‘Discovered ‘ here in 1998, several cultivars of it are now grown for use in garden rockeries especially. The Australian Botanic Garden at Mt Annan grows one called ‘Kattang Karpet’.
I first thought of creatures like the elusive Foo cartoon character of my childhood, then the hairier Iggles, like ‘puzzled coconuts’, that appeared everywhere, and then the Grug picture books of my children’s time.
I found it difficult to see these as inert, related to the Casuarina trees we know; they do sucker and spread, so these colonies may be just a few actual plants. I kept expecting one to get up and meander off, as Grug would.
These little plant creatures were the highlight of the walk, but not the only shape surprise.
At one lookout, a proper casuarina tree was pretending to be a steep hillside, but instead was hollow, its foliage growth pruned at that angle by the sea winds, as neatly and sharply as if by an obsessively operated hedge trimmer.
Away from the cliff sides, these beautifully simple mauve flowers on small and low plants proliferated along a protected part of the path: now called Tripladenia cunninghamii, it was formerly named Kreysigia, and is often called the Ground Lily. A first sighting for me, so a walk full of new experiences.
I value Kattang highly as such a special and ever-changing place with many different ecosystems ready to surprise me on every walk.
In the Big Fella Gum Forest Reserve, whose mighty trees I admired last post, I was also intrigued by many of its small details.
Like the beautifully delineated shield-like leaves of this young Prickly Supplejack (Ripogonum discolor) which starts out looking as if it’s a shrub then becomes a strong climber. The sailors/Jack Tars on early voyages called it Supple Jack because of its climbing ability, and many parts of the plant are useful.
The few bright new leaves of this tree, Maiden’s Blush, (Sloanea australis) caught my eye several times. The name refers to the colour of its heartwood as well as its young leaves.
Even brighter were these very, very tiny red fungi hiding amongst the deep leaf litter. The water-logged ground beneath was soft, especially near the creek, and I sank several times… but I only attracted one leech.
Other fungi were larger and in the less-noticeable shades of brown.
Although this shelf fungus was so large that it drew attention without vivid colouring except for its white underside.
The extended roots of the big Turpentine were mostly buried under leaves, but this noticeable hump in its progress is clearly being used as shelter.
Unusual shapes and patterns in Nature always fascinate me, as did this small ladder of bark mouths or kisses, the origin of which nobody knew.
And if one tree was puckering up, another was choosing to send its green passenger growing sideways.
This palm chose to cascade its moss from a slit in its decorative lichen-splotched trunk.
And as a final show, in the unbroken depths of this rainforest pocket, a fallen giant lay shrouded in rich green velvet, decaying in beauty while nourishing the earth beneath.
No wonder my spirit itself feels nourished after such an excursion, fed with new sights and understandings, enlightened by others who know so much about our flora.
Tucked away behind Kendall is an almost forgotten green wonderland, the Big Fella Gum Forest Reserve. Under the management of the Forestry Corporation, it is neither easy to find nor to find your way once inside it. There are small decaying timber markers at ground level, marked with arrows, once red… and an occasional red tape marker, but you have to find them. We were being guided by someone who knew this rainforest and its hidden treasures.
And there were many.
Like the strange narrow plate buttresses of the Yellow Carabeens (Sloanea woollsii).
Some of these were wavy-edged, knuckled, undecided.
There were many palms here, and many vines, some as thick as the palms…
…and some so festooned with searching roots that they seemed bearded.
Surprisingly, some of the looping vines bore epiphytes, as if they were actual tree trunks.
A stunning feature tree was this ancient Tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys), where the gnarly convolutions of its base denoted its age and secured its position.
Another giant was this Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) whose bark bore scorch marks but it had not burnt, being one of the most difficult timbers to ignite. Highly durable, it is much sought after for poles and wharves, as it resists marine invertebrates and termites.
Apart from the famed Big Fella Gum, once deemed the tallest tree in NSW, there were other impressive Flooded Gums (Eucalyptus grandis).
This forest is impressive in itself, keeping these mighty survivors safely ensconced in their green realm for us to marvel at today.
I know well the glory of flannel flowers (Actinotus helianthi) in bloom, especially en masse, as they are here, forming a guard of honour, contrasting gaily with the greys and duller greens of the ti-tree bush, dead and alive.
But on this walk, I saw plenty that was new to me.
Like this pretty lilac-flowered small bush, likely Kunzea capitata. I only saw two examples on the whole walk. And spot the ubiquitous pink boronia in the background on the upper right?
A sole orchid declared its presence with one red flower out and several in waiting above: the Large-tongued Orchid, or Duck-billed Orchid, Crystostylis subulata. I will have to return to see the cluster above when open. My first sighting of this orchid!
Not pretty, but certainly notable and new to me, was this young tree, bearing the toughtest, most leathery leaves I have ever felt. Their edges were very stiffly serrated.
I am told it is a common small rainforest tree, Veiny Wilkeia or Wilkiea huegeliana.
As always, I am agog at how much the NSW Native Plant Facebook group members know… and how much I have to learn!
This Queensland rainforest surprised me by really being a palm forest. Their numbers impressed, as did their grass skirts of roots, mossed green.
This one had chosen to double up, to lead the fashion with a midriff top as well as peplum and skirt bottom.
The younger trees kept their roots well grounded; very wise on these soggy slopes.
There were a few other trees in the midst of the palms, like this large eucalypt with upper level hollow accommodation.
But as the walk was called the Booyong Track, it was not surprising to see several of these very large buttressed trees. At first I had mistaken them for the Strangler Figs with which I was familiar from my walks in Wingham Brush.
But I soon realised there were no other trees being harmed in the growth of these… and they were comfortable giving support and a leg up to such vigorous vines as this one.
And then I saw my Strangler Fig, lacing up around its host tree as tightly as any Victorian lady’s corset. Nature can’t be called cruel, but this does look rather murderous…
Some rainforests are so totally green that you’d swear there’s been a Photoshop filter applied. This one near Mount Tamborine was no different. Green moss, green light under the covering tree canopy.
Whether tree roots and buttresses or accompanying boulders, all were mossed green.
Some roots went underground and reappeared as shy knees and thighs, modestly mossed.
In some places tree roots embraced boulders as closely as if netted.
Vines as thick as my arms were doing a lot of embracing too, hitching a lift up to the light. This one was unusual in that several birds’ nest ferns, perhaps mistaking them for trees, had settled on them.
Other vines, as thick as many of the trees, astonished me with their girth and height… and likely age.
As the track was muddy, my eyes were carefully cast down, so the canopy was not much observed. Just as well, or I might have missed these fungi, bravely breaking the green dominance with their fluted and flared cinnamon rays.