60% Aussie Trees in Botanic Gardens*

Earlier this week I was intrigued to hear Richard Barley (Divisional Director at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne) make the same comment about Melbourne Gardens as I make about our Sydney Gardens.

It’s a favourite gripe of mine (and his) that visitors to the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain don’t see the ‘Australian plants’. They are looking for red dirt and desert wildflowers, or gum trees, but don’t notice the magnificent rainforest trees through the garden.
In fact 60% of our trees are native to Australia! (BTW 33% of the actual species are native - i.e. we have lots of Forest Red Gums, and Port Jackson and Moreton Bay Figs.)

A recent example of Australian-tree-blindness was Monty Don on his tour around the world in 80 gardens (on ABC TV earlier this year). He saw the flying foxes but didn't recognise the Aussie trees - or many trees at all it seems.

There are a few key Australian locations that feature in the collection. The first head of the Botanic Gardens, Charles Fraser, collected plants from near Parramatta in 1822, including most probably a seedling of the Red Cedar (Toona ciliata) growing near the Palm House.

We know this because the King’s Botanist (employed by Joseph Banks), Alan Cunningham, met the Government Botanist (the first to hold this title), Charles Fraser, at Parramatta and was envious that he had a cart and two horses.

Then there was the Oxley Expedition to the Brisbane and Logan Rivers in 1828, which included a Flindersia and Melaleuca which I’ve also spoken about before.

Then there are trees from New Caledonia, not quite Australia, but certainly part of our local region. Director Charles Moore collected there in 1850, although he relied to some extent on locals collecting material for him.

The Atherton Tableland features strongly, as it should. This region is home to what is called the Mabi Forest – ‘mabi’ comes from the local Aboriginal name for a tree kangaroo that lives there.

A dozen or so plants in this habitat are under threat, including the Tree Warratah (Alloxylon flammeum) which grows beautifully in Sydney gardens and streets. The Rose Silky Oak (Darlingia ferruginea) is another showy flowering tree from Atherton that does well here in Sydney.

The Macadamia (Macadamia tetraphylla) is from another rainforest hotspot, the south-eastern corner of Queensland and north-eastern tip of New South Wales. The Royal Botanic Gardens specimen is spectacular when covered in the pink to mauve flower sprays.

Another good looking tree from this region is the Tulipwood (Harpullia pendula). There’s a lovely old specimen near the Maiden Pavilion. The flowers are small and non-descript, but the showy fruits have two large lobes and are bright orange. When they dry out and break open you’ll see shiny black seeds. Tulipwood is popular as a street tree in Brisbane but not so widely planted in Sydney. (The wood is highly valued, although there seem to be other species called Tulipwood in the trade, so beware.)

There are plenty more Australian and local region rainforest trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Next time you are walking through, look for the labels that identify some of our biggest trees. Or if you are feeling lazy, wander through the Australian Rainforest Bed between the Palm Grove and the Tropical Centre, which contains pretty much only species from rainforests of eastern Australia, from the tropics right down to the temperate climes of Victoria and Tasmania.

Images: The Tulipwood is great looking 'atypical' Australia tree with colourful fruits.

*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 (this week or next...) sometime between 9-10 am on 702AM.


Jim said…
All 100% of the entire collection of plants in our garden, the ANBG, are native to Australia. The lot of them, did I say every single one? :)
Tim Entwisle said…
Fair comment! For us folk with 'World Gardens' visitors sometimes overlook the local component. Oh, and did I mention Mount Annan Botanic Garden with its...100% native Australian plants? Oh, that's every one, just like yours!
shellykane said…
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Fair comment! For us folk with 'World Gardens' visitors sometimes overlook the local component. Oh, and did I mention Mount Annan Botanic Garden with its...100% native Australian plants? Oh, that's every one, just like yours!
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Tim Entwisle said…
Thanks for the supportive feedback!