Dean M. Chriss
Primeval Forest #1, Victoria, Australia

Primeval Forest #1, Victoria, Australia

(Click image to enlarge)

A dense and lush cover of tree ferns growing along the banks of this river gives the area a prehistoric feeling that is only amplified by the mosses and towering mountain ash trees. I decided to create a series of photographs that attempt to show the essence of these rapidly disappearing forests. This is the first photograph in that series.

Tree-ferns are true ferns, not trees. They reproduce from spores rather than seeds. All ferns have a rhizome from which the fronds emerge. The only thing unique to tree ferns is that the rhizome is very long and strong enough to support itself. They are also impressively large. The long arching fronds can be 3 meters (9.8 feet) in length and in some areas they reach a height of up to 20 meters (66 feet). They require coolness, moisture, shade and shelter from wind, so they typically inhabit only shady gullies and stream banks.

Most of the larger trees here are eucalyptus regnans, known variously as mountain ash, swamp gum, or stringy gum. They are a broad-leaved, evergreen, hardwood tree that can reach heights of more than 114 meters (375 feet). Mountain ash trees are the world's tallest flowering plant and the second tallest trees on earth, next to North America's coast redwoods. In recent years climate change has caused fires to become much more more intense and frequent. Fires together with intensive logging have decimated forests like this one. Relative to historic levels only about 1% remain.

The only good news here is that a landmark supreme court judgment in November of 2022 found that the state-owned logging agency, VicForests, had broken the law by failing to protect endangered species.  With all of the appeals finished and failed, all logging of Victoria's native forests will stop by the end of 2023. Since Australia's mountain ash forests have the highest biomass carbon density of any forest on earth, this court decision is beneficial for both our climate and the forests, not to mention the diverse species of plants and animals that these forests protect.