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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 85

Timber and Scrubs

Timber and Scrubs.

The coast line is fringed by stunted scrubs of ti-tree and banksia matted closely together, but the lower-lying broken country for the most part is covered by forests of myrtle (Fagus cunninghami), sassafras (Atherosperna moschatum), celery, top pine (Phyllocladus rhomboidalis), and many species of the eucalyptus. with an undergrowth of dense scrubs of shrubs of many different genera, some bearing lovely blossoms and foliage, or berries of all hues. Of these the wharata (Telopea truncata), native lilac (Prostanthera rotundifolia), climbing heath, and native laurel (Auopterus glandulosus), are the most lovely. The heath adds brightness to the sombre gloom of the woods, and of the above-mentioned plants is the only indigenous one to this part, and is found covered with bright green leaves and clusters of long scarlet flowers, fall decayed stumps or fallen giants of the forests. Twined together in a close network, defying the passage of mortal man without the aid of his axe or billhook, these forests are surrounded by impenetrable thickets of horizontal (Anodopetalum biglandulosum), ti-tree (Leptospernum lanigerum), native rose (Banera rubioides), scrubs forming barriers so harassing and detrimental to surveying and exploration.

Long strips or patches of useless button grass (Gonnoschcenus [unclear: sphcerocejihalui]) country, in many localities, take the place of the scrubs. These open areas must not be mistaken for pastoral land, for not only is the soil of an unproductive nature but the coarse herbage unfits it for any use. The button grass consists of round tussocks from two to four feet in diameter and one to five feet high; it is found at all altitudes, in wet swampy flats, on dry barren ridges, or on the summits of high ranges.

Before being burnt the locomotion is excessively tiring for the traveller, who must either spring from tussock to tussock or sink deeply in the soft black slush, or when wending his way on the higher lands has to wind his course between the tussocks, so as to avoid being tripped by the entanglement of long wiry leaves. The prospector hails the sight of this country with delight, for when fired it burns furiously and sweeps the scrubs of hated banera, always found adjacent to its edge for miles, and gives a freer passage and a sight of mother earth to the searchers of mineral wealth, besides freeing the land of destructive pests and venomous snakes.

Along the large flats and brinks of the rivers, the graceful white blossomed pinkwood (Eucryphia billardieri), the pyramid-shaped pencil page 14 cedar (Athrotaxis selaginoides), and valuable black wood (Acacia melan-oxylon), King William (Athrotaxis cupressoides), and Huon pine ([unclear: DaciyiKitin fmniii'tii]), beautify and add wealth to this barren country, for more durable woods for ship-building and furniture-making cannot be obtained in Australasia than the far famed logs of blackwood, King William and Huon pines, exported during the last half century from the western streams to the other colonies.

Of late years the Government have altogether restricted the whole sale slaughter of the pines, supposing that the supply would soon be exhausted by the reckless destruction of young timber. In this respect the conservation was a wise legislation, but the absolute restriction is a mistake, because it has been a crushing blow to the development of mineral wealth. Formerly small crafts could afford to bring necessary supplies at cheap rates, if a return load of pine was obtained, thereby saving the exorbitant dues now paid for the charter of steamers, who are obliged to return homeward bound empty laden. It is also a mistaken idea to imagine that the pine is on the eve of extinction, for on many of the rivers and their tributaries I can vouch from personal knowledge of the existence of extensive beds of Docydium franklinii.

In a country so excluded and shut off from the settled districts by the want of overland communication, the Governmental powers ought rather to have fostered the principal resources than put obstacles in the way of development, which might have been easily obviated by forming stringent regulations and insuring sufficient supervision to prevent the wasteful cutting of timber and needless destruction of small trees.

Many of the mountains are completely hidden by the variable foliage of alpine shrubs. The one most peculiar to this district is the Fagus gunnii, the deciduous tree indigenous to Australasia; its habitat is on the snow-covered heights of the Western Ranges, where it grows in dense patches, attaining an altitude of four to twelve feet. No other locality in Tasmania produces a more beautiful variety of rare ferns; notably among these is the Aspidium hispidum, growing in greatest profusion in the gullies of the Pieman district : it was first described as a new species in Tasmania through the instrumentality of Mr. George Lefroy, but discovered years previously to his visit to the West Coast. The Macquarie district wholly claims the delicate Lindsaya trichomanoides, which is found in the sunshaded chasms of the West Coast Range and occasionally met with south of the harbour in deep valleys.

Two of the rarest filmy ferns, new to Tasmania, were brought from this locality into the settled districts by myself in 1883. I had hoped that one of the species might have proved a new discovery to the world; fronds were forwarded to Baron von Mueller for determination, and the illustrious botanist concluded that the first was the rare Hymenophyllum marginatum, one of the smallest filmy ferns, hitherto only known in localities in the neighbourhood of Port Jackson, New South Wales. The Other, a tomentose little fern, gathered from the bark of the King William pine, proved precisely identical with Hymenophyllum malingii, hitherto only known from New Zealand.