Saturday, 28 October 2006

The holly and the memory

Duncan at Ben Cruachan reminded me of how plants can be living memories. They connect us with times and places and sometimes with people. One of my garden plants, the Mount Blackwood holly* (Graptophyllum ilicifolium) is about to come into flower. When I saw the buds this morning ...

I lived in North Queensland for eleven years. I had study sites along the more accessible parts of the tropical coast from Cooktown in the north to Sarina, just south of Mackay. I tried to visit each spot as many times as possible in both the wet and dry seasons. One of my sites was Mount Blackwood in mid-east Queensland.

The drive south from Townsville is not exciting. The Bruce Highway passes through cattle paddocks and cane fields, with only a few isolated hills and the odd waterway to interrupt the monotony. (Admittedly, one of those waterways is the Burdekin River. Cross that in flood and you won't forget the sight.) But once you get to the Proserpine region, the Clarke Range livens up the landscape. But that rises on the western side of the road. The east is broken by occasional peaks, one of which is Mount Blackwood.

Graptophyllum ilicifolium grows on Mount Blackwood and neighbouring Mount Jukes between Cape Hillsborough and the tiny community of Kuttabul. Although the rainforest that covers them was probably once continuous with the montane rainforests of Eungella to the west, they have now been isolated by agriculture. They're islands of biodiversity in a sea of monocultures.

My trips to that part of the world bypassed Mackay, the only large town in the area, and concentrated on three spots: Mount Blackwood, Cape Hillsborough and Eungella. That trio of locations covered rainforests of all types and a host of endemic species, including invertebrates (of course) and frogs as well as the Eungella honeyeater (Lichenostomus hindwoodi). On one of my trips, we turned up a rare and somewhat obscure narrow-range endemic arachnid that's now named after me. When I say 'we', what I mean is that I was in the vicinity. To tell the truth, I was sitting in the car complaining about the rain and the leeches while the apparently water-proof arachnologist sifted through mounds of sodden leaf litter to collect a single specimen. It was hot chocolates all round that evening, I can tell you.

Now where did I leave my car keys? Come on. It's only a three-day drive.


*It's not a holly but has holly-like leaves.



An arachnid named after you? Cool. There is a snail that carries my name. I wonder how many bloggers there are out there who have species named after them.

tapperboy said...

The name of this spider? Do tell please.

Snail said...

That would be telling, wouldn't it?!