I’ve gone to the end and come back up here to roll the credits before the film starts because I know most of you will switch off at the end of the pictures, not that I blame you. This is my contribution to Six on Saturday, a meme hosted by The Propagator, who will have links to other contributors at the end of his own weekly post. I’m still on holiday in Australia, though not for much longer, so I don’t know what is happening in my garden this week. I offer you the following meanderings instead.
The Sunshine Coast. That’s what the stretch of coast from Caloundra to Noosa, 60 odd miles north of Brisbane is called. Basically it’s a string of resorts along a beautiful stretch of coast. Resorts are not kind to the natural environment, but do act as honeypots, attracting vast numbers of people who are then not putting pressure on more sensitive areas. Noosa has a National Park, a fair sized area of rocky headland that has escaped development. The path around the coastal edge is intensively used, mostly for access to several beautiful beaches; the limited number of inland paths are very quiet. Hardly anybody goes off the paths, too much scratchy vegetation and there may be snakes or spiders.
Bribie Island is just to the south of the Sunshine Coast. A short distance offshore, the channel between it and the mainland, known as Pumicestone Passage, is where most of the action is. On the side facing the ocean the sea is much rougher and access more difficult. You can drive along the beach to the north end of the island but you need a four wheel drive vehicle to do so. Many people do; I don’t know what they do when they get there; have a beer, turn around and drive back I would guess. The next tide erases the tyre tracks and beyond the high tide mark disturbance is minimal.
This week’s six come from these two places. They are a celebration of what the overwhelming majority of people walk right past and don’t see. Or perhaps they do see and it means nothing. Or perhaps they see it and value it but know that the best thing they can do is leave it alone. You never know what’s going on in other people’s heads.
Casuarina equisetifolia. She Oak. This is one of the coastal front line species, growing in the most exposed places and right to the tide line. It looks very conifer-like, but is a flowering plant. Individual trees are usually damaged and misshapen. It lacks “horticultural merit” so you don’t see it in gardens and only occasionally in public planting schemes. It has utility in spades, beauty in teaspoons. It’s an underdog. I like it very much.
Pandanus tectorius. Screwpine. These dramatic, architectural plants are dotted along the ocean margins in the same area as she-oak, but usually as isolated individuals. Female trees produce pineapple-like fruits which float away on ocean currents like coconuts. On Bribie they are growing in sand at the high water mark, their roots being washed by the sea. They are popular in public plantings on Bribie, make a nice centrepiece for a roundabout.
Hibbertia. There are boards up at Noosa and on Bribie showing some of the more common local flora and fauna. The Noosa one says that their picture of Hibberta vestita is one of nine species on their patch; Bribie’s is a picture of Hibbertia scandens. Suffice it to say that there are several very similar looking scrambling shrubs with yellow flowers around. Some of them will be species of Hibbertia.
Ipomoaea pes-caprae. Goat’s foot convolvulus. Just above high water mark on Bribie is a zone of sand with pretty much only two plants growing in it. This is one, the other is Spinifex hirsutus, which I’d have identified as Marram grass. That however is something different. It’s also known as Silvery Sand Grass or Beach spinifex. Both species produce very long runners that help bind the sand together.
Thysanoutus tuberosus. Fringed Lily. This is not exclusively a coastal plant but was growing on the headland at Noosa. It’s lovely and you’d expect to see it in cultivation. I remember one of our liner suppliers back home offering a form of it some years ago. I doubt they still do. It is reckoned to be difficult to cultivate and each flower only lasts a day. One to enjoy in situ.
Gloriosa superba. I’d been labouring under the misapprehension that this was a species of Gloriosa native to Australia. Just shows how wrong you can be. It is a major component of the flora just behind the beach along miles of Bribie’s shoreline, scrambling through the front line of shrubby species. It’s in fact a non-native, naturalised extensively on the east coast of Australia and considered a rampant and dangerous invasive weed that dominates sand dunes at the expense of local species and killing native animals and birds that ingest it. All parts of the plant contain colchicine, which is very toxic, the seeds being particularly rich.
Ironically, in India, where it is native, it is threatened by over exploitation for herbal medicine.
Next Friday, 26 January, is Australia Day. It celebrates the arrival in Sydney Cove of the eleven ships of the “First Fleet”, carrying over 1480 men, women and children, many of them convicts, on January 26, 1788. In Caboolture Historic Village, a museum near here, there are scale models of all eleven vessels and a list of all the people, including those who died or were born on the voyage. Let’s just say it wasn’t Britain’s finest hour.
The plant life here has played a large part in the story since then. Timber extraction was a major early preoccupation; growing crops essential to survival. No doubt plants were just as important to the indigenous people in the 40-50,000 years before Europeans arrived.
I look at a forest here and wonder what it looked like before the logging started, how well it has recovered since, now that it’s a “conservation area”. I drive through vast areas of sparse grassland supporting very low densities of farting cattle, cleared of forest for the purpose and ask myself a million questions. I look at species after species that don’t quite look at home and wonder whether they are native or not. I wonder about gardening here, what sort of garden I might have, what I would grow, what the hell are all these plants I’m seeing, what conditions do they need.
Sometimes unfamiliarity seems to make things clearer, you see with a fresh eye, but that’s often through ignorance of the complexities of what you’re looking at. Six on Saturday is probably not an appropriate place to talk of such things, but if you’ve stayed with me this far, you have to share some of the blame. Have a nice day.