Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My favourite tree

That little questionnaire thing in the Blotanical profile section asking about 'your favourite tree' really did get me thinking, and as a result I thought I'd do a little blog on the tree I do admire the most in my corner of the world. Its formal name is Eucalyptus leucoxylon 'Rosea', and so it's a native gum tree. Though it's hardly commonly known, its common name is the yellow gum, or in this case, the pink-flowered form of the yellow gum. It's our street tree, and we planted it about 10-12 years ago, when the original street tree provided by the council turned up its toes and gave up on life.

Here it is in flower earlier this year. It's easy to get a photo of it in flower, as it starts flowering in early April, and keeps on flowering profusely until early October.

This is the grim reality of its lot in life, in a photo taken last week. A street tree. TV cables on the lower rung, power cables on the top tier, and the constant threat of "trimming" by the butchers who win the contract to keep street trees ugly throughout Sydney. With the help of some extendo-pole pruners and my neighbour, Frank, who loves the tree as much as I do, we keep on trimming it so it stays clear of the precious ugly wires. So far so good, but I've steeled myself not to get upset if I ever hear the brrrpp-brrrrp of the trimmers' chainsaw firing up, about to hack into our beauty. It's a street tree, and not my property. I have no rights, nor, it seems, does the tree. Only Telstra and cables have rights. Should the tree ever be butchered, the main losers will be its main occupants, the wattlebirds, the rainbow lorikeets and the New Holland honeyeaters, who all camp out in the tree, eating nectar, for six months of the year.

Beauty can have many highlights, and with our gum tree its wonderful green-blue leaves are another source of year-round delight. This photo was taken recently and next year's flower buds are forming rapidly already. Unfortunately, gum trees being gum trees, they do drop their leaves with monotonous regularity and replace them with new ones, so the lawn on the nature strip is a carpet of fallen, slow-decaying gum leaves. And any poor car which parks under the tree is also soon covered in fallen leaves and gumnuts.

The visitors to the tree don't stop at sunset, either. Fruit bats, which are plentiful here in Sydney, like a bit of this delicious flower nectar too, so it's common to see mysterious, large black shapes with wide, pointy, pterodactylish wings swooping off into the moonlight when disturbed by passers-by. (And in fact the fruit bats represent the greatest peril for parked cars. Their huge, black guano blobs really do splatter most spectacularly!)

Many locals stop to talk to me about the tree and say how much delight they take in seeing it in bloom each year, although all my nearby neighbours and I laugh with each other about the fact that the messy car parking spot under the tree is always the last one to be occupied by any of us. We've all wised up to its perils.

As well as being pretty and long-flowering, trouble-free and wearing magnificently coloured foliage, a food source to beautiful native birds for fully six months of each year, our gum tree also gets my vote for doing a dreadful job not found in nature – being a street tree – in a truly classy, admirable way.

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