Pearl Beach is a beautiful spot, given to being a holiday house mecca for wealthy celebs, but more interesting for us as an ecologically diverse site for botanising. It's close to coastal heaths, mangrove swamps and temperate rainforest. (Also to leeches, ticks, mosquitoes, sandflies and snakes.... Oh my.)
The tree on the left is Melaleuca quinquenervia, Paperbark Teatree, and below, its bark....
This species is typical of the area, growing in coastal swamps and on lake margins on the East Coast of Australia north from Sydney. It's unfortunately become a serious weed in wetlands outside Australia, including in the Florida Everglades, where it grows into huge forests across hundreds of thousands of acres, forming impenetrable monocultures. With the classic irony of the way we screw things up, in some parts of Australia it's becoming quite vulnerable.
Traditionally, Indigenous Australians used the trees for a range of purposes:
- The bark peels off in strips and has many uses ranging from wrapping food for cooking to making bandages and disposable raincoats. The bark can be used to make containers for food and water storage and for mending holes in canoes.
- A liquid made from the leaves can be used as a wash. The leaves can also be boiled to make a pleasant tea.
- The nectar-rich blossoms can be soaked in water to make a sweet drink.
- All species of melaleuca can be used to treat symptoms of colds, flu and sinusitis by inhaling the steam from boiling or burning the leaves. The young leaves can also be crushed in the hands and released oils inhaled deeply to relive headaches, blocked sinuses, coughs and runny noses. Source: Botanic Gardens, Sydney.
And here's a joke, told to me by a plant scientist who is not a molecular biologist:
A molecular biologist was driving through the bush, and came across a farmer herding his sheep along the road. He stopped to let them pass, and got into conversation with the farmer.
"Nice mob of sheep you've got there."
"Yeah. They're good eating."
"Tell you what," said the molecular biologist, "If I can tell you how many sheep you've got, you give me one."
"Okay," said the farmer. "I'm always up for a wager. Go ahead."
"That's pretty good, mate, how'd you work that out?" asked the farmer.
"Oh, in my line of work, you need to be able to quantify things pretty quickly," said the molecular biologist.
"Fair enough," said the farmer. "Help yourself." And the molecular biologist did.
"How about another bet?" said the farmer. "If I guess what your line of work is, you give it back to me."
"All right," said the molecular biologist.
"You're a molecular biologist."
"How'd you know that?" asked the molecular biologist.
"Put down my dog and I'll tell you."