Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A tree falls in a forest

They didn't hear it fall - though perhaps something did - a yellow robin, or a white-cheeked honey eater, or a wallaby.

It's a huge old sally wattle - not long-lived anyway, and with its fall it takes a couple of other trees with it, trees they had planted. They decide not to cut up the trunk, or clear it away from the path. In fact, it's now the nicest part of the rainforest they'd spent almost 25 years working on - a focal point. Its trunk has scores of tiny birds-nest ferns growing on it, and fungi, and in time it will rot away and enrich the soil. The gap in the canopy will allow other trees to flourish. This is as it should be.

It's like a child leaving home. The rainforest is grown-up at last. It's first natural felling.


God-like, and rather presumptuously, we sometimes think we created this little rainforest, but really all we did was work around what was there - a foam bark, some kamalas ... though we did plant hundreds of trees we either propagated ourselves, or bought. Seed collected from the foam bark that grew here, and black bean seed from trees found along the creek. In time, they seeded themselves, thickening everything up nicely.

There's a bunya nut pine or two, grown from a cone from a tree further up the road at Cawongla, whose enormous seeds were brought back a century ago, at least, by Aboriginal tribes who journeyed to the Bunya Mountains in Queensland for the bunya nut feasts, coming back as fat as butter.

There's a blue quandong, and a Moreton Bay fig, and callicoma, and walking-stick palms, and crows ash ... and ...and ...and

A labour of love

That's what it was. Purely and simply. Because we love trees, and the land I only ever considered we were looking after. Because we wanted to put it back to a semblance of how it once was. Hours spent clearing lantana, and digging up and pulling down and brush-cutting madeira vine, but mainly crouching down with a couple of buckets pulling the weeds up out of the ground - hours at a time, meditatively. The zen of clearing madeira vine.

Madeira vine

You have your own heading. I should say,    !!!!MADEIRA VINE !!!!

This weed is truly a curse. Without it, and its friend balloon vine, regenerating a rainforest would be a doddle. Madeira vine smothers and kills; each plant produces hundreds - thousands!- of  tubers that fall to the ground and stay viable for years, each of which send up its own little innocent shoot that grows into a raging growth, cutting out the light from trees. The tubers are so indestructible they must be burnt.


And yet we've managed to rescue trees from it. We found one tree, many metres tall, that had but one little branch and a single leaf clinging to it. That tree (whose name we don't know) is now flourishing and healthy.

The Nicholsons

Remember that the attic is a bookish one. I want to bring into it a series of brilliant books that were our Bible when we did our planting. They are called Australian Rainforest Plants, and there are 6 of them,  published by the authors Hugh and Nan Nicholson.

They're such simple, beautiful little books, and have done so much in making people aware, appreciative and educated about rainforest plants. With a beautiful photograph of each plants, there is a graceful and informative description, and how it may be used in the garden.

Mallotus philippensis

Red Kamala

In India a golden-red dye for silk is made from the powder covering these fruits. Red Kamala is widespread through Asia and New Guinea and from north Queensland south to the Hunter River in New South Wales. It is a very common tree growing to about 10m and is most useful for regenerating abused ex-rainforest land, often unfortunately in competition with the introduced Camphor Laurel. Brilliant red and blue bugs often inhabit the foliage but do little harm to the tree.
In the garden: It is not a remarkably handsome tree and is rarely seen in cultivation. However it could be grown more often for reforestation purposes as it is very tough in full sun and in depleted soil. For a pioneer tree its seed is remarkably short-lived and it is difficult to find trees with good seed. It should be sown when very fresh.
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Australian Rainforest Plants, Nan and Hugh Nicholson

We have countless Red Kamalas growing all over our place - all naturally there, all self-sown. They aren't very attractive, but their red seeds are decorative - and I've seen huge clusters of the little red and blue bugs!

Sleepless nights

Sometimes I wonder what will happen to our rainforest when we leave here (and we have decided to move on to new adventures). Although it's all grown-up it's not really able to look after itself. If not kept in check, weeds like lantana and balloon vine, but especially madeira vine (hello again!) could smother and choke it.

I don't know if people will come who value it as we do - or even notice it. (If no one's noticing it, will it still exist?) When people buy houses these days, even houses in the country, they seem obsessed with bathrooms and kitchens, but not a beautiful little rainforest pocket.

Ah, I know you will say that I should be optimistic. But if you don't know a rainforest and understand it, and know what it is you're looking at, can you be expected to value it and care for it?

As a writer once said,

A forest is so intricate it takes intimacy with it to know how to look at the maze of plants entwined like serpents: twisted, coiled, sinuous, insinuating. A rainforest is artful and curled and wild. It is the wildness I love most of all. It takes time to know it and love it, to see properly what it is.

Joanne Horniman, A Charm of Powerful Trouble, 2002

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