It’s National Forest Day folks, and as it happens, Australia has one of the oldest rainforests in the world.
Estimated to be around 180 million years old, the Heritage Listed Daintree forest is an ancient wonder. Older than the Amazon (take that, South America), the Daintree is a living time capsule. Its unique array of flora gives us a glimpse into the evolution of the earth’s plant life.
Image: Daintree Forest Shutterstock
Stretching over 1200sqkm between Mossman Gorge and the Bloomfield River, Queensland's Daintree Forest is the traditional land of the indigenous Kuku Yalanji people who have occupied the area for over 9000 years. The Daintree is a museum of ancient ferns, flowering plants and cycads.
“We have got species here that represent just about every stage in the story of the evolution of plants on earth,’’ Professor Darren Crayn, director of the Cairns-based Australian Tropical Herbarium at James Cook University, says. “It is also the largest extent that we know of complex mesophyll vine forest that is characteristic of the lowlands of the tropics. Combine that with the fact that we have got all these scientifically valuable plants and you have one of the most special places on the planet.’’
The Daintree is a complex interlocking of different flora and fauna. Home to 430 species of birds and some of the rarest and most mysterious plants on earth there is no denying its ancient roots. From the giant fern whose lineage is traceable 300 million years prior, to the Idiot Fruit Tree found nowhere else on the planet the Daintree is one of the most diverse and distinguished ecosystems on the planet.
The Daintree is both beautiful and dangerous. It is home to one of the most evil plants in the world - the Gympie Gympie plant (Read More about the Gympie Gympie Tree here)
With its heart-shaped leaves and pretty purple fruit, the Gympie Gympie doesn’t look threatening but there are stories of people shooting themselves to escape the pain. Even a small brush with the Gympie Gympie plant, scientific name Dendrocnide moroides, will leave you in agonising pain – a pain that can last for months. When you touch the plant, fine hairs lodge in the skin and deliver a powerful sting. Every second the hairs remain in the skin, more neurotoxin is released into the bloodstream. Both the leaves and fruit carry the tiny stinging hairs, so there’s nowhere safe to touch on the painful plant. Just standing too close can cause nosebleeds and sneezing fits.
Image: Rainer Wunderlich, Wikipedia
Ecologist Marina Hurley told Australian Geographic that the pain is “like being burnt by hot acid and electrocuted at the same time”. While incredibly painful, the plant isn’t actually “dangerous” in the way that a spider or snake bite can be.
Oddly enough, many native animals are able to safely eat the Gympie Gympie. The same is not true for introduced species – there have been reports of horses throwing themselves off cliffs just to escape the pain of an encounter with the plant.
It is the only place to find the Idiot Fruit Plant - the oldest plant in the rainforest and the Bowenia plant, one of only two remaining species that procreates with flagellated sperm that swim to fertilise the egg.
Image: Bowenia Plant Found in Daintree, Wikimedia Commons
Freaky plant sex aside, the Daintree is Australia’s most exquisite natural beauties whose secrets and mystery is still being unveiled.