Friday, June 30, 2017

Work trip and rainforests, part 2

While I was in Queensland I had a few days to spare over the weekend so Alf from Eden Seeds offered to show me some great rainforest walks. This is temperate to sub-tropical rainforest which has very different vegetation to our cool rainforests or temperate forests around here.
We went on two walks, one more dangerous than the other.

As I walked a leaf from this plant dropped down in front of me... and I nearly pooped myself. For those of you who live in a country besides Australia you may not realise that we have plants that are just as dangerous as some of our animals.
This is a stinging tree. The stinging hairs on the leaves are so agonising that animals and people have been known to throw themselves off cliffs to escape. The pain also lasts for weeks or months. Why would anyone go with crude pliers and screwdrivers when a better torture method would be these leaves - or our Irukandji jellyfish.

This terribly spiky vine is called 'Wait-a-while' or 'Lawyer' vine because if you get caught up in it you will be there for a while trying to get free. Many people don't realise that this is the vine used in basket weaving. As the older parts of the vine die the bark and spines slough off and it is smooth and gathered for use.

It always saddens me to think of all the massive trees that were logged in the past two hundred years. The trees of this area are HUGE both in girth and height.

Some are hollowed out by fire or rot but many here have had a strangler fig grow around them and the original tree has died of old age and rotted away, just leaving the fig. It takes around 200 years for a fig to completely cover a mature tree.

Birds drop a seed high in the tree and over time the figs roots grow down to the ground and thicken and meld together.

 This tree on the right is called the 'Wishing tree'.
Nearly all the huge rainforest tree species make these huge buttress roots to stabilise them in the shallow soil against cyclones.

One of the walks we went on was 12km carved from the side of the cliffs. The side of the walk was all vertical drops for 50 metres or more and very narrow so you have to walk single file all the way and there were no safety barriers or ropes.
You don't just push any fear of heights aside, you beat it down with a heavy, pointy stick.

There were heaps of rocks and roots on the track so you had to concentrate on your feet the whole way. At least if you trip your death would be fast and painless.

Last month a man didn't make it to the end of this walk and even though there were searchers they never found his body or where he fell off. Helicopters or drones are no use here with the trees.

I wish my camera could capture depth better so you can see just how dangerous and steep this track is.

The track is like this the whole way, only around 40cm wide so if you meet someone coming the other way you have to try to find a spot with a few extra cm and hold onto a small tree to allow them to pass.

It is terrifying, the drop off is straight down vertical and you can't see the bottom. In some sections like this one there are very tall trunks of palms so if you fall you have the added bonus of smashing into trees as you fall and making an even bigger mess of your body.

Here is a picture of a strangler fig that has half swallowed a tree. You can see how the roots thicken around the original tree.
Although many people think that these figs kill trees, and they probably do to young ones, they are so slow growing that it is more likely that the original trees die of old age before the fig completely takes over.

When the original tree has rotted away what you see is an old, huge fig that is hollow in the centre where the old tree was.

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