See them tumbling down
Pledging their love to the ground
Lonely but free I’ll be found
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.
Cares of the past are behind
Nowhere to go but I’ll find
Just where the trail will wind
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds ~ ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds’ by Bob Nolan
There was a period there where I was drifting along the Sandgate mudflats, with or without the tumbling tumbleweeds, just about every day. Sometimes when the tides cooperated I’d find myself out there in both periods of twilight bookending my drifter’s day.
I had a long break from the flats — it was hot, and how many hundreds of mudflat photos does a man need? — but now as the most delightful period of walking weather in these parts is here again, I’ve found myself drifting back.
Surely a few hundred more shots of frothy incoming tides, rippled sand and the cosmic fireworks of an incipient or dying sun can’t hurt…
For a little while I had some unusual company on the sand, or the rocks crumpled around the base of Shorncliffe. Spinifex is a word that sounds characteristically Australian, and evokes images of spiky, transient seedheads rolling across limitless swathes of red dust in the country’s arid interior.
I’ve never been out there though my parents have driven through and camped within it several times. Nope, the spinifex I’m talking about is a relative that thrives in a different type of sand: the white stuff of the Australian coast.
Says Professor Wikipedia, They are one of the most common plants that grow in sand dunes along the coasts of Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, with the ranges of some species extending north and west along the coasts of Asia as far as India and Japan.
Not that this running grass with its characteristic tumbleweedian seadheads is common on this stretch of coast. The heads I come across, single individuals or a perhaps small, scattered flotillas, are stranded on the shoreline or out on the flats after a voyage up or down the coast — or perhaps across the bay from Moreton Island, where spinifex is the dominant herb on the dunes of the ocean side.
I believe the species seen here is Spinifex sericeus, known as hairy, rolling, beach or coastal spinifex. Interestingly, it’s a dioecious plant, meaning that there are distinct male and female plants. The female seed-dispersal part is known as a diaspore (presumably connected to the word diaspora) which detaches from the plant, tumbleweed-style, and goes a-rollin’ and a-tumblin’ to spread and colonise, and perhaps just for the sheer fun of it.
This is a plant that likes a ramble, and also a swim. I love few things better than trekking down the surf-battered ocean coast of Moreton Island when a spiky wind-borne tumbleweed goes bouncing down the sand. Only a collision with water can stop them — briefly.
Beach spinifex is one of those modest and unsung plants that helps bind — literally — a precarious and unstable ecosystem together. It’s always miraculous to me how the whole ocean side of Moreton isn’t munched away completely by the incessant wind and water.
The dunescape is always changing, but the unruly carpets of this tenacious herb prevent the elements from biting off more than their fair share.
Most of the pictures here are at least a few months old; a few can be dated in years. The twilight ones were mostly taken on the same evening out on the mudflats; a few others are at Shorncliffe and several from Moreton.
The mudflat evening was special: I found two or three as the sun was setting and the incoming tide nudging them shoreward. I did my damnedest to photograph them rolling, a comical business — those things can really pick up some speed!
With darkness settling I found myself reduced to stalking them, pouncing whenever they made a short stop before hitting the road again.
It was a long way back to the shore in the dark, and I’ve no doubt the tumbleweeds beat me to it…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote