About Me

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Canberra-based naturalist, conservationist, educator since 1980. I’m passionate about the natural world (especially the southern hemisphere), and trying to understand it and to share such understandings. To that aim I’ve written several books (most recently 'Birds in Their Habitats' and 'Australian Bird Names; origins and meanings'), run tours all over Australia, and for the last decade to South America, done a lot of ABC radio work, chaired a government environmental advisory committee and taught many adult education classes – and of course presented this blog, since 2012. I am the recipient of the Australian Natural History Medallion, the Australian Plants Award and most recently a Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘services to conservation and the environment’. I live happily in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise surrounded by a dense native garden and lots of birds.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Mount Field, a Tasmanian Treasure

Back in 1885, just 13 years after Yellowstone National Park in the USA became the world's first national park, and only six years after Royal National Park in Sydney became Australia's first and the world's second, Russell Falls Reserve, 60 kilometres north-west of Hobart, was also declared (under the Waste Lands Act 1863!). The concern was primarily for protection of the scenery, as a basis for passive recreation. The 120 hectare reserve included both Russell and Horseshoe Falls at the foot of the mountain.
Russell Falls, set in wet forest and surrounded by Tree Ferns and with a
Blackwood Wattle Acacia melanoxylon growing in the stream.

Horseshoe Falls, near to Russell Falls and on the same walking track.
People visit the falls and forests for recreation now, as colonial Tasmanians did in the 19th century.

For those unfamiliar with Australia's geography, Tasmania is the island state off
the south-east coast, separated from the mainland by Bass Strait.
Mount Field is here indicated by the end of the red arrow.
In 1916 Mount Field and Freycinet Peninsula on the east coast were simultaneously declared the first national parks in Tasmania under the new Scenery Preservation Act. The mount - and subsequently park - were named for the wonderfully monickered Barron Field (very Dickenesque!) who came to Australia to take up a post as judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He is better known however as the author of the 12 page best-seller First Fruits of Australian Poetry, though one might reasonably think some of the fruits to have been significantly over-ripe. As far as I can tell he never went to Tasmania.

The change in vegetation from near sea level at the entrance station to 1000 metres higher at Lake Dobson is dramatic. At the base the wet eucalypt forest is dominated by huge Eucalyptus regnans (Swamp Gum in Tasmania, Mountain Ash across the strait in Victoria) and E. obliqua, Messmate Stringybark. Swamp Gum (when in Rome...) is known as the world's tallest flowering plant and second only to Coastal Redwood Sequoia sempervirens of California; the tallest known specimen, from Victoria, was 132 metres high. The ones on Mount Field aren't of that stature, but are ancient and massive.

Swamp Gums over Tree Ferns, Mount Field

Massive base of ancient Swamp Gum
Swamp Gum 79 metres tall, Mount Field.
These forests drip, as evidenced by the height of the trees and the understorey.
Soft Tree Ferns Dicksonia antarctica and mosses, both of lineages far older than the eucalypts'.
Further up the mountain are temperate rainforests, though the eucalypts, especially the Messmate Stringybarks, penetrate their lower levels.
Messmate Stringybark base, growing in Sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum), family Atherospermataceae,
of old Gondwanan stock.
Messmate is of historic interest, as the first eucalypt to be scientifically described, having been collected
at Adventure Bay in Tasmania on James Cook's third expedition in 1777.
The specimens were lodged at Kew Gardens where they were studied by French botanist
Charles Louis L'Heritier de Brutelle.
A feature of the Tasmanian rainforests is the presence of pines of old Gondwanan families.
Celery-top Pine Phyllocladus aspleniifolius, Family Podocarpaceae, Mount Field.

Underfoot in the rainforest, mosses become even more dominant.
Mosses, Mount Field rainforests, above and below.

Then near the top of the mountain are sub-alpine woodlands, dominated by the endemic Tasmanian Snow Gum Eucalyptus coccifera.

Old Tasmanian Snow Gums, Wombat Moor, Mount Field.
 I love the name Wombat Moor! The understorey to these snow gums is the evocatively - and utterly inaccurately! - named Pineapple Grass, actually a lily Astelia alpina Family Asteliaceae.
Pineapple Grass under Snow Gums, Wombat Moor.
Outside of these Snow Gum stands, the moor is largely treeless (as a moor should be!)
Wombat Moor, Mount Field.
The start of the long walk to Lake Belcher passes through here.

Nearby however is a much shorter walk, and to my mind the loveliest in the park. The Pandani Grove walk passes through woodland around delightful little Lake Dobson; on these sheltered slopes the trees grow thickly and there is a rich understorey. The Pandani reference is to a big heath Richea pandanifolia, called Pandanus in Tasmania, though totally unrelated to the true pandanus of the tropics. Here are some highlights of this walk.

Pandanus growing in White Peppermint Eucalyptus pulchella woodland, Lake Dobson.
Pandanus in a rainforest pocket of Myrtle Beech Nothofagus cunninghamii, Lake Dobson.

Tasmanian Snow Gums, Mount Dobson.
New bark, above, and by the lake below.

Old Pencil Pine Athrotaxis cupressioides Family Cupressaceae, on the shore, Lake Dobson.

Pandanus buds, Lake Dobson.

Another heath, Trochocarpa thymifolia, Lake Dobson

And another,  Cyathodes petiolaris.
All three of these heaths are Tasmanian endemiics.

Yet another Tasmanian endemic, Lomatis polymorpha, family Proteaceae.
This high level of endemism is typical of islands, and it is certainly true of Tasmania, yet another reason to visit.

You can make an easy day trip from Hobart to Mount Field - as we did on this occasion - or better still you can camp on site. Whatever you decide, your Tassie trip will be deficient if you don't spend at least a few hours there.



Anonymous said...

A very interesting article but there is one small mistake. Cook's third voyage, when he collected plant specimens from Tasmania, was in 1777, not 1887.

Ian Fraser said...

Oops, that's actually a very major mistake thank you Anon (and I wish I could thank you by name!). I can't imagine how I let that slip through after several rereadings - never mind all the others who have also read it since! Now corrected.

Les Mitchell said...

Enjoyed reading this article Ian and the photos are lovely. I've been there twice: 1978 and 2001. I was amused to read one of their interpretive pamphlets which claimed that the park (and Tasmania in general I assume) had the only true laurel in Australia! I did write to them and point out that Lauraceae had many species on the mainland.