Mt Stuart has long been
a place of interest for viewing native plants. It is close to the city, the peak is accessible by road, and we
conduct outings regularly, particularly in February to view the ground orchid, Habenaria triplonema.
Although the entire
range is army land, Townsville City Council maintain a Scenic
Reserve; which, at 584 metres presents
an entirely different landscape from that experienced at sea level. For an ever growinglist of plants that we
regularly see, visit our Mt Stuart page.
One species that we have not seen before was recently discovered
at the base of a deep gully directly below the peak. At first sight it has all the appearance of a
Gossia, with a smooth mottled bark and dark green, glossy leaves, aromatic and with oil
The Mystery Tree occurs directly on the creek, in the base of
the gully; no specimen is growing more than about 2 metres above the bottom of the gully. There are about 120
'mature' specimens with juveniles scattered throughout, over about 350 metres. the majority would be in
the range of 4 to 8 metres in height, but at the lower end where the gully opens out, there are several
larger specimens, the largest being about 15 metres in height and having a circumference at breast height of
In the upper section, quite a number are multi stemmed, and this
would appear to come from coppicing at the base (which is evident in quite a number of specimens throughout -
perhaps from a lignotuber or from suckering - which is probably due to the exposed roots sustaining damage
from debris in heavy rain periods. There does not appear to be a reason for the coppicing as all appear very
healthy from a couple of good wet seasons.
It was not until we
found some 'fruit' that the Mystery Tree took on truly mysterious
proportions.Fruiting had been very heavy from some of the trees, and we thought this would make
identification relatively simple. After several wrong turns, we passed the material on
to Betsy Jackes, author of many books on local botany, and
The 'fruit'consists of a papery capsule (perhaps 5-8mm)with four
distinct 'wings', enclosing a much smaller ovary attached to the base of the capsule.
This arrangement is continuing to bemuse the
DNA testing confirms that it is indeed in the Family Myrtaceae,
closely allied to the tribe Backhousieae, but it will take a considerable amount of continuing research to
fully understand this Mystery Tree!
Further work depended on collection of flowers and developing
fruit so the next flowering was eagerly awaited. Apart from a tiny branch which bore a few flowers late in
2010 – none of the trees flowered in the 2010/2011 wet season! Later analysis of rainfall patterns indicate
that flowering occurred in early 2010 and 2012 after a long dry season of 7 months, broken by good rainfall
Having failed to flower
and fruit in the 2010/11 season it was impossible to make a clear resolution of the tree's
This led to some frustration as we
were making regular visits every 3 to 4
weeks, and it was not until 13th January 2012 that we found a large number of
the trees covered with buds, and the first of the flowers on show.
This led to a flurry of visits over the next three week, as
the flowering and development of fruit happened very quickly and specimens were collected at all stages of
Whilst these specimens were collected, further work at JCU included preparation of slides
for microscopic analysis of the cell structure of leaves, stems etc and similar examination of the flowers
and fruits as available. The preliminary description of the new discovery was also prepared ready for
publication. The genus of the proposed name has been established by analysis as Backhousia, but John has the
honour of nominating the species name to be given.
The species name
of tetraptera describes the very distinct four winged fruit.
Following this story from the start has been a wonderful
experience and we have learned so much about the intricacies of plant taxonomy and the need for careful
and detailed analysis when dealing with plant identification.
Backhousia tetraptera is now the scientific name, but it will always remembered as our Mystery
Here you will find the relevant section of the paper, written by Dr
Betsy Jackes, and published in:
Systematic Botany 2012 25,
Published online ,14th December 2012.