Every spring, parts of Canberra erupt with a flowering spectacle worthy of any local’s or visitor’s time. This has nothing to do with Canberra’s garden beds however, but springs from the stony slopes of the dry eucalypt forests on the hills which dot the city’s plains.
In this demanding environment, in Canberra Nature Park and the foothills of the ranges, trees rarely grow taller than 30 metres and are more closely spaced than those of the woodlands on the plains. There is still plenty of light though and the imperative is water. The soft-leaved plants of the mountain gullies couldn’t survive here and tough-leaved, often spiky, shrubs rule, along with scattered native grasses. On the cooler southern hillsides Red Stringybarks often predominate, while on the more exposed northern faces tough Scribbly Gums take over. Lower down massive rugged Apple Boxes grow just above the plains.
The flowers which make these forests such a spring drawcard are a mix of shrubs – wattles and peas are to the fore – and annual herbs among which orchids are arguably the stars. On Black Mountain alone at least 60 species of orchids grow. Over 100 species of ants crawl around them; both of these counts represent considerably higher numbers than the whole of Great Britain can muster.
Birds are active and evident all year round, and large numbers of lizards and other hunters pursue even larger numbers of insects and other small animals. The dry forests teem.