N'Dhala Gorge and Ewaninga Rock
Photos: A Central Bearded Dragon and a Wild Passionfruit with a few of the ants that didn't immediately jump onto me.
In addition to the obviously attractive reptiles, there were a few pretty (and pretty interesting) plants around in the N'Dhala Gorge Nature Park and Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve. It's not the best time to find plants in flower around Alice Springs, but of course there is always one individual that will flower out of season or one species that seems to favour the most inhospitable time to attract its pollinators.
With my colleagues from other capital city botanic gardens around Australia, we were captivated by the Wild Passionfruit (a variety of Capparis spinosa). Big showy white flowers, that apparently only last a day or so, followed by 'capers'. This is a variety of the same species that produces the pickled capers we buy from a supermarket.
The fruits we saw were big - about 10 cm long- and orange. The inside of the fruit tasted fairly bland but not disageeable. Clearly the pickled capers are picked early and very much in bud, or perhaps the Mediterranean variant has smaller mature fruits.
(As an aside, both Melbourne and Sydney botanic gardens have mature specimens of Capparis aborea - the Native Pomegranate, Wild Lime or Wild Lemon - and both attract particular white moths away from their natural range to enjoy the feast of caper flowers.)
We didn't see the Bush Orange, another species of Capparis native to the area. But we did see something called Tickweed (Cleome viscosa) which turns out to be from the same family (Capparaceae) but without the redeeming features of an fruit mildly edible when mature and very tasty pickled when not.
South of Darwin, we saw some red sand dunes and plenty of the Desert Oak (Allocasuarina decaisneana) and Blue Mallee gum (Eucalyptus gamophylla). Again not much in flower, but a couple of Ptilotus and a saltbush or two grabbed our attention.
At both sites there were lots of fascinating rock carvings by local Aboriginal people, past and present. The plants and the 'petroglyphs' were all set against a backdrop of stunning Red Centre rock.