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Cooktown Botanic Gardens

The Gallop Botanic Reserve was established in 1878 and encompasses 62.3 Ha (154 acres) on the edge of Cooktown. The reserve contains the Cooktown Botanic Gardens and walking trails to Finch Bay and Cherry Tree Bay.
Cooktown Botanic Gardens

Cooktown Orchid

The gardens are open all year round and are free of charge. Listed below are a selection of plants and the months that they are best in flower. 



Cooktown Orchid

The Cooktown Orchid


Yellow Tea-tree

Yellow Tea-tree Neofabricia myrtifolia

Cats Whiskers

Cats Whiskers, Orthosiphon aristatus


Native Gardenia

Gardenia Glennie River

Blue Ginger

Blue Ginger Dichorisandra thyrsiflora

The Northern Banksia

Banksia integrifolia

Rainforest plants in the Myrtaceae Family, the many species of Syzygium share attributes of edible berries and colourful new growth.

The Cooktown Orchid, State Emblem of Queensland. Generous donations by Jason OBrien, member for Leichhardt, and Cooktown Local News, the Bousens, have made our precious collection of orchids possible!



Amorphophallus species in the Aroid Garden


Hibbertia banksii, Collected by Banks & Solander in 1770, 
Living specimen of one of the Banks Florilegium prints on display in Natures Powerhouse in the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery.  The Banks Florilegium exhibition contains 15 of these prints from the copper engravings made by Joseh Banks in the 1700's from Sydney Parkinson's botanical illustrations of the plants they collected on the Endeavour River in June 1770.



These amazing bugs are often found clustered under leaves.BromeliadCaliandra sp

The amazing bugs (not beatles) are clustered under leaves. They seem to be resting or maybe socializing.

Red flowering Bromeliad

Blood Red Tassel Flower (Calliandra haematocephala), has these powder puff flowers all over the shrub.


Tree with red papery bark, bright yellow flowers and red fruits
Tree with red papery bark, bright yellow flowers and red fruits

Flower of Dillenia alata,


The red fruits, the aril around the seed is edible.
The red fruits, the aril around the seed is edible.

the Red Beech, fruit

Dark red paper bark.

and bark


Alpinia purpurea

Alpinia purpurea, 
Red Ginger





The Silk Cotton Tree, or Red Kapok Tree. Bombax ceiba.

Bombax ceiba
Red Kapok or Silk Cotton Tree

This beautiful tree flowers from August – September, and can reach to 60m high. We have specimens in the gardens and a large tree as you come into Cooktown near the corner of Racecourse Road and Hope Street, also down at Quarantine Bay and many other places.  Its trunk sometimes bears conical spikes when young possibly to deter attacks by animals.

The tree has palmate-shaped leaves and is deciduous (loses its leaves) in winter, then the stunning large waxy red flowers are produced in the dry season when the tree is completely leafless and when most other forms of vegetation in the community are looking rather drab and forlorn. Although each flower only lasts for one day they are visited by numerous birds seeking the nectar. Birds have been observed to get drunk on the fermenting nectar! Often planted in large gardens and parks for these large red flowers.


The beautiful Golden Orchid is flowering through the gardens,Dendrobium discolor (now called Durabaculum discolor).   This is the largest dendrobium in Australia with the longest canes. The species are either epiphytic, growing on a tree, or Golden Orchidoccasionally lithophytic, growing over a rock.  

Bats Wing Coral Tree, Erythrina vespertilio, or Grey Corkwood or Wo-in-ya is a small tree with corky bark and thorns on the branches is deciduous and puts its spectacular pea-shaped scarlet to orange-red flowers directly on the stems in August-September.  The common name

Bats Wing Coral Tree
Erythrina vespertillio

comes from the shape of the leaves. From Greek, erythros, red, referring to the flower colour, vespertilio....from Latin vespertilia, a bat, referring to the shape of the leaves. This plant was painted by Vera Scarth-Johnson and collected by Banks and Solander in 1770 and is in the Banks Florilegium.

The Cascading Bean, Maniltoa  lenticellata is an unusual small tree or large shrub found in lowland rainforests and vine forests widespread to Torres Strait and in New Guinea. The globular clusters of cream flowers happen in September-October. These fruity-scented flowers may be pollinated by marsupials or bats.  The astonishing new growth is pale pink and pendulous (cascading) and is sometimes called handkerchief tree because of this. Watching the large seed pod germinate is astonishing! The new root pushes the seed up and out from the soil and then the first leaves emerge - small pink and pendulous. 

The Burney Bean, Mucuna gigantea, has been forming pendulous green pea-flowers lately which are rapidly turning into dark pods with round flat seeds. The kids rub each other with these hence the name Burney Bean. They are used for ornamentation.

Grevillea banksii has produced red spider flowers for the first time in the Solander Garden.
The exotic Yellow Saraca, Saraca thaipingensis, is in full bloom with astonishing golden yellow blooms above the foliage.  It is believed that Buddha was born under this sacred evergreen flowering tree. A tree with yellow flowers, borne on old wood,  grown as an ornamental for floral effect.  This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds, the flowers are fragrant especially during the night. Long pendulous new growth emerges as soft pink leaves slowly stiffen to green. Flower heads are large, up to 45cm, and bright yellow, developing straight from the trunk. 


This month we witnessed the flowering of one species of the strange Arum Lillies in the Aroid Garden,
Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, the Cheeky Yam, Elephant foot yam or Stink lily. Stink Lily because it attracts flies for pollination.  This strange plant produces a single flower which, when it dies back, will be followed by a single large lobed leaf from the underground rhizome.

Amorphophallus paeonifolius
Amorphophallus flower
Another strange plant is the carnivorous Pitcher Plant, Nepenthes sp.

The modified leaves form a trap for unwary insects.


Also flowering this month is the New Guinea Ground Orchid, Spathoglottis plicata.

In the Orchid House one of the Dancing Lady Orchids, Oncidium species.

Carnivorous plant
Spathoglottis plicata
New Guinea Ground Orchid
Dancing Lady Orchid




The historic Solander Garden has living specimens of the 325 plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on board the Bark Endeavour with Captain Cook at the Endeavour River, Cooktown in 1770. They were here for longer than elsewhere in Australia, having run aground on the reef. This makes the area the basis of the European knowledge of Australian flora of the time and therefore a very important part of our heritage. The scientists on board collected specimens of plants, the artists on board painted these, and the original herbarium specimens were retained by Joseph Banks and later the British Natural History Museum. Some of these were returned to the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra, some are in the Queensland Herbarium. Banks had copper engravings made of the paintings which were later printed as "Banks Florilegium" and some of these are now displayed in the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery in Natures PowerHouse in the gardens.

This is the primary collection of our living museum. Living specimens of these plants are our heritage and our history.

Bush Foods garden, local indigenous food plants, including the Native Banana, Musa Banksii, and the Candlenut Tree, Aleurites mollucana, which contains so much oil in the large nuts that they could be lit as candles, the Lemon Myrtle, The Native Guava, the Potato Tree, The Wongi, the Cedar Bay Cherry and many more.

The Main Lawn, with exotic fruit trees, eg Black Sapote or Chocolate Pudding Tree, Jackfruit, Mango, Brazil Cherry, Breadfruit, Lychee, Star Fruit, Five-Corner Fruit, Bael Fruit and many more, some of which are original specimens of the 1886 gardens, sent by the Queensland Society for Acclimatisation as a trial to see how they would work as a commercial crop. Some are still in existence from that planting or scions from the original specimens, and these are identified on the label plates. When in fruit these plants are a favourite of the Cooktown kids.

The new Rainforest Garden is a snapshot of Cedar Bay National Park which you drive through on the coast road to Cooktown from the Daintree. At the northern extremity of the Wet Tropics, this lush rainforest will highlight many species, including the Davidson Plum (Davidsonia pruriens) and the rainforest oaks, Black Palms Fan Palms and the climbing palm Wait-a-While, the Quandong (Elaeocarpus angustifolius) whose seed is a favourite of the Cassowary,

Society for Growing Australian Plants garden. The local branch originally planted out this garden many years ago and come every year in June since 1986 to do a working bee in the gardens and to further develop this garden. We are indeed fortunate that the SGAP Cairns and Tablelands have given of their time and effort for so long.

A “Palmetum” with both native and exotic palms.

The “Enchanted Forest”, a shady damp place with the original stone-pitched ponds andGingers, Costus, Bromelliads, ferns – we plan to make it a fairy land.

The Flower Garden. Originally in the 1800's used for cut flower production to bring money into the gardens to pay for the maintenance. This has been fenced to protect from the wallabies that were a problem. Heritage fencing, as the gardens is heritage listed. Cut flowers are normally annuals and the maintenance requirements high so we are modifying it now to include tropical cut flowers including Heliconias. The Exotic Gardens are being developed to feature those wonderful flowering plants from elsewhere in the world.

The Orchid House. Cairns Botanic Gardens donated many exotic orchids, and we received funding from Jason Obrien MP and the Cooktown Local News for Cooktown Orchids, the State Floral Emblem. These generally flower early in the year and are finished by end of May. Recently there has been a "Cookie" flowering any time, so you may be fortunate to see one of these whenever you visit.

The Desert Garden, succulents and cacti. The tall flowering spikes can be taller than most trees!

Timber Trees Section, including Red Cedar (Toona ciliata) and the Kauri Pine (Agathis robusta), trees that were targeted for logging in the past, and Kwila (Insia bejuga), whose timber is used for outdoor furniture and boats.

The Wetlands, Mangroves (especially those painted by Vera Scarth-Johnson) and other wetlands plants, including the Nypa Palm, that grows in the rivers.

A  Syzygium Section, The edible Lilly Pillies or Satinashs, from the Myrtaceae family, with their colourful new growth and edible berries.

The Brachychiton Section on Diane Duncan Hill. The Kurrajongs and related plants. The hill was cleared of woody weed to expose the granite boulders and give space for these large trees. The Boab, Adansonia gregorii, is (almost) there. This plant does not really like our wetter months.  The Narrow-leaved Bottle Tree, Brachychiton australis, will be sometime before it develops its huge swollen trunk and The Red Silk Cotton Tree,  Bombax ceiba, is also there.

The Vera Scarth-Johnson Garden. Plants painted by Vera,  close to the Natures PowerHouse and in the sand garden, as she favoured the wildflowers of the heathlands and the beach.

Amorphophallus species in the Aroid Garden
Amorphophallus species in the Aroid Garden

An Aroid garden featuring the Arum lillies, large Elephant Ears like the Taro, and Amorphophallus species, including the Titan Arum, is under development.

Entrance to Botanic Gardens, Cooktown
Entrance to Botanic Gardens, Cooktown

Gallop Botanic Reserve

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century it appears to have been Government policy to set aside Botanic Reserves in many newly established towns in Queensland, and these were provided for during the initial surveys of the town areas. Cooktown was one of the towns so endowed in 1878 with an area of 154 acres set aside. The Reserve extends from the rocks on the coast in Cherry Tree Bay, South along the coast to Alligator Creek in Finch Bay, up the creek to Hogg Street, Garden Street and a North, North-easterly line back to the rocks.

The Botanic Reserve was vested in the Cooktown Municipality, and the Government allocated an annual grant of £200 to assist in its development. The Council completed fencing of the Reserve early in 1885, enclosing the side nearest the town with palings.

In 1980, the Cook Shire Council resolved to name the Reserve the "Gallop Botanic Reserve" to commemorate the contributions of Mr R. D. Gallop and Mr G. D. Gallop, previous Administrators of the Shire.

Cooktown Botanic Gardens

In October 1885 the Council employed a botanist, Anthony Perieh, to lay out the nursery for the Gardens, which were to be established on the portion of the reserve closest to town. Then early in 1886 they contracted with John Welsh to dig over the Gardens, giving him two months to complete the job. In March 1886 young trees and shrubs were ordered from the Queensland Acclimatisation Society in Brisbane, and Mr Perieh was busy getting them established in the Gardens.

In 1890, C Watson and T Hassett were working as gardeners, and since there were now plants to look after, a well was sunk by Cross and Dufficy; and a pump, tank, and pipe reticulation installed. A second well was sunk at some later stage. The wells are still in use today. The water reticulation appliances have long been removed.

In 1892, a cottage was built on the Reserve and C Watson was installed as resident Curator of the Gardens. At this period the Gardens had been enclosed with a paling fence and were intensively developed with lawns, shrubs and garden beds, and named Queen's Park. Stone lined paths, stone pitched pools and stonework footbridges were built along a creek descending from the hills behind Cherry Tree Bay. In later years Mr Claussen, father to the late Lennie Claussen, filled the position of Gardens' Curator.

During the period of greatest activity a wide range of trees and shrubs of both decorative and economic value were planted in the Gardens. Shade and street trees in the Cook Monument Park, and in the main street, were part of the Botanic Gardens activities at this time.

Little further attention was given to the Gardens and they gradually fell into disrepair. In the mid 1970’s Mr SE Stephens, Hon. Curator of History, James Cook Museum, identified 18 plant species still surviving. Some restoration of the stone-pitched pools was undertaken in the early 1980’s. By 1990, 35 plant species had been identified as surviving species.

Jak Fruit or Artocarpus heterophyllus
Jak Fruit or Artocarpus heterophyllus

In 1984, Council commenced reconstruction of the Gardens with the assistance of Commonwealth Employment Funding. The original Gardens area has been cleared, stonework rebuilt and trees removed. A walking track has been cleared to Finch Bay along the old dray track. A walking track continues from this track to Cherry Tree Bay.


Nature's Powerhouse Interpretive Centre, is located in the gardens and has a verandah cafe where you can enjoy delicious food in the ambience of the gardens and the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery, retail and gift shop and Visitor Information Centre. If you are into nature or art this is the place to visit!