Wild food (and chiggers) aplenty in winter
I recently moved from the Hunter Valley NSW up to Brisbane, to start a new position at the Queensland Herbarium. It took nearly 2 weeks to get here, as we headed off with the “cub” camper trailer, and enjoed several nights camping along the NSW coastline.
The most memorable place we stopped at was Minnie Water, at the Yuraygir National Park south of Grafton. There are spacious campsites aplenty with fireplaces and picnic tables laid on. Within a few minutes walk there is also a selection of plant edibles, even during July. In the fruit department, there were two species of lilly pillys along with some sweet and juice native raspberries (Rubus rosifolius).
While the common lilli pilly (Acmena smithii) was seen fruiting heavily, the taster blue fruit from Syzygium oleosum was more to our liking, crunchy like an apple and moderately sweet.
Other fruiting species were sighted , though not flowering at the time. These include 2 species of geebung (Persoonia spp.) and the succulent midginberry (Austromyrtus dulcis). However I’m told that man can’t live on fruit alone, and that green vegetables are a necessity for a healthy diet. Fortunately we had no shortage, the variously named Warrigal greens, Botany Bay greens or New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) were growing along the paths to the beach. This species is common in the eastern states, especially on the coastline, and is found outside Australia also, including New Zealand as one of the names suggests. I remove the hard little fruits before cooking them lightly, stems and all. They do shrink upon cooking, so use a generous serving.
Like most of coastal NSW, the invasive bitou bush (Chrysanthemoides monolifera) is a constant threat to the indigenous flora, despite ongoing control programmes. I pulled out my share of the bush and liberated some of the coastal flora, for the time being at least. Once away from the beach and main sand dunes the bitou bush disappears, and the indigenous species grow unthreatened. I enjoyed walking through some Banksia woodland, dominated by the wallum Banksia (B. aemula), which creates a really thick mulch layer, soft to walk on. Coastal cypress pine (Callitris columellaris) are common here, which is the southern limit for their distribution . The trunks are typically covered in mosses, lichens and young staghorn ferns, making a pretty sight in amongst the gnarled Banksia trunks. The ground in places was covered by orchids of the Acianthus genus, many in flower. As with most of our coastline Melaleuca quinquenervia is abundant, source of nerolidol, one of my favourite essential oils.
Ambling through the bush like this is most enjoyable, however it can come at a cost. Whilst I’m quite aware of the danger of ticks, it turned out that a tick-relative was my downfall on this occasion. Following my years of living in the USA, I came back to Australia being grateful for at least one thing (well apart from good coffee and cricket), that at least we have no chiggers. The microscopic mites managed to get under my skin, (figuratively and almost literally) on a few excursions on Atlantic Coastal areas, and left me covered in itchy lesions which could last for weeks. So the night after my Banksia woodland walk I noticed these itchy lesions springing up around my body, by the next day I knew they could only be chiggers – or a close Aussie relative.
So I did what anyone would do and googled Wikipedia, and sure enough:
Trombiculid mites are found throughout the world. … In the British Isles, the species Trombicula autumnalis is called harvest mites, in North America the species Trombicula alfreddugesi, and the species Trombicula (eutrombicula) hirsti, which are found in Australia and are commonly called the scrub-itch mite. Read more about the here:
Over a week later I still have some lesions, but they are not bothering me. I had far fewer lesions than during my American experiences, and the itch does start to ease after a few days, so perhaps our species is less numerous and a little more benign. But Aussies be warned, there are hidden dangers in the bush that most of us are unaware of.