A Morning Walk at Cairns Botanic Gardens

Palms and gingers and orchids, oh my!

Bronwen Scott

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Beehive ginger (Zingiber, Zingiberaceae), Cairns Botanic Garden, FNQ. © Bronwen Scott.

The first time I saw Fan Palms (Licuala ramsayi, Arecaceae) in their natural habitat was at Tam O’Shanter State Forest (now Djiru National Park), Far North Queensland. I was on a night walk, hoping to photograph insects, frogs and other nocturnal animals. Although it was the dry season, the ground was muddy in places and my attention was focused on the circle of torchlight on the track just ahead of me. Everything else was lost in the darkness.

Among the night sounds — the high-tension buzz of cicadas, the rustle of animals moving through the leaf litter — were the rattles and whispers of palm fronds. I shone the torch on the roots of a palm and traced the skinny stem upwards. The light struck blue-green sparks from spider eyes and sent rainforest beetles scurrying into the shadows. When it reached the canopy, it illuminated fronds that looked like cartwheels. I switched off the light and looked up at the giant leaves and beyond them the Milky Way sliced into splinters.

Fan Palm (Licuala ramsayi), FNQ. © Bronwen Scott.

In the 1980s, the Fan Palm became a symbol of the primeval forests of the Daintree and the fight to preserve them. Later, Cairns Regional Council adopted the palm as its logo.

Fan Palms at the Cairns Botanic Garden: bench, conservatory roof, gate detail. © Bronwen Scott.

Cairns Botanic Garden is made up of three parts — the Flecker Garden, the Gondwanan Garden, and Centenary Lakes. The Flecker Garden is a traditional botanic garden with specimen trees, systematic collections, and extensive lawns with shelters and benches and was opened in the 1960s. Its name commemorates Dr Hugo Flecker, the Cairns physician who established a herbarium on the site. He is probably best known as the discoverer of the deadly Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) of tropical Australian waters.

Bromeliad beds, Cairns Botanic Garden. © Bronwen Scott.

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Bronwen Scott

Zoologist, writer, artist, museum fan, enjoying life in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland. She/her. Website: bronwenscott.com