Plant life

Details of some commonly found plants at Bunya Mountains National Park

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Bunya Pine Trees

Bunya Pine Trees are not actually pines – they are conifers and belong to the genus Araucaria (i.e. Araucaria Bidwillii).  Bunya Pines dominate the rainforest canopy and are easily recognised by their dome like shape.  They are giants, growing over 40m with a diameter of 2m.  In the rainforest, the first branch can occur over 20m from the ground.  Out in the open, Bunya Pines have a symmetrical “Christmas Tree” shape.   New growth in spring is a soft green in contract to the shiny dark green of mature foliage.  Bunya Pines have long been prized for their attractive appearance as well as their edible “nuts”.

Around 200 million years ago gymnosperms (cone bearing plants) – the ancestor of our Bunya and Hoop Pines replaced ferns as the dominant plants.   Flowering plants followed.

During the much wetter Cretaceous and Jurassic periods (65 – 210 million years ago), Araucarias were once a major part of Australia’s forests. Now having survived dinosaurs, they are now mountain top refugees found between Gympie and the Bunya Mountains with a small population in North Queensland.   Bunya Mountains National Park protects the largest stand of bunya pines in the world today.  A walk through the National Park is like turning back the clock to a time when dinosaurs roamed freely with Bunya Pines for company.

Bunya Nuts

Take 2 years to form and although we get nuts every year; traditionally the 3rd year heralds a very large or “bumper” crop.   During January of each year, female flowers form in the top 1/3 of the tree while the sausage shaped male cones form below.  Around August – September pollen from the male cones drifts upwards to fertilise the female flowers.  The cone starts to develop and is ready to drop in approx. 17 months i.e. around February / March.  Bunya cones are a pineapple shape and can hold up to 80 nuts.  A Large cone can weigh up to 8kg.  Bunya nuts are very nutritious and whilst low in protein contain 66% starch & 14% water.   They are much sought after by humans as well as a variety of native animals.  A large crashing sound followed by a thump heralds a bunya cone dropping and taking out branches as it falls.  Although most cones fall at night, it is prudent to take precautions including not parking your car under Bunya pine trees during January to April.

Hoop Pine

(Araucaria cunninghamii) Has a round, straight trunk similar to Bunya Pine.  The bark is darker and appears in horizontal bands or hoops.  Foliage is not as dense as in the bunya pine as the limbs are more widely spaced, especially near the top.   They are found on the slopes of the mountain.  Seed cones are much smaller than those of the bunya (approx. 10% of the size) and the seeds themselves are small and light.  They are eaten by animals but are too small for humans to bother with.

Red Cedar (Toona australis)

This attractive, tall tree is deciduous.  We know spring is here when we see the distinctive pink/red tips of the emerging new leaves on otherwise bare branches.  The bark has round, circular sections and the trees are often found with buttressed roots.   Red Cedar has a very soft but durable timber and is immune from borer and termite attacks.   It also seems to be water repellent.  It is still possible to find solid parts of cedar within the old dark red stumps and bent sections discarded by the timber cutters.

Crows Nest Fern (Asplenium australasicum)

Are characterised by a ring of overlapping tongue-shaped fronds up to 2m long.  Individual plants are commonly 1 – 1.5 metres across.   The centre of the plant contains thick humus formed from dead fronds and leaf litter from surrounding trees.

Elkhorn (Platycerium bifurcatum)

Forms crowded colony or clump of individual plants.  Two types of fronds on mature plants; body of elkhorn formed  by broad, overlapping fronds that are divided or lobed towards apex.  Arising from point near base of body of plant are several pendulous long, thin or wedge shaped fronds forked towards apex.  Undersuface clothed in hairs that give these fronds grey-green appearance.

Staghorn (Platycerium superbum)

Grows as a single plant.  Two forms of fronds present on mature plants.  Body of staghorn formed by broad overlapping fronds lobed or divided towards apex.  Deeply divided or forked spore-bearing fronds hang from near base of plant.  Spores clustered into large brown mass at base of first fork.

Mistletoe  is a parasite of mostly forest trees.  Can be clearly seen on the Dalby Road approaches to Bunya Mountains.  In some cases, it is very difficult to distinguish mistletoe from the host tree – mostly look for a different colour.  It hangs in “clumps” from the branches.  Seeds are spread to other trees by the mistletoe bird.

Grasstrees (Xanthorrhoea glauca sp glauca) These tall, slow growing and often multi branched grasstrees grow on the grassy balds on the western slopes of Mt Kiangarow and the open Eucalypt forest near Pine Gorge Lookout.  You can also see them on the Kumbia Road approaches to the mountain.  Reaching almost 5m high, they are some of the tallest grasstrees in Queensland and are at least several hundred years old.  Grasstrees shoot out tall flower spikes that attract butterflies, bees and other insects and birds such as the tiny eastern spinebill. They seed approx. every 3 years.

LaceBark/Scrub Bottle Tree (Brachychiton discolour).   These medium to tall trees have blotchy, grey fissured bark.  Tree is deciduous or partly deciduous and flowers in late spring/early summer.  Flowers are large & pink with red centres.  They have 5 petals.

Palm Lilly (Cordyline petiolaris)

These are tall (2 – 5 metres) and grow on one to several slender stems that are sometimes branched.  Tufts of leaves are 80 – 120cm long with long petioles.  Fruit is bright red.

King Orchid (Dendrobium speciosum)

These are very large orchids with long, swollen ribbed stems with several thick leaves.  They have large sprays of creamy-white flowers in spring.  Grows high in trees and on rocks in less accessible places that remain undiscovered by collectors.  The fleshy, fibrous stems were eaten by Aborigines.  Plant is widely sought after and has been seriously depleted by collectors in some places.

Giant Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide excelsa)

Tall tree with channelled, buttressed trunk.  Light brown bark.  Large roundish leaves, often heavily eaten by predatory insects.  Leaves have stinging hairs on their surface that cause severe pain to humans.  Fruit is greenish – white to pink with a mass of fleshy stalks.  The tree will Succour very readily.  Young trees have stinging hairs on their trunk as well as their leaves.  A small shoot with 2 leaves on it is often what stings the unwary.  Beware also the leaves.  Even though they appear dead, the stinging hairs still work effectively.  Cunjevoi sap is reported to be an effective antidote but ripe avocado works much better.  May sting for a couple of days and can be re-activated by cold or water.

Stinging Nettles.  (Urtica incise)

Relative of the stinging tree, these small plants are often found at the edge of the rainforest but may grow in otherwise cleared areas.  Like their relatives, stinging nettles have stinging hairs on their leaves which hurt and produce white lumps on the skin.  The pain will go away in time but for the short term spray the area with stingose or apply a paste of bicarb.

Cunjevoi (Alocasia macrorrhizos)

Lilly like plant with large leaves on long fleshy stems.  Flowers are in spikes surrounded by creamy/white bracts.   Perfume is sickly sweet and pervades the surrounding forest.  Sap is supposed to be an antidote to a Gympie Stinging Tree encounter.  Be careful as roots and sap are corrosive and poisonous.  (Applying ripe avocado to a Gympie sting works better).

Fig Trees (Ficus watkinsiana)

Moreton Bay or Strangler Figs’ seeds germinate in stumps, logs, rocks and tree forks of other trees – wherever there is sufficient humus.  They then send tentacles down to the ground all around the host tree until it is completely engulfed. The host tree dies and decomposes leaving a hollow which may or may not be filled by the fig tree.   The fruits are enjoyed by a large number of birds and animals.   Fig Trees are distinguished also by the huge buttresses at their base and for their great height.

The 4 km scenic circuit features a walking platform which goes through the middle of a huge fig tree.  Many a child has happily played hide & seek within and around the buttresses.

Mowbullan Whitewood (Elaeocarpus kirtonii)

This very attractive large, buttressed tree grows to a large diameter & height.  It’s trunk is seldom straight and smooth – hollows give animals such as possums a dwelling place.  The wood is white.

Black Bean (Castanospermum australe)

This attractive tree is characterised by a thick mass of attractive light green leaves each approx. 25 – 30cm.  The leaflets are on opposite sides of the leaf stalk, making them very distinctive to identify.  Flowers are sprays of orange-red, pea-shaped flowers. They bear a heavy crop of large bean-like pods 15 – 20cm long.  Each pod holds up to 6 seeds.  Whilst probably not poisonous, they taste terrible.  Some animals however do eat these seeds.

Plant Summary at Bunya Mountains National Park

This is a simplified summary of the major vegetation types and summary list of the common plant species found in Bunya Mountains National Park.

(1) Complex Moist Rainforest

Bunya pine (Araucaria Bidwillii)

White booyong (Argyrodendron trifoliolatum)
Lacebark tree (Brachychiton discolour)
Churnwood (Citronella moorei)
Pidgeonberry ash (Cryptocarya arythroxylon)
Giant stinging tree (Dendrocnide excelsa)
Native tamarind (Diploglottis cunninghamii)
White quandong (Elaeocarpus kirtonii)
Small leafed fig (Ficus oblique)
Strangler fig (Ficus watkinsiana)
Bollygum (Litsea reticulate)
Whalebone Tree (Streblus brunonianus)
Brush Cherry (Syzygium australe)
Red Cedar (Toona australis)

Mid Stratum
Chain fruit (Alyxia ruscifolia)
Palm lily (Cordyline petiolaris)
Scaly tree fern (Cyathea cooperi)
Kangaroo Apple (Solanum aviculare)

Lower Stratum
Maidenhair ferns (Adiantum spp)
Native spinach (Elatostema reticulatum)
Shield ferns (Lastreopsis spp)
Stinging Nettle (Urtica incise)

(2) Dry Rainforest

Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii)

Python tree (Austromyrtus Bidwillii)
Lacebark Tree (Brachychiton discolour)
Silver Croton (Croton insularis)
Small leafed Ebony (Diospyros ferrea)
Leopard Ash (Flindersia collina)
Lignum-vitae (Premna lignum-vitae)
Deep yellow-wood (Rhodosphaera rhodanthema)

Small leaved acalypha (Acalypha capillipes)
Native holly (Alchornea illcifolia)
Chain fruit (Alyxia ruscifolia)
Prickly pine (Bursaria incana)
Currant bush (Carissa ovate)

Lower Stratum
Sickle ferns (Pellaea spp)

(3) Dry vine thicket

Narrow-leaved bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris)

Narrow-leaved Backhousia (Backhousia angustifolia)
White box (Eucalyptus albens)
Narrow-leaved ironbark (Eucalyptus creba)
Leopard ash (Flindersia collina)
Scrub wilga (Geijera salicifolia var. salicifolia)

(Acalypha spp)
Stiff Canthium (Canthium buxifolium)
Currant bush (Carrisa ovate)
Narrow-leaved croton (Croton phebalioides)
Daisy bush (Olearia spp)

(4) Very tall moist Eucalypt forest

Narrow leaved stringybark (Eucalyptus eugenioides)

Lightwood (Acacia implexa)
Green wattle (Acacia irrorata)
Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon)
Forest oak (Allocasuarina torulosa)
Grasstree (Xanthorrhoea glauca subsp.glauca)

Also scattered rainforest species in the mid stratum and as trees e.g.

Chain fruit (Alyxia ruscifolia)
Hollywood (Auranticarpa rhomdifolia)
Native tamarind (Diploglottis cunninghamii)
Muttonwood (Rapanea variabilis)

Lower- stratum

Rasp fern (Doodia aspera)
Lepidosperma laterale
Spinyhead matrush (Lomandra longifolia)
Tussock grasses (Poa spp)
Kangaroo grass (Themeda Australis)

(5) Tall eucalypt forests and woodlands

At Higher Elevations

Yellowbox (Eucalyptus melliodora)
Forest Red Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis)

Lightwood (Acacia implexa)
Green wattle (Acacia irrorata)
Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon)
Forest oak (Allocasuarina forulosa)

Lower- Stratum
Spinyhead matrush (Lomandra longifolia)
Tussock grasses (Poa spp)
Kangaroo grass (Themeda australis)

At lower elevations

White box (Eucalyptus albens)
Narrow leaved ironbark (Eucalyptus creba)
Forest red gum (Eucalyptus tereticorns)

Brisbane wattle (Acacia fimbriata)
Lightwood (Acacia implexa)
Cough bush (Cassinia laevis)
(Dodonaea fenuifolia)
Sticky daisy bush (Olearia elliptica)
(Senna coronilloides)

Lower- Stratum
(Gahinia aspera)
Tussock grasses (Poa spp)
Wild Sorghum (Sorghum leiociadum)
Kangaroo grass (Themeda australis)

(6) High Altitude Grasslands

Commonly known as balds, one theory is that they were created by regular firing by Aboriginal people during the bonye bonye feasts. An alternative theory is that they formed during a drier and cooler climatic period which caused the forests to retreat, allowing the grasses to take over.  In any case they are disappearing – being overtaken by other plant species.  There are internationally important as they support rare and endangered grass species such as the blue grass (Bothriochloa bunyensis).  There are 130 distinct bald areas scattered over Bunya Mountains.