The Herberton – Irvinebank Area: a plant lover’s delight

This article is extracted from Yuruga Newsletter
Vol 14 No 1 (March 2006)

The hills of the Herberton-Irvinebank area of north Queensland contain a wealth of fascinating and delightful native plants, from tall trees to small shrubs. Some are well-known and quite common, others are extremely rare. Take a drive from Herberton to Irvinebank one Sunday afternoon and explore for yourself.

As you drive through the area, the first thing that will strike you are the beautiful Lemon Scented Gum Trees Corymbia (Eucalyptus) citriodora*. Tall, straight and slender with lovely smooth white trunks and open crowns, these beautiful fast growing trees dominate the hillsides when they shed their old bark each year to reveal a fresh new skin of silky salmon pink. As you walk beneath these trees your feet will crush the leaf litter, releasing the fresh lemon oils into the air. Such a delight! No wonder Lemon Scented Gums are such a popular plant in cultivation.

Once you get your eye in, you’ll start to notice that there is a host of different species of gum trees in the area, from the huge to the quite small. You’ll drive past stately Blue Gums (Eucalyptus tereticornis) on the hillsides and river flats, and as you get closer to Irvinebank you’ll find yourself in Pumpkin Gum territory.

The Pumpkin Gum (Eucalyptus pachycalyx) is a stout, smooth-barked gum tree which is absolutely unmistakable when it sheds its old bark each year to reveal a magnificent bright orange-pink new trunk. At the right time of year this striking tree, which is classified as rare due to its limited distribution in the wild, dominates the landscape. The common name Pumpkin Gum derives from the bright orange blaze of freshly cut timber.

The well-known timber tree Gympie Messmate (Eucalyptus cloeziana) is common on the hillsides and is easily recognised by its smooth white branches and rough dark grey trunk. The shapely Yellow Jacket (Corymbia leichhardtii) is easy to pick by its striking and unusual yellow flaky bark. The small, twisted, Silver-Leafed Ironbark (Eucalyptus shirleyi) is also easy to identify by its large round silver-grey leaves, and its sprawling untidy form. A great contrast in the garden!

Corymbia rhodops

Some of the bloodwoods may appear quite non-descript, that is until they flower! The Range Bloodwood (Corymbia abergiana) is a small ordinary-looking tree, but it makes its mark when it bursts into huge heads of fluffy white flowers followed by large decorative gum-nut seed pods. The Red-Throated Bloodwood (Corymbia rhodops) is another ordinary-looking tree which, although common in the area, is actually officially classified as a rare species because of its limited distribution in the wild. But rarity is not its only claim to fame – the showy white flowers have a deep red throat which is quite remarkable in the eucalypt world.

You could get ‘plant indigestion’ from the gum trees alone, since this is only a small selection of the species in the area. But bring your eyes down from the tree-tops and marvel at some of the beautiful shrubs to be found here.

One of the most common and showiest shrubs is the Golden Toothbrush Grevillea (Grevillea pteridifolia). You can’t mistake it when it’s in flower with its bright orange, nectar-laden flowers contrasting with the wispy silvery foliage. This grevillea is a lovely (and fast-growing) garden plant, and guaranteed to bring the honeyeaters in screeching swarms, and it is also a parent of some of our favourite garden cultivars such as ‘Honey Gem’, ‘Kay Williams’ and ‘Sandra Gordon’.

This area is also home to a very rare Irvinebank Grevillea (Grevillea glossadenia). A lovely shapely bush with attractive green foliage and orange spider-type flowers amongst the leaves, this rare plant is found only in the Irvinebank area. It makes a great garden plant in its own right, and is also the parent of another of our favourite garden cultivars ‘Orange Marmalade’.

Acacia leptoloba

The Herberton-Irvinebank area is home to a variety of lovely wattles. One of the most prominent is Acacia leptoloba (aptly named Irvinebank Wattle), a large shrub which is easily recognised by its purplish new growth and bright white fluffy flowers. Also likely to grab your attention are two small wattles which grow in dense thickets only about half a metre high. The first, the Table-Top Wattle (Acacia nuperrima) is a small, neat, bright green shrub with a very attractive ‘table-top’ form, while the second, Acacia humifusa, has soft, furry, round, grey foliage.

Also down at ground level can be found the lovely Grevillea dryandri with its huge pink toothbrush-shaped grevillea flowers. This fantastic plant can be found in flower nearly all year, and if you look closely you may see an amazing thing – a tiny plant with only a handful of leaves can have a dozen or more huge flowers! This grevillea is often found growing alongside the White Paper Daisy (Helichrysum newcastlianum) and the dark red Blood Lily (Haemodorum coccineum).

There are lots and lots of other fantastic plants to be found by the enthusiast and plant lover, but above all else the area is famous in native plant circles for the Purple-Flowered Wattle (Acacia purpureapetala). Yes, this wattle really does have purple flowers, and it is found only in the hills of the Herberton-Irvinebank area. You’d think that with purple flowers it would be easy to spot, but it’s actually fairly hard to find because, firstly, it is a prostrate scrambler growing down at ground level amongst the rocks and tufts of grass, and secondly, it has greyish foliage which blends into its surrounds. The easiest place to start looking is in the Jumna Creek area. Once you’ve spotted the first one and got your eye in (that’s the hard part), you’ll start finding them in other places too. This purple-flowered wattle is an oddity in more ways than its unusual flower colour since, although the seeds germinate readily, it has defied all attempts to keep it alive in cultivation. Fortunately it appears to thrive on disturbed ground and so, while classified as rare because of its very limited distribution in the wild, is not under immediate threat.

Haemodorum coccineum

So, you can see why the Herberton-Irvinebank area is one of our favourite spots for a Sunday afternoon drive. There’s something for everyone – rare plants, unusual plants, plants with stunning flowers, trees with fantastic trunks …. just watch out or you’ll catch the bug and be hooked for life (and there’s no known cure!).

* Gum trees which fall into the ‘Bloodwood’ group are now considered sufficiently different from the rest of the eucalypts to be placed into a new genus Corymbia.