15 years ago, Andrew did his honours project on the mosses and related small plants that grow on the Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus moorei) in cool temperate rainforest pockets in Queensland. Andrew’s work led to a publication in Austral Ecology (abstract link here). Inspired by his work, I had followed suit to do a similar study in the Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii) cool temperate rain forests of Tasmania (abstract link here).
Meeting Andrew at last year’s moss workshop was a great opportunity to discuss the similarities in what we had done. Passing through Brisbane on my trip down presented an even better opportunity to visit some of the sites that Andrew sampled.
Andrew kindly took me and Elly Pearce, a to-be Honours student to Lamington National Park. The park itself is a subtropical plant haven worth visiting on it’s own right for the botanical treasures that about there. There were immense strangling figs (Ficus wattsiana), stately Bollygum (Litsea reticulata) trees, majestic Black Booyong (Argyrodendron actinophyllum) trees with their chracteristic buttresses, awe-inspiring gigantic Stream lilies (Helmholtzia glaberrima) which grow up to 2m tall, and more and more.
Limitless as the ability of subtropical trees and flowers to delight, our quarry was the fabled Antarctic Beech (N. moorei) and the minute denizens that grow upon it’s bark and beneath it’s shade. Thus we set out, with much resolution and focus on our 5 km hike, to the abode of the Antarctic Beech in Lamington National Park.
An Antarctic Beech forest, and the first, and perhaps every subsequent meeting with one produces an effect that can only be described by the words like ‘arresting’, and ‘haunting’. There is a dark eerie air around these forests, especially in the presence of mist. The subtropical rainforest all along the track in is magnificent, but Antarctic Beech forest leaves one with an impression of that their greater antiquity and resilience. These Antarctic Beech forests are climatic relicts, vestiges of a Gondwanan past, persisting in a time in which one might question they belong.
And then I heard the mosses sing, the melodies of Acrophyllum, Hampeela, Papillaria, Ptychomnion, Rhizogonium… all old friends, all familiar.
And I heard too some unfamiliar ‘songs’, the tune of Dawsonia superba, one of the worlds largest moss, and Bescherella elegantissima, a moss of distinction which donned some tree boles with beautiful raiment.
Andrew, masterful in the ways of botanical collection, showed us his use of Epicollect, a phone app which he designed and uses to record his moss collections. The phone app can be downloaded and used by anyone for free. The data anyone collects is then synced in a information cloud in the digital realm and with the database at the Queensland Herbarium. The data is also available publicly. The app also allowed for photos and Andrew showed us the inventive way he takes photos with his hand lens placed over his phone camera!
Such is the ways of plant-people. We attempt to document and record the minutiae of plant life but I think we are really recorders of songs – the songs of plants. We might do that in the form of documenting the location where a plant occurs, or by describing a new species, or by discoursing on how they relate to the environment at large, but in all instances we are united by our attune-ment to the plant world.
Lamington National Park was a bonanza of mosses, an abode of Antarctic Beeches, set within a domain of lush subtropical rainforest, but for me too, it was a grand symphony of plant songs, from plants great and small.