Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Kid's Fig (P4P*)


Of the 3,000 mature trees in Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain, which is the most significant or remarkable? Perhaps the first Wollemi Pine ever planted in horticulture? But that specimen is little more than a decade only, hardly ‘mature’.

When Richard Allen, on his way to producing a book about such trees, asked me I stumbled from the Wollemi Pine (too small), to Charles Fraser’s Yellow Wood, Flindersia xanthoxyla, planted in 1828 in the Palm Grove (no-one knows about it), to the Red Cedar near Palm House that was also collected and planted during Fraser’s tenure (ditto).

Apparently the right answer is the Children’s Fig, a beautiful specimen of Moreton Bay Fig on the west side of Farm Cove. I know this because previous Director, Professor Carrick Chambers, did some recognisance work with a few other staff before he brought Richard’s question to me.

They were right of course. There are about 500 figs in the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain, 150 of them Moreton Bay Figs (Ficus macrophylla f. macrophylla). Quite a few of them compete for the title of remarkable, including the one just below the Morshead Gate and another trapped on the island in the middle of Mrs Macquaries Road.

One Moreton Bay Fig, though, is so special we’ve built an impressive green fence around it. We don’t know the age of the tree but it is presumably one of Charles Moore’s many fig plantings. Moore was director of the Gardens from 1848 to 1896, and according to the director of the Museum at the time, had a ‘predilection for that scourge of gardens, the Moreton Bay Fig’.

Trust Community Education Officer, Donna Osland, tells me that the tree got its moniker on Arbour Day in 1983, when the Plunket Street Public School pupils were designated its custodians. At that time, children loved playing in its buttress roots and aerial root trunks.

For safety reasons, kids now have to slouch on the fence and dream about such play. Still, it’s an impressive tree and – along with the Wollemi Pine, Yellow Wood, Red Cedar…and perhaps the Chrysophyllum imperiale planted by Prince Alfred in 1868… – it is one of the most remarkable trees in the Gardens.

*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (possibly under 'gardening'), and is the gist of my radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday Morning sometime between 9-10 am on 702AM.

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