king fern daintree

Heat before the storm

Prepared 6 December 2018, just before a few days rain, totalling 405 mm.
The Great Rainmaker, Thorntons Peak, has been letting us down lately. Firstly, the July rockslide, then a few very dry months. Now this prolonged heatwave! The buildup.

Daintree Coast residents are carting in water and cursing the lack of aircon. A few godless types have even been seen on their knees, muttering strange imprecations. Exhaustion does strange things!

Spiders have taken over the rain gauges, birds are nesting anxiously, as their overhead protection thins out. We’ve had sad reports of distressed cassowaries and dogs. It’s not just the fruit bats. But to see any plant or animal suffering is distressing. It’s one of our defining human qualities.

Dusty roads are layering a choking cover over plants. Vegetable gardens and roadside plants seem to be doing poorly and in many cases dying. Leaf loss in trees everywhere is substantial.

Yet, through all of this the creeks on Cape Tribulation Road are running. Still pretty, still giving life, still feeding the Coral Sea and reefs.

For goodness sake, we’re a tropical rainforest. There’s supposed to be rain every month (which there has been actually, just less than most years). And we can’t blame Thorntons’ rockslide for all nature’s perfidies.

This week, I thought I’d go out and listen to a few relic survivors. These are three ferns which go back around 300 million years, give or take a few.


Daintree scaly tree fern
Scaly tree fern showing heat stress

Tree ferns are widespread and easy to spot.

Large flat basket ferns are especially prominent at Marrja boardwalk.

And the majestic king ferns love wet feet in the misty mountains of Alexandra Range and its foothills at the Daintree Discovery Centre.

Tree ferns in gardens and road edges have lost lots of fronds and some seem to have totally died. Time will tell.

basket fern marrja
Early outer leaf growth basket fern

The basket ferns had already put on a skinny new growth to their outer leaves a few weeks ago, and were doing okay under the canopy, but certainly not thriving.

The big test was the king ferns. With their thick frond base, they need a lot of water to create the turgor pressure that keeps them pumped up and erect. Yes, many are wilting, with outer fronds collapsing and dropping off. But, when you get in close to look at their bases, the thick, strong fronds are still thriving. They’re beautiful, wonderful and successful survivors.

The main ingredient is the dense closed rainforest canopy, protecting itself.

The weather’s been extreme, but it’s also nature’s way of de-cluttering and re-mulching. Natural optimisation processes at work.

With the first real rains, the “green” season is just around the corner, recovery will follow, just as night follows day.

Soon the famous Daintree crystal clear creeks will be flowing strongly again, a riot of green growth will take over, insect life boom, plants bloom — and predators will grow fat from the proceeds. And let’s see what happens to the Thorntons landslide then!

This Daintree rainforest is a special place. Well worthwhile a good slow Rainforest Immersion Therapy.

I invite you to join me on a 4WD tour of Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield Track.

For more information ( maps, distances, accommodation, eats visits and more) click here.

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