Why Lyreades?

An explanation of the name Lyreades, which combines two iconic Blue Mountains species.

Blue Oreades

Eucalyptus oreades

In the misty forests of the upper Blue Mountains grow stands of tall, straight Eucalyptus oreades or Blue Mountains Ash. Stockings of bark peel off in long strips and lie piled around the bases of the trees revealing creamy-white trunks reaching towards the sky. Around 100 species of Eucalyptus grow in the Blue Mountains region, but it’s arguably the oreades more than any other which give the place its unique character.

The species name oreades is from the Ancient Greek for “of the mountains”. In Greek mythology, the Oreads or Oreades were mountain nymphs — minor goddesses inhabiting mountains, valleys and ravines.

Their namesake eucalypts grow on mountains, valley slopes and ravines above 600 metres in the Blue Mountains and in scattered locations further north (as far as south-east Qld). Mature trees reach a height of 40 metres. When you walk among these lofty “nymphs” in the swirling mist, the great blue void of the valley resonant with lyrebird songs, you know you’re in the mountains.

Terpsichore, Muse of dancing and choral song, playing a lyre. ClipArtETC

Superb Lyrebirds are so named because the male’s spectacular tail is shaped like a lyre, an ancient stringed musical instrument. However, living birds don’t normally hold their tail in the position that resembles a lyre. At rest, while feeding or walking through the forest, the tail is trailed horizontally. In display it’s raised, spread wide and inverted over the bird’s back so the feathers form a shimmering silver veil, almost completely hiding the bird’s body and head. In contrast, the lyre shape might be seen on the rare occasion the tail is held vertically — perhaps during territorial confrontations and briefly during the “invitation display”. And in the beautiful but stylised illustrations drawn from specimens in colonial times.

1932 Australian lyrebird stamp
1932 postage stamp featuring a lyrebird depicted in the traditional manner, with tail upright resembling a lyre.

But the musical connection doesn’t end there. Lyrebirds are themselves talented songsters with powerful voices, famous for their ability to mimic any sound. In the wild their repertoire of mostly bird calls is passed down from one lyrebird to another. Thus it becomes a sort of encapsulation of the forest soundscape over generations of time.

So the name Lyreades represents not only lyrebirds and Eucalyptus oreades but the essence of the mountains…embodied in the unique and fascinating natural history. Pronounce it however you like; my own preference is: lirry-aah-deez.


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