The History of the Rainforest
There is a lot of fascinating history to be explored when it comes to the Daintree Rainforest. From the rainforest’s origins right up to the modern natural and scientific discoveries of today.
The Origins of the Rainforest
Many millions of years ago Australia was warm and humid and rainfall was plentiful. During this time, rainforest thrived in places such as the Uluru region. It is hard to believe this would be possible as anyone who has visited our red centre will tell you not much rain falls there now. However, this is a good example of how old our continent is and just how much change has occurred.
As Australia became more arid, there were fewer and fewer places rainforests were able to survive. In the Daintree region however, the climate and topography were ideal, so the area became a last remaining refuge for rainforest. Within this refuge many species were able to live comfortably without reason to change…. their descendants still living today retaining many of their ancestors primitive characteristics, some dating back 110 million years!
Indigenous People of the Daintree
The Daintree Rainforest is part of the Kuku Yalanji country. The Kuku Yalanji people have lived in this area for thousands of years and their songs and legends continue to give special meaning to this landscape today. This is a spiritual and culturally significant place to the Kuku Yalanji people. This is one of 18 rainforest Aboriginal tribal groups located in the Wet Tropics World Heritage area. The Kuku Yalanju people relied on the rich array of plants and animals for food that the rainforest had to offer and travelled through the area seasonally.
There was massive change for the local Kulu Yalanji people when European settlers arrived in the 1800’s. An early colonist named George Elphinstone Dalrymple explored the area in 1873 where he came across a magnificent river. He named the river after his friend and early government geologist, Richard Daintree. Now not only the river, but the whole region has laid claim the Daintree name.
Throughout the modern era, development has expanded into the Daintree region fuelled by tourism and scientific exploration purposes. The Daintree River ferry began in the 1950’s and by 1961 the first road reached Cape Tribulation. It was then in 1970 when arguably Australia’s most significant botanical find was made – Idiospermum australiense – the idiot fruit. This discovery generated awareness and scientific interest in this rainforest.
As arguably Australia’s most significant botanical find, the idiot fruit has to be one of the most fascinating natural wonders to be found in the Daintree Rainforest.
Idiospermum australiense, commonly known as the Idiot Fruit, is one of the rarest and most primitive of the flowering plants. Its discovery in 1970 was arguably Australia’s most significant botanical find, greatly increasing scientist’s awareness of just how ancient these forests are.
The Natural Habitat
The structural complexity and plant diversity present in the Daintree Rainforest is unrivalled on the continent of Australia with many forms of traditional ‘Australian’ flora present. There are so many aspects to this rainforest that makes it truly special and unique including the rainfall and species diversity.
There are many ancient plants found in the Daintree Rainforest and they are known as ‘Green Dinosaurs’. There are around 920 different types of trees in the Wet Tropics and in 1 hectare alone you can likely expect to find between 120 to 150 different types of tree. This incredible diversity make this area so special and unique, setting it apart from other rainforest areas around the world.
Within the forest of trees, some trees tower above the ‘standard’ height of the canopy. These towering trees are referred to as ‘Emergents’. The major benefit of rising above the surrounding canopy is the ability to gain maximum exposure to the sun. The trees are also easily spotted by any creatures that pollinate.
Plants to Avoid
While there are many plants to look at and enjoy, the rainforest is a wild place so there is also plant life that is best to avoid. There are two primary plants that are best to avoid in the rainforest. The Wait-A-While vine is a spiky plant that is so sharp it can cut you through clothing. There is also the stinging tree filled with tiny, unseen pricks that can cause an itch.
A significant amount of rain falls in the Daintree Rainforest to sustain the natural habitat. The average annual rainfall in the Daintree rainforest is approximately 2000mm (79in) per year. Some areas have even recorded up to 9000mm (345in) in a single year. The wet seasons is between December and March. Over 60% of the rain falls during this wet season.
The mangrove system of forests that ring the mouths of creeks and rivers in the Daintree is a wonderful fish nursery that plays a particular importance in the ecology of the area. Mangroves are vital for many young fish species that migrate to the Great Barrier Reef later in life. They also hold the highest species diversity for this type of habitat anywhere in Australia.
Anyone who visits the Daintree Rainforest is bound to stumble across some form of unique Australian wildlife whether it is our world famous cassowary, mammals, colourful birds, scaly reptiles and snakes, frogs or invertebrates.
Cassowary – Cassowary’s are a highlight to see when visiting the Daintree Rainforest. The latest study (CSIRO 2014) lists the number of cassowaries in Australia’s Wet Tropics to be around 4,000. These magnificent creatures are large flightless birds. Fully grown female cassowaries can stand at 1.8m and weigh over 60kgs. Mature males are much smaller at 1.5m and about 35kg. See our Wild Cassowaries page for more information about these amazing creatures.
Birds – The greatest concentration o of Birds in Australia can be found in the Daintree. This natural hub boasts nine out of Australia’s ten kingfishers, seven of the nine Australian owls and over half of Australia’s pigeons, just to name a few.
Invertebrates – A huge range of rare and common insect life can be found amongst the foliage in the Daintree Rainforest. Butterflies can also be spotted in the forest with 60% of Australia’s 400 species of butterflies found in tropical Queensland.
Reptiles – The range of reptiles in the Daintree is extensive and varied. With slender goannas, lizards without legs, tiny skinks and two types of crocodiles just to name a few, you never know what kind of weird and wonderful reptile you could find with 131 reptile species found in this habitat.
Snakes – Both venomous and non-venomous varieties of snakes can be found in the Daintree. Any visitors should always be careful when viewing snakes out in the wild.
Frogs – All five Australian frog species can be found in the Tropical North East Queensland region. The largest tree frog in the world – the giant White-lipped Tree Frog, is a common find in the Daintree rainforest.
Bush Tucker in the Daintree Rainforest
The Kuku Yalanji people thrived for thousands of years in the Daintree Rainforest by hunting and gathering food. The Kuku Yalanji people also took advantage of the range of insects found in the rainforest for medicinal purposes. Some of these insects are also edible and were even considered gastronomic delicacies. A universal favourite was the witchetty grub. Witchetty grubs are highly nutritious and the raw innards were useful when treating sores and also assisted with relieving pain.
Another great source of food was the native bees. The larvae, honeycomb and honey was highly prized and the honey was also used as a healing agent. This is just a small sample of the range of bush tuckers and medicinal properties available in the Daintree Rainforest.
Save the Daintree Rainforest for Future Generations
It is so important for us to preserve this one of a kind natural wonder. You are welcome to visit this stunningly diverse natural habitat, but please ensure that you leave this pristine environment as it was when you arrived. Take any rubbish with you when leaving the forest, don’t pollute the water and don’t feed the wildlife. Protecting this natural environment starts with you. As they say, ‘Leave nothing but footsteps and take nothing but photographs’.
It is also vital to do what we can to protect the cassowary and boost their numbers in the Daintree. The best way to achieve this is with rainforest re-vegetation. Rainforest Rescue is a fantastic organisation who undertakes in the necessary re-vegetation that is needed to support the cassowary population. Every donation helps to save this magnificent creature and help sustain the wonderful natural diversity of the Daintree Rainforest.