Ok I know I have been promising a story on the Cassowary Plum Cerbera floribunda but this is the story before that story!
Before I start I want to give a warning. Many rainforest fruits despite looking very handsome are in fact very toxic. Please don’t eat any rainforest fruit unless you absolutely positively know what you are doing. Here endeth the warning!
This story begins with a walk at Ella Bay with Blanche Danastas and James Mc Lellan from Marine Wildlife Australia who met up with me at Ella Bay for a bit of a beach walk. As a marine biologist and President of Marine Wildlife Australia Blanche is aware of Ella Bay’s unique marine habitat and is highly concerned for the wellbeing of its marine fauna, particularly marine turtles and coastal dolphin species.
After a great beach walk James and Blanche commented on the wide variety of rainforest fruits they noticed on the ground along the Ella Bay Road and suggested we take some photos.
Now I must admit I take these fruit for granted a little and felt like saying hey guys its getting close to beer o clock lets go home and besides you should see this joint when the white apples Syzygium forte are fruiting…..then the place is ankle deep in fruit!
However being a gracious host I kept my big trap shut and started collecting. Seeing the results 15 minutes later I was glad I did! Blanche assembled a fruit display on a log in the car park that would have any hungry cassowary drooling and trembling at the knees and we clicked away like madmen…sorry Blanche I mean mad people!
After the trip I pored over my books working out the names of all these neat fruits. Of course some I knew like the Cassowary plum and the Davidson plum but some had me stuck.
Here is the bit where I give credit to one of the Far North’s very best ecologists Dr Andrew Small (Senior Ecologist with GHD) who helped me out with some of the tricky ones!
Of course Dr Andrew Small is well known in this area as the scientist who located 3 threatened frog species at Joyce and Worth Creeks, less than 10 kilometres north of the proposed Ella Bay property development. During this recent assessments of the Bramston Beach water supply Dr Small found the Waterfall frog Litoria nannotis, Common mist fog Litoria rheocola and Lace eyed tree frog Nyctimystes dayi. Nice work! You can download his report here (PDF).
Some fruit had teeth marks in them that were probably made by Ella Bay’s spectacular spectacled flying fox Pteropus conspicillatus another fruit dependant endangered species but that’s another story!.
Today I want to introduce you to some of these fruit that are important cassowary food.
The Cassowary plum Cerbera floribunda is one of my favourites and is easily spotted along the Ella Bay Road with its glossy green leaves and massive purple fruit. Although toxic to us humans, cassowaries have no problems consuming this massive fruit whole.
I photographed this small cassowary plum tree next to the Ella Bay Road as the big ones are too big to get a decent photo of amidst all the other trees!
Whilst we are talking of big fruit the Brown walnut Endiandra montana is another beauty we collected. This tree species will grow to 30 metres in height and again its fruit are consumed and distributed by Ella Bay’s endangered southern cassowaries!
Whilst on the subject of big cassowary food items here's a ripper! Looking a bit more like a cricket ball than a cassowary snack it’s the fruit of the Cassowary satinash Acmena graveolens.
The Tooram walnut Beilschmiedia tooram with their glossy compressed fruit were also there along the road where they had fallen. And guess what? Yep that’s right it’s a cassowary food plant!
Coming down a little in size we found the famous Davidson plum Davidsonia pruriens another cassowary food plant which is very popular amongst Queenslanders as the main ingredient in Davidson plum jam. The colour of this fruit when split is absolutely stunning.
I’m running out of space here so I’ll finish off with two favourites of mine. The Mission beach satinash Syzygium alliiligneum produces a fruit that is very popular with the regions bird life. These trees produce abundant quantities of fruit much to the delight of Ella Bay’s endangered southern cassowaries.
And finally here is the Blue quandong Elaeocarpus angustifolius.
Just inside the proponent’s gate at Ella Bay you will see a pair of these important cassowary food trees forming an arch over the Ella Bay Road! Sadly one or both of these magnificent trees will be on death row if this road gets widened.
This fruit with its shiny blue skin and wrinkly seeds is very popular with Ella Bay’s cassowaries….how do I know….the proof is in the poo! And this is why cassowaries are our Forest Gardeners.
Alright I promise not to gross you out any more!
Before I go I just want to say again that the Ella Bay Road is lined with many important cassowary food plants. The Ella Bay Road is used by endangered southern Cassowaries to access these important seasonal food supplies. Ella Bay Pty Ltd is seeking permission to widen this road and destroy valuable cassowary food resources within The World Heritage Wet Tropics. The proponent also wishes to place cassowary proof fencing along this 3 kilometre road which I believe well restrict cassowary access to these fruits and also the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of kilograms of White apples Syzygium forte which will be fruiting in the coming months along the eastern side of the Ella Bay Road.
The White apple is an important seasonal food resource and restricting cassowary access to this important resource would be truly negligent. Ella Bay’s cassowaries need to be able to cross this road freely to access the white apple fruit that litter the ground during their fruiting season.
The Ella Bay road presently poses little threat to cassowaries with its current light usage. Ella Bay Pty Ltd wants to move approximately 5000 people into this bay and make big changes to this road. These thousands of people would all depend on the Ella Bay road as their one and only access road, a grim situation indeed.
I sincerely hope Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett AM MP is prepared to step in and use his powers to protect the endangered southern cassowary at Ella Bay.