Trees of Australia and Oceana
The Maidenhair Tree (Gingo Biloba)
The leaves of this tree turn beautiful shades of yellow in winter. The nuts are edible and are considered a delicacy in the east. In the last 200 years the maidenhair has been planted widely and has grown successfully in many different types of soil and climate.
Also known as the Ginkgo tree, the leaves are very commonly used as an herbal remedy to improve circulation and enhance memory. Ginkgos are very large trees, normally reaching a height of 20–35 m (66-115 feet), with some specimens in China being over 50 m (164 feet) tall. A combination of resistance to disease, insect-resistant wood and the ability to form aerial roots and sprouts make ginkgos very long-lived, with some specimens claimed to be more than 2,500 years old; in fact a 3,000 year-old ginkgo has been reported in the Shandong province in China.
Eucalyptus – The River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis)
The red gum is a tree of the genus Eucalyptus. It is a plantation species in many parts of the world but is native to Australia where it is widespread especially beside inland water courses. Oddly, it is named after a garden near the Camaldoli monastery near Naples (L’Hortus Camaldulensis di Napoli), from where the first specimen came to be described.
It is a familiar and iconic tree seen along many watercourses right across inland Australia. The tree produces welcome shade in the extreme temperatures of central Australia, and plays an important role in stabilizing river banks, holding the soil and reducing flooding. It usually grows up to 45 meters (145 feet) tall; its thick spongy bark is dappled with red, grey, green and white.
River Reds have an ominous name, “Widow Maker”, as they have a habit of dropping large boughs without warning. This may be a means of saving water or simply a result of their brittle wood. This is also an efficient way of attracting wildlife that live in the holes formed which gives the red gum a source of natural fertilizer. Red gum is so named for its brilliant red wood, which can range from a light pink through to almost black, depending on the age and weathering. It is somewhat brittle and is often cross-grained, making hand work difficult. Traditionally used in rot resistant applications like stumps, fence posts and sleepers, more recently it has been recognized in craft furniture for its spectacular deep red colour and typical fiddle back figure. It needs careful selection as it tends to be reactive to changes in humidity. It is quite hard and dense and can take a fine polish. It is a popular timber for wood turners, particularly if old and well-seasoned.
Ironwood is a genus of 17 species in the family Casuarinaceae, native to Australasia, southeastern Asia, and islands of the western Pacific Ocean.
They are evergreen shrubs and trees growing to 35 m (110 feet) tall. The foliage consists of slender, much-branched green to grey-green twigs bearing minute scale-leaves in whorls of 5–20.
Ironwood is a food source for the larvae of the ghost moth which burrows horizontally into the trunk then vertically down. The moth itself also feeds on Ironwood. Ironwood, or beefwood as it’s sometimes called, is commonly grown in tropical and subtropical areas throughout the world. The tree has delicate, slender branches and leaves that are no more than scales, making the tree look more like a wispy conifer. The plants are very tolerant of windswept locations, and are widely planted as wind-breaks, although usually not in agricultural areas.
Sydney Blue Gum (Eucalyptus saligna)
The blue gum is a large Australian hardwood (flowering) tree common along the New South Wales seaboard and into Queensland, reaching about 65 meters (200 feet) in height. It is a common plantation timber in Australia and South Africa.
It’s got a heavy, fairly hard, course, even texture; reasonably easy to work. The wood is used in general building construction, paneling and boat-building. It is highly prized for flooring and furniture because of its rich dark honey colour.
Monkey Puzzle (Araucariaceae)
The monkey puzzle is a very ancient family of conifers. They achieved maximum diversity in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, when they existed almost worldwide at the end of the Cretaceous, when dinosaurs became extinct.
There are three genera with 41 species alive today. All are evergreen trees, typically with a single stout trunk and very regular whorls of branches, giving them a formal appearance. Several are very popular ornamental trees found in gardens in subtropical regions; and some are also very important timber trees producing wood of high quality. Several have edible seeds similar to pine nuts, and others produce valuable resin and amber. In the forests where they occur, they are usually dominant trees, often the largest species in the forest. The largest is reported at 89m (290 feet) tall in New Guinea with several other species reaching 50-65m (160-210 feet) in height.
The wood of the Petrified Forest east of Holbrook, Arizona are fossil Araucariaceae. During the Upper (Late) Triassic the region was moist and mild. The trees washed from where they grew in seasonal flooding and accumulated on sandy delta mudflats where they were buried by silt and periodically by layers of volcanic ash which mineralized the wood, thereby creating this now famous natural wonder.
Celery-top pine (Phyllocladus aspleniifolius)
The celery-top pine is endemic to Tasmania and Australia. It is found in rainforest as a dominant, in eucalypt forest as an understory species, and occurs occasionally as a shrub in alpine vegetation. It is confined to areas of high rainfall and low fire frequency.
It is a medium-sized evergreen coniferous tree, growing to 20 m (65ft) tall (rarely 30 m[100ft]), and often shrubby at high altitudes. The leaves are minute, brown and scale-like, less than 1 mm long and sparsely produced. What looks like leaves on the plant are actually modified stems called phylloclades, light yellowish green on top and blue-green underneath. The cones are highly modified, with several scales, each scale berry-like with a red and white aril and a single seed.
The wood of this species is highly prized by fine furniture makers and wooden boat builders. The species continues to be harvested in Tasmania through clear fell logging operations.
Yoshino Cherry (Prunusyedoensis)
This is a hybrid cherry of unknown origin. It occurs as a natural hybrid in Japan, where it has also long been cultivated in Yoshino (after which it is named) and elsewhere; it is now one of the most popular and widely planted cultivated flowering cherries in temperate climates worldwide.
The Yoshino Cherry is a small deciduous tree that, at maturity, grows to be 5-12 m (16-40 ft) tall. It grows well in full sun and moist but well drained soil. The leaves are often bronze-toned when newly emerged, becoming dark green by summer. Their fragrant flowers emerge before the leaves in early spring. The flowers grow in clusters of five or six together. The fruit, a small cherry, is an important source of food for many small birds and mammals including robins and thrushes. The fruit contain little flesh and much concentrated red juice, which can stain clothing and brick. The fruit is only marginally sweet to the human palate.
Because of its fragrant, light pink flowers, manageable size, and elegant shape, the Yoshino Cherry is often used for ornamental purposes.
In Japan there is a legend that each spring a fairy maiden hovers low in the warm sky, wakening the sleeping cherry trees to life with her delicate breath.
Stink Wattle (Acacia cambagei)
This is an endemic tree of Australia. It is found primarily in semi-arid and arid Queensland but extends into the Northern Territory, South Australia and north-western New South Wales. It can reach up to 12 meters in height and can form extensive open woodland communities. The leaves, bark and litter of the stink wattle produce a characteristic odor, vaguely reminiscent of boiled cabbage which accounts for the common name of “stinking gidgee”.
Confined to regions experiencing between 550mm and 200mm (21 – 8 inches) annual rainfall, this tree is found primarily on flat and gently undulating terrain, on heavy and relatively fertile clay and clay-loam soils in the eastern part of its range. It often forms mixed communities with brigalow which favours the same soil types. In dryer regions gidgee is found primarily on red earths, loams, in wetter depressions and low relief areas. Species associated with gidgee have a limited capacity to re-sprout following fire damage.
Foxtail palms (Wodyetia)
Most of the world was unaware of the existence of this ‘spectacular’ palm until 1978, when an Aboriginal man brought it to botanists and the world’s attention. The name of that Aboriginal man has been recorded as being “Wodyeti”, thus the genus name for this Australian endemic species Wodyetia.
The Foxtail Palm is endemic to a very small part of Australia, originally decorating the boulder strewn, exposed gravel hills of the Cape Melville range within the Cape Melville National Park.
After it became known to the world, the Foxtail Palm’s seeds were so highly sought after that a thriving black market trade formed. Illegal collectors nearly decimated the populations in Australia, but ultimately it resulted in the palm becoming widely distributed across the world, fruiting in the many tens of thousands, being progressively planted out as one of the “world’s most popular” palms.
The Foxtail Palm is prized by palm enthusiasts and landscapers for its thick, robust trunk and neat appearance, especially the arching crown of light green fronds which, as the name suggests, gives the palm’s foliage the appearance of a fox’s tail as it sways in the breeze. The Foxtail Palm is now one of the world’s most popular landscape palms.
The Strangler fig (Banyans)
This tree is named after the “strangling” growth habit that is found in many tropical forest species, particularly of the genus Ficus. The growth habit is an adaptation for growing in dark forests where the competition for light is intense. These plants begin life as epiphytes (this is an organism that grows upon or attaches to a living plant), when their seeds, often bird-dispersed, germinate in crevices atop other trees. These seedlings grow their roots downward and envelope the host tree while also growing upward to reach into the sunlight zone above the canopy. The original support tree can sometimes die, leaving a “columnar tree”, with the central core empty.
This tree does things opposite to other trees. It starts off when a seed in a bird dropping lands in the top of another tree. It will send its roots down the trunk of the host tree until they reach the soil and then both tree and roots will continue to grow until they eventually totally envelope the host tree. Some say the host tree does not actually get strangled but gradually dies because the strangler fig takes so long to develop and gradually shades the host tree depriving it of sunlight. Whatever it is they make beautiful trees and you can see some very impressive specimens in the Atherton Tablelands west of Cairns in North Queensland. The Cathedral Figtree and Curtain Figtree are well known attractions that are admired by thousands of people each year.