Tree flowers

Camden Haven’s Kattang Nature Reserve is full of flowers right now, but they are not the expected wildflowers of Spring, and they are mostly seen looking up.

Like this Casuarina, catching the eye with bunches of rusty red amongst the green.

But these flowers won’t produce any fruit or seeds, as they are the male flowers, growing at the end of the needle-like jointed branchlets we often mistake for leaves. Casuarina leaves are actually tiny scales at each joint.

The female trees are flowering too now, but much less conspicuously, hugging the branches in small red clusters.

It is they which will develop the woody seed pods, much beloved by cockatoos. In fact, I could hear one cracking them open for the seeds; I could see it too, but it was too well-hidden and backlit for a decent photo.

Banksias are the other trees in prolific flower now. Several varieties, with flowers and seed pods large and small. The honeyeaters were having a picnic.

May Gibbs’ wicked and hairy Banksia Men still lurk as large as ever in my imagination, but the bright flower candles eclipse them here.

The banksia trees dominate the skyline here and it is hard to stop looking up, to watch where I am walking. Too early for snakes, I tell myself.

But nearing the small paperbark swamp, now flowing under the track, I do, and am startled by bright red, not tea-brown. As if in step with the Casuarina flowers of both sexes.

To complement the reds, the wet weather has favoured the banks of mosses to delight me with green while I am looking down.

No need to wait for Spring when so much is happening in Winter!

Reacquainting

While I’ve been away, there has been a great deal of rain, and the swamp that this dirt road aims to bisect is reasserting itself.

Of course the swollen swamp needs to flow across the road, and has succeeded in closing that road while the water follows its natural course.

The road leads to the beach, so my feet are wet before I get there, but what a lovely set of early morning reflections!

The sun is already up when I reach the sandhills… and a 4WD has already despoiled the night’s tide marks on the sand.

This beach rarely has shells washed up, and it is only in a small stretch that today I see them scattered like tiny treasures for me to find.

Walking home, wading through the reasserted swamp, I see two trees are newly flowering since I was away. This small wattle (Acacia suaveolens) has blossoms of a pretty creamy white, not the yellow we are used to. It is one of the earliest flowering wattles.

Equally sparkling white are the flowers of this Broad-leaved Paperbark tree, Melaleuca quinquinervia, common on this stretch. Being a swamp dweller, it does not mind wet feet.

Beauties of Bimblebox

By moonlight or daylight or the in-between twilight, Bimblebox reveals a myriad of natural treasures.

Especially striking amongst the many varieties that form this woodland are
the Rusty Jackets (Corymbia leichhardtii).

But the actual Bimblebox (Eucalyptus populnea) trees are striking in a different way; not the bark, but the leaves, shimmering in the breezes like silver dollars. This baby Bimblebox shows off the distinctive
almost heart-shaped leaves.

They were the inspiration for the Bimblebox logo.

The properties over the boundary fence do have some trees… if you look hard and far enough…

Rock-paper-scissors

I love trees and I love rocks. In the Wollemi National Park there is plenty of both, in as many shapes and sizes as an addict like me could dream of, from Scribbly Gum eucalypts to Pagoda rocks.

But if I can’t decide which I love best, it is clear which has right of way. Here the ‘rock-paper-scissors’ game came to mind. I take the tree as paper, although I have seen a tree grown in a crack eventually split a huge rock if in the right line.

The Scribbly Gums are shedding old bark and showing off their writing skills. The rocks remain unimpressed.

I am impressed by both here, and the trees seem to simply accommodate the rocks as need be, and change direction to grow around them.

I can’t read the scribbles but I admire the patterns and colours, so like the rocks.

Some of the gums have chosen to double their chances — rather boldly if seen upside-down — in their shiny new skins.

Others have had to heal around damage, pucker up and carry on.

Some have been too badly burnt out to manage the cosmetics, but have rallied to survive. Much of the Wollemi National Park was burnt in those awful fires two years ago, and I saw masses of young wattles taking up the challenge.

All the rocks here are stunning, but the Pagodas defy belief. Of course the Gardens of Stone near Lithgow are rightly famous, but just this small sampling fills me with wonder.

They have looked like this for about 45 million years! The process of their forming is fascinating but complicated, and you will no doubt Google it immediately…

Tree changes

Eucalypts like Ribbon Gums or Mountain Grey Gums scatter long vertical strips of bark and reveal their smooth secret skins, while others change their image in different ways.

These Spotted Gums are less obvious in changing image and keep both old and new to earn their name.

Stringybarks wear such distinctively rough coverings that it is hard to accept they are also eucalypts, related to its silky, strokable neighbours like this. I have never been tempted to stroke a stringybark …

But their very roughness provides the safe crevices for small creatures to use, like this spider and its web.

Even long fallen trees can make sculptures of the most intricate sort, home to moss and lichen, and no doubt hidden creatures.

Of course many trees, especially Angophoras, decide to be quirky sculptures while still growing, taking not only vertical paths, but doing U-turns after various indecisions…

Amongst the black of the wattle trunks, the everlasting daisies are at waist height after such good rain, forming golden guards of honour along the tracks and a surprisingly widespread sea of yellow. 

Even more surprising were these forests of tall leafy plants that looked out of place, like foreigners, if not aliens… Triffids?

I was assured they were native: Calomeria amaranthoides, or Incense Plant. It is a bi-ennial, growing up to 3 metres. Some people find the musky odour released when leaves and stems are brushed against to be unpleasant and, in fact, a skin irritant. I didn’t find that, but could not get over their strangeness. Again, the recent rains had facilitated more growth and more plants than had been seen here before.

A few of these overgrown plants were in flower and these panicles of pinkish flowers are why it is also called Plume Bush – they do resemble the Amaranthus often grown in gardens, for edible leaves and seed, or simply for decoration.

I was intrigued to meet them for the first time … a Triffid forest within a tree forest… and will certainly not forget them!

Water ways

A creek with a waterfall rushing over rocks is a visual gift, where the ever-energetic and powerful yet lightly lacy water is combined with the stern dark hardness of rocks, facetted and shining or slimed with green slipperiness.

Once it’s calmed down after that splashing descent, the creek flows more  gently, gradually finding small pathways and side bays on its way downstream, rounding its regular rocks.

As its way flattens, the water pours rather than rushes, with only small runs and cascades, stranding dampened leaves like platters of colour.

Fallen logs form more gentle and even hurdles to make new liquid shapes.

I admit to preferring the ease of the creek’s waterways to the rush of the waterfalls, and I am charmed by the Water Gums (Tristaniopsis laurina) that fringe its banks.

Its flowers are pretty but it is the quirks of its limbs and bark that appeal to me most.

Water washed and smooth, its roots intertwine. Strength in numbers against flood force?

 It seems given to angled bends, to inexplicable elbows.

Some of these bear hollows where small plants like this fern have found a home.

But this is a vibrant creekside community, recovering after fierce floods laid many a tree low. 

Even the dead trees have a role, as with this tiny hole like a wise eye, sheltering baby Water Gums.

Tree visitors

My back deck is high amongst the paperbarks, and close to them.  I had not expected to come so close to a tree climbing goanna, but for once it was not waddling across the grass below, where I see one almost daily.

So close, I could admire not only the intricacy of its patterns and colours, with that surprising blue tinge, but its face, its ear and eye. Even its claws had camouflage dots!

When I first spotted this one it seemed to be lolling on a branch, not gripping or climbing, but that soon changed.

It turned around rather awkwardly and began climbing down one branch…

… to head up another. Sometimes it went to the perilously thin ends of branches before turning. Searching for birds’ nests and eggs?

The birds were certainly alarmed, chattering and flying about.

As they were a little further away, in a tall eucalypt…

But that odd thick shape I could see there turned out to no threat. To my great delight it was one of my favourite birds, a Tawny Frogmouth.

And from the lingering fluffy feathers I think it may be still young… unless they are just my camera’s blur from using the zoom.

I am heartened to think there may be a family of them about and will keep an ear out for that distinctive repeated ‘oom’.

I didn’t hear those ‘ooms’, but later that very afternoon, nearing dusk, I saw that the ‘lump’ up there on that branch was bigger.

I could not get a very clear view but it was definitely an adult and two young Tawny Frogmouths. The young look much fluffier than my earlier sole bird, so was that the father, the apparent fluff just my camera, or the wind?

The father often cares for the fledglings, so perhaps my visitor was a father sussing out where to bring his young to rest, or just taking a break from childcare before the kids caught up with him.

All three were gone next day, but what a treat, however fleeting! My first Frogmouths in this new place… 

When I moved into my last place (that was flooded), within weeks a Frogmouth had two chicks hatch in a nest in a she-oak in my yard and I could watch them growing and being raised. Such a privilege!

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.