By W. H. Nicholls
Mount Erica and its surroundings on the Baw Baw mountains in N. E. Victoria between the months of December and February ( the spring of Alpine regions ) is gay with wildflowers. A visit at this period would prove to flower-lovers that for variety and wealth of floral beauty, our flower gardens hold their own with gardens of any other country. Mount Erica ( 5,000 ft. ) is on the eastern extremity of the Baw Baw Mountains, and is accessible from Walhalla, the famous mining township ( which is distant about 14 miles ) or from any of the log sidings and stations en route from Moe - preferably Thomson or Erica. The most popular route, but the longest, is via Warburton and McVeigh's. I prefer the direct, via Thomson route, the stiff uphill climb of Mount Erica notwithstanding. It is one or 1 1/2 days journey, according to the circumstances of travel. By way of McVeigh's the journey takes three to four days, over not easy miles, but the scenery is superb. On Falls Creek, 15 miles from McVeigh's many of the tree ferns have fronds measuring 15 ft. long and 3 ft. wide.
The last and most enjoyable expoerience of a party of which I was a member was of a camp of five days on Talbot Peak, Mount Erica. The peak is really a spur of Erica and at the head of Talbot Creek. Both were named in honour of Sir Reginald Talbot when he was Governor, at the inauguration of the "through" track in 1907.
We spent our time exploring the large morasses and many valleys hereabouts. We went over Mount St. Phillack ( 5,140 ft. ) to beyond Mount Whiteaw ( 4,875 ft. ), a distance of approximately 10 miles. Mount St. Phillack is the greatest elevation on the plateau. We found botanic life at its best, and many splendid sights in the region will often be recalled with satisfaction.
At the foot of Mount Whitelaw, and on the creek which bears its name, we found the Alpine heath ( Richea Gunni ) in full glory. The beautiful spike of creamy pearl like flowers, combined with the palm like leaves, the light-brown protective shields of the buds, and the red stem form a picture of unusual beauty.
On the summit of Mount St. Phillack and in many favourable places towards Mount Erica, fine species of orchidaceous plants were seen in great profusion. The most numerous was the green bird orchid ( chiloglottis Muelleri ). The flowers are not of a brilliant colouration- just a modest but pleasing shade of green, with some purplish markings. This was named after Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller, probably the first man to "botanise" in these wilds. Two other kinds, conspicuous by their numbers, are popularly known as leek-leaf orchids ( Prasophyllums suttoni and Taggelianum ). They receive their respective names from their finders, two Melbourne naturalists. Both have delightful perfume, and they are restricted to these regions. Their numerous flowers are somewhat indefinitely coloured and are arranged upside down on the stem.
The mountain greenhood ( Pterostylis alpina ) is another interesting orchid of these highlands. The hood-like flowers are neatly fashioned, and very softly coloured in shades of green and white; herein lies their strange charm. At the head of the Yarra River, and also at the Thomson River bridge, close by the home of our glorious lyrebird ), we found many colonies of the plants. Their setting under the fairy-like beeches among the luxuriant ferns seemed to suit them to perfection.
The most beautiful orchid - and the most conspicuous, by reason of their bright colourisation - is veigned sun orchid ( Thelymita venosa ). On sunny days the margins of the morasses are gay with myriads of the dainty flowers. Most of our sun orchids have blue flowers; but this species, unique as it it is, has in addition, rich purplish-blue veinings on the flower segments, and inside the flower is a pretty column with golden-hued crests. It is exceptionally plentiful all round Mount Erica.
The golden Senorious, with their marguerite-like flowers, make the way very pleasant for the travellers from a point just after leaving McVeigh's to just before reaching Mount Whitelaw. Three kinds grow in abundance in the comparatively open spaces, under the beeches and the eucalypts. They seem able to hold their own, even with the tenacious bracken fern.
Other mountain plants occurring here include the Alpine mint bush ( Prostranthea cuneata ). January is the best month for its flowers. We have seen dozens of this attractive shrub, many 5 ft. high; a wonderful wealth of bloom. The individual trumpet shaded flowers are heliotrope, with purple spots inside the throat. The foliage has a strong pungent odour. The are many other kinds of flowering shrubs in these wild gardens round Mount Erica, all beautiful and some very rare. Not one of them has found its way to our home garden - as yet ! We have nothing as splendid among everlasting flowers as the unique scented rosemary everlasting ( Helichrysum rosmarinifolium ). The flowers are born in myriads, and at the height of its season the bushes are like masses of snow.
The snow daisy bush ( Oleria Lyraba ) is also excepyionally abundant everywhere, on the slopes of Mount Erica and the adjacent hills. It resembles the Easter daisy in cultivation, but this mountain plant has far more blossums to its branches.
The houry daisy bush ( Olearia Frostii ) has to be the largest blossoms of all the daisy bushes of our mountains. The flowers are white, and the plant having been named after a Mr. Frost the foliage properly has a frosty appearance. It is numerous on Mount Erica, and also on Mount St. Philack. Many of the bushes were much admired for their unbroken florescence.
Two of the choicest flowers round the Morasses on Talbot Peak and near Mount Whitelaw are the Baw Baw berry ( Wittsteinia vacciniacea ) and the Alpine heath ( Epacris Bawbawensis ). Both are true heaths, and have cream and white bell shaped flowers respectively. The fruits of the Baw Baw berry are edible. The flowers of the Alpine heath are borne in large clusters at the terminals of the branches. Both of these heaths favour the damp situations under the twisted white-flowing snow gums.
Growing among the daisies and heaths are trigger plants ( Stylidium graminifolium ) with rich magenta flowers. On the low lands they are always small, and the flowers pale-coloured; but at this altitude the plants are of a robust habit. Each individual flower has a sensitive trigger-like arrangement for the fertilisation of the flower, hence the name. Another daisy to be found here is the silver daisy. The plants are literally in tens of thousands round the morasses and lining the margins of the creeks. They have flowers very like the shasta daisy, but this mountain daisy has rich purple markings on the reverse side at the white petals. Botanically it is known as Celmisa longifola.
Among the many smaller plants hereabouts ( and there is a multitude of species ) we must not forget the violets ( Viola hederacea ). Wherever we tread the carpets is of violets. The flowers are often large 3/4 in. in diameter, and the stems long. Most of them are heliotrope, with richer markings. Around the convenient hut on Talbot Peak the eye alights on them in myriads. They seem to be assembling for invasion of the rich lands below.