Rainforest 1 – 3: Looking back at some of the wondrous Nature seen on a trip of my lifetime to the wet tropical rainforest in Queensland, Australia, in 2011.
There’s some seriously spikey stuff in the jungle!
The ‘Wait-a-while’ Palm gets its name from the fact that when its sharp hooks snag on the clothes and skin of trekkers in the forest, these unfortunate people are forced to ‘wait-a-while’ trying to disentangle themselves and pull out the painful barbs. The plant is also known as Yellow Lawyer Cane – partly a reference to the fact that stems can be made into walking canes – but also an allusion perhaps to some alleged characteristic of the legal profession.
The scientific name of this plant is Calamus motii. The motii part is a local aboriginal word. I am not certain but I think the word may describe the ‘plunck’ sound that is apparently generated when the stiff spines on the stem are flicked – not that I tried this out for myself.
The ‘Wait-a-while’ Palm has rows of large hooks, spines, or thorns almost spirally wrapped around the main stems; and spines along the midribs of the leaves. This plant also has long thin whip-like flagella with recurved barbs (in Photo 4 below you can see one of these barbed flagella close-up in my hand). This long ‘tendril’ together with all the hooks elsewhere, help the plant to climb higher, to reach upwards to the forest canopy and more light, by latching on to other stronger, taller trees and vegetation.
I have included some shots of the untouched sheer jumble of vegetation here in this particular forest location because it is atypical of most of the rainforest. Usually the forest in this region is closed-canopy – meaning that the topmost layer of foliage is so thick that very little light can penetrate to lower canopy layers; and hardly any light gets to the ground level. So the types of vegetation that can survive without light on the floor of the closed-canopy forest are relatively few and the numbers of plants is consequently small.
However, this locality has been affected by cyclones which resulted in trees being pushed over by the high winds – opening up clearings in the forest, making holes in the canopy, and allowing in full light. Consequently, a luxuriant undergrowth has developed with many of these ‘Wait-a-while’ Palms.
At the Red Peak Skyrail Station in the Barron Gorge National Park, where these photographs were taken, the specially designed wooden boardwalk enables visitors arriving by the cable-way to touch down and enjoy the sights and sounds (as well as the intense heat and humidity) of actually being in the middle of the unspoilt jungle without impacting on the ecosystem or endangering themselves. Every possible consideration has been given to the conservation and care of this very special natural environment. The Daintree World Heritage Rainforest has occupied this area continuously for 100 million years. It is the oldest wet tropical rainforest in the world.
[A useful reference work is: Ecosystem Guides: Rainforest of Tropical Australia, Damon Ramsey (2008) 2nd Edition, ISBN 9780975747049 Pbk.]
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One of the great delights of this year has been my discovery of the exhibition of sculptures by David Nash at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. I have visited three times in the last couple of months. David Nash has carved the works with chain-saw and axe from dead trees in the gardens. The sculptures frequently bear the marks of their making as well as of their intrinsic natural structure. Many pieces are deliberately and spectacularly charred black. Whilst all the works are hewn from wood initially, some pieces have subsequently been cast in bronze or steel – and it is often difficult to tell of which material a sculpture is comprised just by looking.
The works invite the viewers to think about their own and the sculpture’s relationship with nature. The sculptures are enhanced by their setting, whether indoors as in the Temperate House among the palms and ferns, or outside amongst the majestic mature trees. The sculptures distill the essence of their verdant surroundings – almost requesting that we compare and contrast the shapes, textures, patterns of the natural with the man-made structures as well as examine the thoughts and emotions that both invoke in us.
To find out more about the work of David Nash, and the exhibition at Kew Gardens, click on the following links: