Manna from Mallee

It’s been a while between posts and there has been a number of things I have meant to write on. Maybe I’ll catch up soon. But on the weekend I went for a walk in the “Melton Mallee” – Long Forest nature conservation reserve, that is – and I’ll share a few interesting things I saw.

I was there on a hot day, which I find is a great time to be out in the bush. The light is strong and really brings out the bright greens and bronzes of Eucalypt leaves and trunks. The sparse shade is all the more welcome, and the big sky stretches above. Not too many animals are out in the heat of the day, and it’s quiet enough to hear those that are.

If you aren’t already familiar with it, mallee is both a type of Eucalyptus tree, and a name for the kind of bush that is dominated by said trees; also (as “The Mallee”) a region of northwest Victoria dominated by said vegetation. The form of a mallee tree is like it has its trunk underground, and only a few branches – typically in a ring, slowly expanding – above the ground. The underground “trunk” is technically called a lignotuber. Long Forest is a little outlier far from the rest of the mallee, and only one mallee tree species (out of many) is there, Bull Mallee.*
*see end for proper botanical names

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Bull Mallee

I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of these trees were festooned with manna. Or actually,  lerp. I am taking poetic licence to call it manna in the title. I think manna  might more properly be an exudate of sap or resin that falls from trees. Lerp is the excess sugars excreted by tiny sap-sucking  insects. Sap contains mostly sugars and carbohydrates; the suckers have to suck a lot of it to get the protein they need, so they squirt the excess sugar/carbs out the back. There it forms candy floss like fluff which protects the insects. I was amazed at how much there was.

Lerp is an important food source for many birds, marsupials, probably ants  (I saw a few having a go) – and for Indigenous people. So I tried it and it really did taste good. Sweet but not like straight sugar; more like a malty, milky sweet. With a texture a bit like candy floss. Since it’s not refined sugar it’s probably a reasonable carbohydrate hit, nutritionally. And there was enough about that a party of people could have made a meal (if not a feast) out of it.

Another great Eucalypt in the Long Forest is the Werribee Blue Box. While most Mallee is found much further north and west, most Blue Box are found much further east in Gippsland and the east coast. Here it hugs the creek flats.The tree has broad, bright green leaves that most wouldn’t expect to see on a Eucalypt. It’s not especially tall, but spreading, with thick shade underneath.

Just above the creek flat I visited, I discovered an unexpected stand of Buloke on a rocky spur, not thriving but hanging in there. They seemed a little incongruous, only a dozen or so stunted specimens on the shattered shale scree slope. I saw a lot of male catkins in flower, so perhaps it has been a good year for them.

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Male flowering Buloke in foreground, Werribee Blue Box in background.

While wandering up and down the (currently dry) creek bed I also noticed a couple of abandoned wombat burrows, and one active one. It’s good to see them in the reserve. Also, to finish up, this old log revealing amazing patterns in its wood as it decomposes.

Dessicated log on Coimaidai Creek, Long Forest
Dessicated log on Coimaidai Creek, Long Forest

Botanical names of plants mentioned here:

  • Bull mallee – Eucalyptus behriana
  • Werribee Blue Box – Eucalyptus baueriana subspecies thalassina
  • Buloke (or Bulloak) – Allocasuarina luehmannii

 

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