Category Archives: Daintree Plants

Wild about Rice

No word from us for weeks but we are still here!  The weather has been fine and sunny and we’ve been very busy with lots of different jobs.

Last week I thought about writing a blog entitled ‘perspectives’ as I pondered the many hours I have recently spent removing a vine called Scindapsus aurea (Devil’s Ivy) from the gully below our rental cottage that Allen is currently renovating.

When I was a student at Burnley Horticultural College in the mid ’70s I learnt to propagate this same vine which we grew carefully in the controlled environment of the greenhouse.  I remember being astounded when I first visited Port Douglas (also during the mid ’70s) and  observed it growing rampantly outside over the ground as well as climbing nearby trees.  I was overawed by the wonders of growth in the tropical environment …… and I still feel the same way although a little daunted when the plant in question is not so desirable.  Continue reading

Fruit-eaters in the garden

Photography has been quite a challenge recently – poor light conditions as well as an exceedingly damp atmosphere.   Last week  I thought I might have to test my abilities to write some descriptive prose without the benefit of colour illustrations.   However, luckily we have had a couple of sunny days ………………….


The first photo shows a Wompoo Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus magnificus) eating the fruit of a Bandicoot Berry (Leea indica) which just happens to be growing not far from our verandah.  From this angle, in the subdued afternoon light, you can see how the Wompoo blends so well into its environment but in the next shot this gorgeous plump pigeon is displaying its rich purple chest and golden yellow underparts.  Wompoos have a variety of strange calls, their common name is somewhat descriptive of a call one often hears in the forest but when they are feeding we mostly hear ‘puck, puck’ which triggers our response to  race for the camera!


The Bandicoot Berry is a fast growing large native shrub, which fruits frequently and Continue reading

Flowering Fern in flower



Flowering Fern - Helminthostachys zealanica


Flowering Fern indeed. The common name of this primitive fern is confusing, ferns do not flower, however the spike that they produce is certainly quite flower-like.

This fern belongs to a monotypic (only the one member) Genus Helminthostachys, which is known to occur throughout South-east Asia. In Malaysia it is eaten as a vegetable.

The plant extends into North Australia from the Kimberley to the Daintree. I’ve generally seen this plant growing in fairly boggy places so it must prefer a bit of a wet patch.


Close-up of "Flowering" Spike

To be honest the first time I saw this plant in the wild I did a double take.

I saw it from a bit of a distance and was quite sure I was looking at a fern but couldn’t quite get my head around the bit that was sticking up.

The family,Ophioglossaceae, to which this plant belongs is quite small, having a mere 70 species in 4 Genera. Of these only about 10 occur in Australia within 3 Genera.

One of the other local members of the family is Ribbon Fern, Ophioglossum pendulum, which unlike the terrestrial Flowering Fern live as an epiphyte. The fronds, which are ribbon-like, can be up to 1 m long and tend to twist some and hang down.

Like the Flowering Fern they have an unusual spore producing appendage that develops out of the frond.


Spore spike of Ophioglossum pendulum - Ribbon Fern

Bottlebrush Orchid – Coelandria smillieae

Bottlebrush Orchid - Coelandria smillieae

Bottlebrush Orchids are once again in flower at Wildwings.

    This unusual orchid, which was previously known as Dendrobium smillieae, prefers to grow on flaky barked trees such as Melaleucas and Leichhardts.

In this case it is Melalueca leucadendra.

   The flowers form at the ends of long canes in a tight cluster. Sometimes, as in this case above, the spike will split into two heads making the “bottlebrush” a little strange.

Newly opening flowers

Flowers begin to open from the bottom of the cane towards the tip of the spike and last several weeks before collapsing.

The flowers are a subtle blend of soft pink, white and green.

Unlike some of the more flamboyant orchid flowers the petals of the Bottlebrush Orchid are fused together for much of their length and consequently are tube-like with a ruffle of fringed petals towards the ends.

Close-up of Flower

Caterpillar & Cuckoo in Carallia

Male Little Bronze-Cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus)was trying to get himself a feed while being harassed by other insect eating birds, in particular a persistent Rufous Fantail.  The caterpillar attracting so much attention was the distinctive larva of a particularly bright day-flying Moth (Dysphania numana) which is often seen in the late afternoon and is known by the common name of Four O’clock Moth. Continue reading

Daintree River

We took an early morning river trip on Monday (the end of a week of fine very hot days) on a misson to photograph one of the night blooming Mangroves before the flowers fell apart in the morning sun.

Even on our return at nearly 8am there was still some mist hanging in the hills and as you can see from the reflections in the water there wasn’t a breath of wind.   Last night we had 53mm in some quite heavy showers which excited the frogs.  The calls of Litoria gracilenta become a deafening chorus which rises and falls in intensity so that you can almost imagine you are listening to the inner workings of some lungs.  Its still raining this morning so perhaps Mick has fine weather now at Sandy Straits!

And so to the main reason (or was it an excuse?) for this river trip.  The Gulngai-hybrid Apple Mangrove (Sonneratia x gulngai), one of the rarest trees in the tidal estuaries of the Daintree coast, that was first identified by Dr Norm Duke (University of Qld) in 1984.

It is a naturally occuring hybrid of S. alba and S. caseolaris displaying hybrid vigour so that it grows faster and taller than its parents and has larger leaves and flower buds.   The fascinating part of the story is that the parent trees are separated by location with the white flowering Apple Mangroves residing at the downstream end of the estuary while the Red-flowered Apple Mangroves occur in the upper, less salty section of the estuary.  And to add further to the challenge of creating the hybrid the flowering periods of the parents may only overlap occasionally giving a low potential for the production of hybrid seed.

We travelled down river without stopping in the hope that we were early enough to capture some entire flowers.  On the side of the tree facing the sun the flowers were already beginning to collapse, stamens dropping into the water as we focused the camera!  However on the shady side we found this stunning flower still with its ribbon-like petals.  There is no mass flowering, this hybrid flowers twice a year (trying to match flowering periods of both parents)with small numbers of blooms produced over several months.

The last photo was taken soon after leaving the mouth of Barratt Creek –  it shows Thornton Peak, known as Wundu by the Kuku Yalanji, in a very soft hue.  At 1374 metres it is a much revered local landmark – when returning home after a trip to Cairns I always look for my first view of Thornton.

Our thanks to Dawn of Daintree River Experience for generously lending us the boat.  It is a very comfortable craft for enjoying the delights of the Daintree river – an open boat allows better views of the birds and plants but Explorer 11 also has a canopy that can easily be pulled up in the event of wet weather.

Sheepless – Pink Shepherds’ Crook Orchid

Geodorum terrestre - Pink Shepherds' Crook Orchid

Geodorum terrestre – Pink Shepherds’ Crook Orchid

Geodorum literally means earth gift and terrestre = terrestrial.

previously known as G. densiflorum

This very attractive ground orchid responds to the early rains of the wet season with rapid, active growth.

The plants grow with tightly packed fleshy pseudobulbs supporting yellowish green, heavily pleated leaves.

The soft pink flowers are presented on a arching stem that allows the flowers to hangs down, perhaps to help them avoid the impact of heavy rainfall on the fertile parts of the flower.

Geodorum terrestre showing crook-like stem

The plants are regarded as widespread and common.

They can be found in a variety of forest types and habitats but a good level of moisture and light are usually required for healthy growth.

Here at Wild Wings & Swampy Things they have gradually worked their way down from the remnant vegetation on the hillsides. They have persisted in patches of Guinea Grass – Panicum maximum but seem unable to penetrate the several different introduced species of Brachiaria sp.

Hence we have a strong desire to rid our property of these dominating exotic grasses and have greatly reduced their presence.

Geodorum terrestre showing colourful flower

While the outside of the flower is a lovely soft pink, the labellum has a heavily veined deep red upper surface with a splash of bright yellow in the center.

The flowers are pollinated by our small stingless honey bees, although some forms are supposed to self pollinate.

I have chosen this last post for 2009 for Denis Wilson who has given me such enjoyment with his regular orchid posts.

Nose into “Common Snout Orchid”

Dienia montana - Common Snout Orchid

Dienia montana - Common Snout Orchid

Dienia montana was previously known as Malaxis latifolius.

The vernacular name of “Common Snout Orchid” is most unfortunate for this seemingly attractive terrestrial orchid. I cannot see the reason for this name?

They tend to grow in small colonies in shaded, damp areas with a good covering of leaf mulch as you can see in the first photo.

With the recent rains of the last four weeks several terrestrial orchids have started to burst forth. They don’t muck about either. This patch of about 20 plants have only had leaf material showing for about three weeks and already the lower flowers on the flower spikes have blooms that are fully open.

Dienia montana flower spike

The flowers are crowded on a vertical spike ripening from the bottom towards the top.

The flowers are a mere 4-6 mm across, making it very difficult to enjoy the true shape and colour.

They are also a bit of a challenge to photograph as the plants seem to like living in low light situations.

We have quite large clumps of these orchids in gullies coming off the hillsides that have re-vegetated themselves over the last 20 years. Gradually, as the trees have advanced down the slope, so have several species of terrestrial orchid.

Dienia montana flowers

The flowers turn from a lime green to a purplish brown as they mature.

Unfortunately, like many terrestrial orchids the plants are very seasonal and dry off and shrivel towards the end of the wet season.

On another note some months ago I posted the flowering Sarcochilus minutiflos which also has a very small flower. Yesterday while mowing I came across a plant that had fallen out of its tree. The flowers had obviously been fertilised and the pods were fully developed. I was quite surprised by the size of the pods. They were about 6-7 cm long and about 4 mm wide. Quite a contrast to the flowers that produced them that were only 6-8 mm across.

Sarcochilus minutiflos seed pod

Soldier’s Crest Orchid – Oberonia titania

Oberonia (OH-bur-row-nee-a) J.Lindley 1830 titania (ty-TAY-nee-a) Endlicher.

This delightful tiny plants Genus was Named after Oberon the King of the Fairies and this particular species was also named after titania the Queen of the fairies. Quite a wit on the part of both Lindley and Endlicher the botanists involved.

Common name: Soldier’s Crest Orchid.

Oberonia titania

Oberonia titania

The plant seen at right is about 50mm across with the flower spike being about 80mm long. These dimensions give you an inkling of how tiny and “fairy-like” the individual flowers are at about 1mm across.

I have found quite a few of these orchids growing on fruit trees in our tropical fruit orchard. They seem to favour Black Sapote (Diospyros digyna). Perhaps because of the fairly rough bark. I have also found them growing in the Mangrove community on similarly rough barked Bruguiera sp.

The mature plants seem to have reddish tinge to the leaves, particularly those that are growing in direct sunlight.

Oberonia titania flower spike

Oberonia titania flower spike

The orchid family is one that constantly amazes me with its dramatic contrasts. From flowers that are large, flamboyant and colourful to ones that are so small that it is hard to comprehend what minute insect would be visiting the flowers to enable fertilization.

If you enlarge the top photo you can clearly see that there are fully formed seed pods on this particular plant so fertilization has been achieved.

Northern Pencil Orchid – Dockrillia calamiformis

Dockrillia (doc-RILL-ee-a) calamiformis (calam-ee-for-miss) Jones & Clemesha.

Northern Pencil Orchid / Bridal Veil Orchid

Named after A.W. Dockrill, a botanist who specialises in Australian orchids. calamiformis = having a reed-like form.

This species was previously included with Dendrobium teretifolia as a northern var. fasciculatum

Northern Pencil Orchid

Northern Pencil Orchid

This orchid species is by far the most prevalent epiphytic orchid at Wild Wings and Swampy Things Nature Refuge.

It appears to attach itself to any tree that has a rough flaky bark.

For much of the year it presents itself as a series of pendulous terete leaves, usually on the underside of a branch or on the  trunk of an older tree.

Flowering is often towards the end of the dry season, with the flowers only lasting a few days.

A couple of days ago Denis Wilson (The Nature of Robertson) featured a southern cousin of this plant seen at Jervis Bay (Dockrillia teretifolia).

Superficially the two plants are very similar. The labellum on the northern plant doesn’t roll back like the southern plant does however.

Flowers of Northern Pencil Orchid

Flowers of Northern Pencil Orchid

The other striking feature of these attractive orchids is their delicate sweet scent.

This is particularly strong early morning and late afternoon, but certainly adds to the delight of these stunning plants