Category Archives: Daintree Plants

January highlights

The weather conditions have been as expected for this time of the year – hot and humid.  Some days it seems more extreme than I remember but probably I’m just using the weather as an excuse to only work outside for a relatively short time in the morning.

Another update on Spotted Whistling Ducks: when we had some heavy rain for a few days the Wandering Whistling ducks departed along with the large flock of Magpie Geese which had descended upon us.  Our resident Magpie Geese are still here and one suspects they may be rather relieved that peace has been restored.  The Spotted Whistling Ducks stayed for a day or so longer but then for nearly a week we didn’t see them anywhere.   However, they are now visiting again and have been trying out all our ponds, we can see where they’ve been by the remnant pieces of water weed, Vallisneria, and shredded water lily flowers!  They actively feed through the heat of the day both on the water surface and diving, staying underwater for 15 – 20 seconds. After a period in the water individuals will fly to a suitable horizontal branch, or in some cases a perching post, where they busily preen and dry off before returning to the water for further feeding.



wild_wings_swampy_things_spotted-whisling-ducks feedingThere have been flocks of Double-eyed Fig Parrots feeding on Glochidion, commonly known as Cheese Tree,  and we have also observed them feeding in Melaleuca cajuputi.  These paperbarks provide food and shelter for many birds, insects and fruit bats and we’re pleased that much of our swampy areas that were cleared of paperbarks in the early 1900’s are gradually returning to useful habitat.
This week the Melaleucas have started flowering, the event was announced by a loud humming sound accompanied by the sweet, nectar laden scent.

An Azure Kingfisher flew past Allen yesterday with a fish in its bill and two younger birds following behind;  a Little Kingfisher used one of our perching posts as a take-off point for fishing and Black Bitterns are frequently disturbed at the spillways both here and at our neighbour’s place, we estimate at least three regulars are moving between the two properties.  We suspect Shining Flycatchers are nesting again but haven’t yet confirmed this.  They are quieter than a couple of weeks ago when we watched some amazing displays from two males competing for a female’s attention as they went through their repertoire of calls.

Spangled Drongos have, once again, successfully harassed a Great-billed Heron until it flew back to the creek.  I confess it is a little disappointing as it would be rather fun to have more regular visits from this majestic bird but I can’t blame it for leaving as the Drongos are very persistent in their attacks.

So we’ve been enjoying the birds this month as we make the most of the sunny mornings and mostly fine ‘though cloudy afternoons – it looks like rain is heading our way.

Gardenia actinocarpa hybrid

Although we have already posted some information on Gardenia actinocarpa there is a follow-up story……………..

We have two plants growing in tubs on our verandah, so that we can maximize our enjoyment of their delightfully intense perfume.  The two verandah plants both produce only female flowers.   Both our plants continually set seed which surprised us as they are the only Gardenia actinocarpa growing on the property.  So where did the male pollen grains come from?  At first we thought that perhaps the seed would be infertile.  However, we were able to germinate a few seed and we grew a couple of very healthy, sturdy plants that eventually flowered themselves – beautiful white flowers which have a lovely perfume, not quite as intense as the female parent but the flowers are dramatically larger with a 90mm diameter when fully opened.


Continue reading

Shades of Pink

There are occasions during the year, especially the wet season, when the green shades of the tropical rainforest are broken only by occasional bursts of colourful new growth.  However, in the past few months we have been  enjoying many colourful flowers  –  I was very pleased to find such a healthy Floscopa scandens covering the newly exposed muddy bank of this little pond;  I planted it here about two years ago but it has taken a while to become established.  The bottom of the pond is covered in Marsilea mutica, an aquatic or terrestrial fern.  Allen wrote about Floscopa here so I won’t repeat his words.

wild_wings_swampy_things_Floscopa_scandens and Marsilea

Another interesting plant discovery has been Costus potierae Continue reading

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.