Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Macquarie University has Sandstone Where it Matters - Under the Trees

I was at Macquarie University today to help launch the first arboretum in a Sydney university. Like a few other arboreta around the world (e.g. the Korean National Arboretum in Seoul) it's more than a collection of trees, and includes gardens and natural bushland as well. And why not?

This is what I said: At Genes to Geoscience meetings last week, I enjoyed what this university does best: thinking, trees and coffee. I came a little early and did my emails with a coffee under the Lemon Scented Gums in the Central Courtyard.

Knowing that an arboretum was about to be launched I looked upwards as I walked around the campus and I have to say I saw the place in an entirely new light.

I did my graduate studies at a so-called Sandstone university in Melbourne but my post-graduate work at a bushland campus. Macquarie has sandstone, where it matters, under the bushland and trees.

What we are launching today is a young arboretum (established in 2009 but of course seeded a little earlier given the size of the trees). But young is good!We do focus on big old trees a little too much. Sure they are pretty impressive but we forget sometimes that trees live and die, like us, and we should be celebrating trees of all ages.

Also, an arboreta can be a series of trunks so important to have mixed ages, gardens amongst the trees, and not too many in the one spot.

All of which this new arboretum has, in spades.

And not only do you have the trees, but a website full of information and guided walks (which I think you’ll want to extend beyond the first month), so it becomes a think of learning as well as enjoyment.

I think all collections of plants, whether in your garden or a botanic garden, provide learning and enjoyment. They can also help protect our environment.

I don’t need to tell you here today but trees are very important - cooling the city, absorbing nasty chemicals, carbon stores, oxygen producers, but also part of our cultural life.

It’s interesting to compare this arboretum with the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. It’s going to be 200 years old in 2016, and it’s full of old trees but also plenty of young ones. We have 17,000 different species in our three estates, and a large seedbank, but it’s not numbers that are important. It’s what we do with those collections that matters.

As we head towards our bicentenary we have lots of things planned but our three big projects make best use of our collections.

PlantBank at Mount Annan Botanic Garden has just been funded by the State Government at $15.5M, and we have to fund raise for the remaining $4.2M. It will turn out collection of seeds into a true conservation insurance policy, state-of-the-science laboratories and public education facilities to make sure people know why seeds, and plants, are important.

Children’s Gardens are planned for all our botanic gardens including a Tree House surrounded by some of weirder trees, like the Queensland Bottle Tree (or even the Boab if I can get it growing here)so that kids get excited about trees, and plants.

And finally turning our Tropical Centre Pyramid into a survival arc, telling stories about tropical forests, climate change and much else, using our living plant collections.

But back to Macquarie and your arboretum. It’s the first in a Sydney university and combines native vegetation with collections of trees, amongst buildings and not just a forest of trunks (although I like your lemon scented gum trunks). Long live the real sandstone university!

Image: A slightly hazy picture of the Lemon Scented Gums in the Central Courtyard of the University of Macquarie Arboretum from their arboretum website. Note that a photographic competition has been launched as well, for any pictures of the arboretum - see the website for further information.

2 comments:

Jim said...

*wipes tear from eye*
"A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit"
- Greek proverb

Tim Entwisle said...

Enough of the old men lines. The Vice Chancellor of Macquarie University cited a childhood favourite of mine by Ogden Nash (a parody of a perhaps more well known Joyce Kilmer poem, as he pointed out): "I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all."