Don’t worry, it’s not really an ode. (How do you define an ode, anyway?) But I do want to write about something that is dear to me.
I want to write about the shores of Lake Dobson and arriving there for the first time, and about the delight of a walk along a forest path in the crunching, slushing snow.
And then I want to set down my sense of utter wonder that here, amongst the snow gums and myrtles and candleheath and purpleberry …
… that here, in this sublime mountain beauty, there could also be … this.
The pandani is a curiosity. Well, yes, you only have to look to see that. But it’s a botanical curiosity as well as an aesthetic one. Because, despite all appearances, it isn’t a tree. Two of its closest cousins look like this:
The pandani is a Richea, endemic to Tasmania. It belongs to the family Ericaceae, the heath family. It should be a shrub, and a low one at that.
But somehow, a pandani always looks as if it hasn’t quite got the idea.
The pandani is unashamedly individual.
It is a heath plant that has lost the plot.
In many places, the pandani doesn’t even look like a tree. It looks more like a person. I know this is a fantasy, something children shriek about when they are enlisting pandani in snowball fights. But once you’ve got that idea into your head, it can be quite hard to shake.
Of course, if a pandani does resemble a person, it is a mad one. They have mad hair.
At other times it seems bizarre to say pandanis look human. Sometimes they seem completely alien — wild visitors, escaped from an episode of Doctor Who.
Either way it’s hard not to feel affection for these crazy plants, these unknowable eccentrics of the forest. You can’t help it, can you? You want to rush up and give them a hug — except that you’d be scratched to bits on the hard, serrated leaves, or stuck with their pointy ends.
And anyway, pandanis don’t really invite gushing over-enthusiasm or gestures of devotion. They have a contained quality. They make a weird rattling when the wind blows, but even that feels private: not so much a communication … more like secretive whispering. Mostly they are silent.
In fact, one of the best things about pandanis is their restraint. They aren’t waiting there to entertain you. They just are.
Strange, silent, static and yet full of a crazy plant-energy.
I love them.
Best plant ever.
References and further reading
Australian Plants Society Tasmania, http://www.apstas.org.au/index.html