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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Friday, 15 March 2013

From Monga to Gondwana (via some orchids)

Last November I waxed lyrical about one of my favourite national parks, Monga, which is just off the highway on the way from Canberra to the coast at Batemans Bay - a well-trodden route indeed in this part of the world. (One we are treading ourselves this weekend.) During this week I returned there, following a heads-up from my friend Martin of House of Fran-Mart - the primary motive was the fact that the Pinkwoods are flowering.
Pinkwood (or Plumwood) Eucryphia moorei, Monga National Park
Eucryphia is a small ancient rainforest genus of trees which can trace their antecedents directly back to Gondwana. Five species are from eastern Australia, while two grow in Patagonian rainforests. It is remarkable to find one genus growing in two continents which have been separated for at least 60 million years; not only must it have already evolved and existed in both places by then, but it has changed very little in the meantime. 
Ulmo Eucryphia cordifolia, southern Chile.
Photo courtesy Franz Xaver; my own photo of it is too terrible to use!
Until recently it was the sole occupant of family Eucryphiaceae, but more recent thinking places it in the related and much larger rainforest family Cunoniaceae (known in Australia for NSW Christmas Bush Ceratopetalum gummiferum and Coachwood C. apetalum). One species E. jinksii  was discovered in subtropical northern New South Wales less than 20 years ago; another E. wilkiei lives only in one population on one mountain in tropical Queensland.
Eucryphia wilkiei National Botanic Gardens, Canberra.
The best-known species in Australia is probably Leatherwood E. lucida from Tasmania, which produces strong-tasting honey - I think it is probably the pinnacle of honeys, but others find it too robust. It is no coincidence that Ulmo produces a similar honey in Chile and Argentina.

Pinkwood, the species I went to Monga to admire, is limited to New South Wales (other than an incursion of a kilometre or so into far eastern Victoria). It grows in a series of isolated populations in a unique type of cool temperate rainforest on near-coastal ranges in southern New South Wales.

I was lucky - the ground was liberally carpeted with untold millions of fallen petals. A few days more and I might have struggled to find any intact flowers.
Pinkwood petals scattered on a treefern (above) and the boardwalk (below),
as well as everywhere in between!

Up towards the ridge a little I was pleased to see the first of the Sunshine Wattle Acacia terminalis for the season; this lovely bright wattle flowers right through winter and can brighten a dull cold day. No requirement for that service on this day however!
Sunshine Wattle, Monga National Park.
The delightful Eastern Yellow Robins Eopsaltria australis are a feature of the park; if anything the young birds which are now making their way in the world are even more curious and confiding than their parents.
Immature Eastern Yellow Robin, which would have hatched in spring.
Below, it landed almost on my feet in pouncing on an insect snack.
Finally on birds I offer this pretty ordinary snap, as the only one I've ever managed of this ever-moving rainforest specialist, which is close to the southern limit of its range here.
Large-billed Scrubwren Sericornis magnirostris.
From side on the heavy bill points slightly upwards, as if glued on crookedly.
As suggested in the title, I also stopped between home and Monga to investigate a couple of orchid reports I'd been given; both sites are between Braidwood and Monga, but it's not wise, sadly, to be too precise with unusual orchid localities in a public forum.

Scarlet Greenhood Diplodium (Pterostylis) coccinum.
Greenhood orchids are of course supposed to be green; this stunner is a dramatic exception.
Mongarlowe Midge Orchid Corunastylis oligantha.
The midge orchids can be a bit tricky to locate, down among the grass;
these are less than 15cm high, with flowers only a few millimetres long.
They are one of the groups of 'upside down' orchids, in case you're having trouble interpreting the picture.
As I've said before, I'll talk about the upside down orchids in more detail at some stage. I'll also do a posting on some more autumn orchids.

Meantime, a last image of a very old and very beautiful flower whose ancestors looked like this when the southern lands were still one.
Pinkwood, Monga National Park.


Flabmeister said...

On our visit to Touga Rd (east of Nerriga) on Wednesday the Acacia terminalis was in full swing. This is a bit further East than Mongarlowe so has possibly got more rain.


Susan said...

Lovely orchids and lovely Eucryphias. Araucaria is another Gondwanan genus that occurs in Australia and Chile.

I'm not convinced that being secretive about orchid locations is the way to go. There is some UK experience that indicates you are better being really loud about where orchids are growing. They are then part of the community and not an elitist plaything.

I've never personally encountered any instance of orchids being taken from the wild, although I hear stories -- none first hand and none with enough detail to make them convincing. I wonder how often pig or rodent rooting around orchids (they'd be quite tasty...) is mistaken for human activity by well meaning concerned citizens?

Ian Fraser said...

Mm, I've never felt especially elitist about orchids or thought of them as playthings, but l am a believer in the Precautionary Principle. I know of two occasions on Black Mtn where orchids have been dug up - no pigs or relevant rodents there, though of course no evidence either that inappropriate advertising was involved. In the current situation the sites were told me in confidence and they were not mine to divulge, though I'll happily share with anyone I know. A good discussion to have though.

Kath H said...

There were 2 Eucryphia cordifolia planted (with many other Gondwanan plant) in Section 109 at the Australian National Botanic Gardens. I couldn't locate them when I did a paper on that section for the Guides last year. But you have inspired me to have a closer look.

Ian Fraser said...

Hello Kath. I didn't know there were any South American plants in the NBG! If you do locate them, I'd be very grateful if you could let me know. Thanks!

Kath H said...

Ian, the simplest thing would be to email you my little paper. If you give me your email address I'll send it off. Chilean plants are Podocarpus salignus, Gaultheria myrtilloides, Gaultheria sp, Aristotelia chilensis, Laurelia philippina, Tepualia stipularis, Lomatia ferruginea, Drimys winteri. I couldn't find Eucryphia cordifolia and Peumus boldus.

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks Kath - I'm learning things I didn't know about the gardens, excellent! Please send your paper to calochilus51@internode.on.net