Sunday, 4 February 2007

Naming the trees

In sub-tropical Queensland, where I lived as a child, the bushland was often dense and jungle-like with large leafed plants and thick twining vines. Here in the Blue Mountains the forest is different, the tree canopy is thinner, letting light in so I can look through and see the forest floor of poor, dry soil. The plants growing beneath the trees are tough and leathery or have spiny leaves and display a surprising diversity of flowers from the tiny to the spectacular. Other more exposed areas of the cliff tops are windswept heaths with small gnarled shrubs and spiky plants.

A typical bushwalk will start in open forest and woodland country and descend to the streams below which are lush with temperate rainforest. Here the soil is dark and moist, sometimes watered from swamps in the bushland above dripping from ferny ledges.


Open forest at Lawson


The NSW Parks and Wildlife website says the trees of the open forest are “mainly eucalypts, including species like Sydney peppermint, black ash, red bloodwood, narrow-leafed stringy bark and hard-leaved scribbly gum. You'll also find turpentines, Sydney red gums and she-oaks.” Eeeek …. they are all just gum trees (eucalypts) to me!

I admired my father's ability to name the different types of trees in the forest around our home. As I walk along the same walking tracks again and again, I now understand that Dad’s knowledge and intimacy with his surroundings was born from repeated observation of loved and familiar places. I want to be like him – able to name the trees.

Writing this blog entry I realise the keywords may lead people to mistake me for an expert on the flora and fauna of the mountains, my next post will be a disclaimer.

Words to Walk With:
From Eucalyptus by Murray Bail.
Each and every eucalypt is interesting for its own reasons. Some eucalypts imply a distinctly feminine world (Yellow Jacket, Rose-of-the-West, Weeping Gum). E. maidenii has given photogenic shade to the Hollywood stars. Jarrah is the timber everyone professes to love. Eucalyptus camaldulensis? We call it River Red Gum. Too masculine, too overbearingly masculine; covered in grandfatherly warts and carbuncles, as well. As for Ghost Gum (E. papuana), there are those who maintain with a lump in their throats it is the most beautiful tree on earth, which would explain why it has been done to death on our nation's calendars, postage stamps and tea towels. Holland had one marking the north-eastern corner, towards town, waving its white arms in the dark, a surveyor's peg gone mad.

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