I led a bush walk for the National Parks Association (Southern Highlands branch) today. It was out on the Budderoo Plateau, which is close to (and similar to) the Barren Grounds. For more details follow this link. I suggest reading the sections on "Landscape" (bottom of P. 7 onwards) and then, "Biological values" on pages 8 and 9.
We stopped firstly at a very nice patch of heathland, which Jim and I had found last week, when doing a reconnaissance visit. We found many plants flowering which were members of the "heath" family (Epacris plants and their relatives). There were many species of the Proteaceae group (Persoonia sps, Banksia sps, Petrophile and Isopogon), as well as some specimens of Symphionema paludosa, which is such a small plant it it seldom seen. In addition, there were many tiny "Sundew" plants (Drocera sp.) one of which we spent some time examining in close detail, with the use of 10x hand lenses. There were tiny insects caught on their leaves - gnats or midges, I would imagine.We also found some tiny lichens which were carrying their little red capped fruiting bodies. Most people in the group had never ever seen these tiny lichens with such "fruiting bodies" before. I love these tiny little lichens - barely 3 cm high, with little scaly stalks, each topped with one of these little red "boxing glove" type structures which is the "fruiting body" for the lichen.
We then adjourned to Wallaya, a property owned by Penny and Larry, where, after a brief refreshment break, we walked down a long grassed slope to a patch of tall wet Eucalypt forest. The forest edge is only about 100 metres deep on the northern side of the block - at which point it opens out to reveal a sandstone cliffline, with dramatic views of the Gerringong Creek valley below. Last week, there was a smal (un-named) waterfall flowing off the far side of the valley. It was barely flowing today (as the country had dried out considerably over the last week).
One of the many plants which favour this sandstone cliffline is this species of Phebalium. The flowers are pale cream, and the leaves are very narrow (and pungent). It is likely to be a form of the highly variable plant Phebalium squamulosum.
There were other "rock-loving plants" there, including Epacris calvertiana var versicolor and many wonderful specimens of Dracophyllum secundum (a large-leafed member of the Epacris group) which has distinctive leaves, almost resembling tiny pineapple leaves, in their early stages of development. Then the stems lengthen out, producing flower sprays, with typical pale pink tubular flowers. This plants roots often are found growing great distances in moss on wet faces of rocks. Dockrillia striolata (Streaked Rock Orchid) were found in abundance, growing in crevices in rock faces. Where the plants were growing in more exposed places, their leaves were distinctively reddish-bronze, otherwise they were green. These plants have an almost succulent-like appearance, having a thick outer coating on their narrow leaves which are almost triangular in cross-section. Last week, I also found a patch of the tiny Rock Orchid Bulbophyllum exiguum, but I did not find them today. I was probably looking on the wrong rock - they are highly particular in their choice of habitat.
It always fascinates me that a rocky clifftop, such as this can have such a totally different plant habitat and species list from that of the forest a mere 20 metres away. And even the forest is graduated, with tall Banksia serrata plants as the first line of tall trees, then they give way to Turpentine trees (Syncarpia) , then to a mixed wet-sclerophyll forest of tall Eucalypts, with patches of rainforest plants growing as understory shrubs. All this variety within a mere one hundred metres distance from the cliff edge.
I really enjoyed being with this group of people who appeared to have appreciated the very varied range of plants and habitats, with nice views - and good company thrown in.