Sar and I have made the trip to Cape York twice in the hope of finding Ficus melinocarpa, both times with gps locations of previous collections. I even contacted Bernie Hyland, the botanist who collected the specimens and asked for advice on how to find it. His most recent collection of this tree was in 1982 so as expected, he didn’t have much to offer.
There have only been a couple of trees found in Australia and Bernie made repeat collections of these, I’d say so samples could be sent to all the Australian botanical gardens. This guy has done some amazing work, having collected 18,000 specimens and spent over 40 years working on the Australia Tropical Rainforest Plants identification system.
The collections were from 1973 to 1982 and any locational references were made the old fashion way with maps and black magic. There’s a good chance they are out by many kilometres, which is a long way when you’re trying to find a tree in a forest!
The plants we were looking for were found in Bamaga Scrub, right at the tip of Cape York. The others were collected from Rocky River near Coen a bit further south on the east coast. This species also grows throughout the Indonesian – Mayalasian region.
When the locations where mapped out, they seemed to be right near the ‘Croc Tent’ a tourist shop. We got to know the owners pretty well since they were the only people around for miles! We also meet one of their friends, a crazy bare footed post grad who collected spiders and snakes for their venom!
Anyway… I concentrated my search along some trails around the back of an old homestead. Most of Bamaga scrub is dry open Eucalypt forest but there are many areas with remnant rainforest. I guessed these cooler rainforest areas where more suited to this species. It also made sense that Bernie may have driven down these trails looking for plants. Most collections are made in easy to reach places, along roads or walking trails, so I start with the obvious places.
I only had a vague idea of what the tree looked like. There aren’t many pictures available for this species. Most are from Indonesia so probably look slightly different to the Australian plants. It’s a sandpaper fig and I feel it would be like Ficus fraseri or Ficus subnervosa in habit. The leaf looks a bit like a larger more delicate version of Ficus coronata, having a large offset basal lobe, Click here for Photo. The tree grows to around 25m, it wouldn’t be an understory tree so would reach the top of the canopy.
Some images of the leaves look a bit like Ficus copiosa. Like this image here… Photo
Most of the collections were made during September, which may mean they were fruiting at the time? Trees with fruit around their base are much more noticeable than a bare trunk leading into the forest canopy. I may have walked past lots of these trees and not noticed them!
If anyone has seen or is interested in looking for Australian melinocarpa, I’d love to hear from you. At the moment it feels like it will be a long time before this tree is spotted again!