I’ve joined a choir. I’m sure my friends who’ve suffered through my attempts at singing in the past are open-mouthed at this horrific announcement. Before anyone dislocates a jaw, I’ll reveal it was unwillingly done and we hope to disband soon as our combined efforts are not at all pleasing to the ears. Our little household has been moaning, groaning, coughing, snuffling and snorting along with thousands of other Queenslanders afflicted with the imaginatively named Brisbane Influenza.
We’re on the mend now but I haven’t had a chance to go on long walks. Rather than not post anything I thought I’d share more discoveries and oddities from my short wanders around the university grounds in August.
Native brush turkeys don’t agree with the clean path policy at the university. Their scratching is quite impressive at times. My daughter kindly provided these phone shots of their renovations.
Parts of the campus are bursting with fruity goodness in August. The native blue quandong (pronounced quondong), Elaeocarpus grandis produces a bright blue marble like fruit that apparently tastes like a slightly bitter date when eaten raw. There is only a thin layer of flesh around the large seed so you’d need to collect many to make jams, pies and purees. I’ve never tried this variety. We had a pinky-red quandong tree growing on a property inland and the fruit was used to make jams. At the time my little son had trouble pronouncing the name so he would proudly tell people that we had “condoms” at our place and they taste a bit funny. Blue quandongs are often eaten by woopoo pigeons, cassowaries and spectacled flying foxes.
The next tree had me puzzled for a few weeks. Internet search results for spiky fruit were dominated by durians. Eventually I was lucky enough to stumble across another frustrated searcher who had identified similar fruit as the native Flindersia australis. However, when I mentioned this to a groundsperson at UQ, she wondered if it was Flindersia bennettiana. At least we’ve established it’s a Flindersia which apparently is a member of the citrus family, Rutaceae. Here’s a pic of what the fruit looked like whole.
A week later it opened up into this. The dried fruit are sometimes used in floral or Christmas decorations.
The next fruiting discovery was Velvet leaf – Callicarpa pedunculata, another Australian native. This was my first sighting and I felt sure it must be some weird import. I couldn’t find any evidence of the berries being eaten by birds or insects and there have been anecdotal reports of cattle becoming sick from eating it. One site describes its possible medicinal uses though.
These knobbly looking protrusions by the lake had me curious. They reminded me a little of mangrove roots, but these were attached to something far different. I’m happy to be corrected here but they appear to be a kind of swamp cypress native to the US, Taxodium distichum. The protrusions are often referred to as cypress knees. While some have argued that these knees help the tree obtain oxygen in waterlogged soil, others state that there is no evidence for this and propose it is more likely to help buttress or stabilise the tree.
Near them stands a magnificent flowering native paperbark species. Paperbark can be used for wrapping foods to bake them and imparts a smoky flavour.
Also in the same area was this native miniature pumpkin shaped fruit (about 1cm across) which I think is Glochidion ferdinandi. Some people call it the cheese tree because of the fruit’s edam cheese shape but there are other varieties called cheese tree that are quite different. Parrots, pigeons and figbirds are a few of the birds that feast on it and the dried fruits are sometimes used in potpourri. I haven’t been able to find sites that describe culinary uses.
Enjoying the sap were these “cuddly” looking mealy bugs.
At this stage I almost trod on an eastern water dragon. It wasn’t impressed and eventually swam off across the lake but not before leaving me a thank-you present for spoiling its session in the sun.
Nearby I noticed a dusky moorhen enter a reedy retreat. Later when it ventured out for food I took a peek. It appeared to have made a nest or resting area out of paperbark. I would never have guessed looking from the outside.
Another fruit popular with the local critters are native figs. There are a few varieties in Australia and I’m not entirely sure of this one but I’m guessing it could be Ficus oblique?
The Australasian swamphen (also known as purple swamphen) Porphyrio melanotus was enjoying the figs on this day.
On another walk, spring “love” seemed to be in the air…unless they were just fighting.
For years I had assumed the next tree was a native. However, it’s a leopard tree, or Caesalpinia ferrea Martius (Brazilian ironwood) from Brazil and Bolivia and can grow into a massive tree. I have a small one in my back yard and may now need to reconsider its future. I love the patterned trunk and the delicate green foliage. I found some research which tested its traditional use to treat oral infections. From looking at these fruit pods it is palatable to some critters.
These scratchings on the trunk are made by brush-tailed possums on campus.
A pair of plump juvenile noisy miners waited in a leopard tree to be fed.
When I discovered these attractive fruit I was a little peckish and felt tempted to taste them. The orange flesh smelt like ripe persimmons. They also seemed popular with the local wildlife. However since I am only mildly extreme I refrained from risking my life for the sake of blogging. I really hoped these were native but was disappointed to find that Eugenia uniflora comes from Surinam and several tropical countries of South America and are commonly known as Brazilian, Cayene or Surinam Cherry. I was even more disappointed to discover it included in a list of environmental weeds. The taste varies depending on ripeness but is usually described as being both sweet and tart and leaving an acidic aftertaste. It’s best eaten when dark red and can be used in jams or jellies.
Many things catch my eye on uni walks including this natural triangular window formed when a eucalyptus branch fused with the main trunk.
Regular readers will know I can’t go past fungus without taking a shot. This was a huge “woody” specimen that blended in well with the old tree stump.
A little sick of trees and critters now? Well here are a few images of my first visit to the Global Change Institute building at the University of Queensland. The building is 100% powered by renewable energy from 480 roof-top solar panels. It also uses 40% less energy than if it had fitted standard air conditioning. Instead, it uses an automated ventilation louvre system which keeps air flowing through office spaces.
A large thermal chimney draws warm air up and out of the building. All water is obtained on-site and equals the capacity of two large swimming pools. The roof is a three panel translucent ETFE foil roof which acts like a cushion with the two exterior panels expanding and constricting, varying the amount of light allowed to penetrate.
After my visit to this impressive construction I ventured down to the forested teaching area and chatted to an employee who revealed that a homeless student is living on the campus grounds. I was shown the remains of a bag of rubbish he left which included a prescription to medication used to treat a severe mental illness. How he manages to pass exams while coping with a mental illness and having no home is beyond me. On any one night in Australia 1 out of every 200 people are homeless. An Australian politician was recently quoted as saying that the Government can’t do anything when people choose to be homeless. This naturally caused great outcry as there are many reasons why people live on the streets, including escaping from domestic violence and abuse, mental illness, racism, discrimination, addiction, lack of affordable housing, and poverty.
My desire to work in social justice areas when I first studied at university came about partly because of my own background. As an eleven year old I stood next to my mother while she used a public telephone to try to obtain financial and accommodation assistance. At that time she was told she would have to wait 6 weeks after “escaping” her situation for help. Given she had three young children and her own mental illness to deal with, she “chose” to stay in an abusive situation rather than live on the streets. It is sad and frustrating today that for many women this is the kind of “choice” they are still faced with due to lack of funding for domestic violence services.
Once our far-from-tuneful influenza choir has disbanded, I’ll be bringing you more of the usual adventures…possibly two wheeled ones!
Thanks for reading.