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Melbourne's old trees

Are Melbourne's parks of old exotic trees an important link to the colonial past, an integral part of the city's identity, or a nostalgic and increasingly irresponsible keepsake. This argument has sprouted once again as the city faces another dry summer. But this time round some are saying that native trees are starting to fare badly too.

THE AGE 10.11.06


  • mark_melb
    edited January 1970
    Sorry, industry are the largest water users..........make them conserve water.
  • anna
    edited January 1970
    I appreciate that the exotics may require more water during these extreme weather conditions. Despite the cost of maintaining them, they still do things in the landscape that indig plants just can't do. It's much harder to get the same depth of shade (and uv protection) from a native, much less an indig plant.

    On a smaller scale than public parks, exotics seem to provide many more options for deciduous shade for the northern faces of our buildings. Are there any indig plants that can be used for this sort of application?
  • N
    edited January 1970
    Peter, I think that the Elms on Melbourne's streets are more of a link to a colonial past, a part of what we, in Melbourne would say adds to the identity of the city (we were previously, the Garden State) and because of the previous two reasons, not as much an irresponsible keepsake as it is something that we are accustomed to.

    The Elms which line Swanston Street and St. Kilda Road were grown in Royal Park when it used to be a Nursery and in some senses it ties in to Melbourne, and Australian history as a colony, through Royal Park. The same place where these trees were grown housed a military camp called Camp Pel pre-WW2 where Australian troops were stationed before going to war. 20 years later in the same park that housed the troops, and bred these European trees, Grace Fraser designed the Native Gardens which was an attempt to showcase the beauty of Native Flora to incoming tourists from the airport.

    Oh, and one small fact I like to thinking about: in 1953 the same nursery that supplied the trees supplied the plants to fill (yes, fill) the REB with plants for the Royal Ball and Reception when Queen Elizabeth visited Melbourne.

    It's not so much an issue of native plants being better or worse for the job, but more that there is a history tied into the placement of the plants, and I suppose as a Landscape Architecture student I can see the value of keeping them on Melbourne's streets as a sort of gesture to the history of Melbourne streetscapes and landscapes.

    However, should the desire be to uproot the trees due to a desperate lack of water or a new Act passed saying that Australian Trees should be used instead, there are many native trees which are suitable as street trees and do have the sufficient crown density to provide shade and protection:

    Brachychiton acerifolius: Flame tree
    Has brilliant red leaves and will drop it leaves in summer before flowering. Also, it looks best in hot ad dry conditions.

    Eucalyptus maculata: Spotted Gum
    Has a very dense crown and will tolerate smog (Ideal for the city perhaps?)

    Ficus macrophylla: Moreton Bay Fig
    Large tree with a very dense crown and bears fruit

    These trees are also located in the Fitroy gardens which is a very lush park.

    Sorry for the history lesson :oops:

    Mark_melb is right as well, industry uses (I think) 70% of total water consumed, so really, I think the politicians should think about targeting industry first, but I suppose that would not be as expedient as simply ripping out some trees.
  • peter_j
    edited January 1970
    Thanks for the knowledgeable response! Maybe you can tell me if we should be worried that it currently looks like Autumn in the Fitzroy Gardens - the elm leaves are going all yellow and are falling off all over the place. I thought maybe they were getting a bit thirsty? You can tell I know nothing about trees. My citizenship ceremony tree died after three weeks.
  • N
    edited January 1970
    Thanks Peter, I was a little worried that I'd just become overly verbose in my reply. Seems to be a regular thing with me :roll:

    From what I understand of the speices that is planted across Melbourne and alot of the parks is that they are very succeptible to Dutch Elm Disease which is pretty much a mould/fungus. It does take a lot of time and money to maintain the trees and it is a problem which is widespread wherever they are planted. If the leaves are yellow its probably due to a lack of water seeing as the grass and plants can no longer be rigorously maintained. IT's what my lecturer at univeristy ambiguously calls "water stress".

    I can understand why as well. It's been an odd season and I'm still wondering how the flora and fauna can handle the snaps in weather up north where Bulla is.

    As for your citizenship tree, I only got a stuffed koala when I went through my ceremony but I'm guessing it's a native and it hasnt coped too well.
    I am no arborist but from what I've learnt and seen it can be a few factors like the soil is too compacted where youve planted it, there isnt enough sunlight to make it grow, and/or the soil type where you live just isnt condusive to growing that particular species. It's odd because native trees are very hardy and will grow in most places with good conditions. If its a River Red Gum, best not you grow it near your house or garage because they have a tendency to drop their branches in summer. And I presume the last thing anyone needs is calling up RACV home insurance to explain that your roof has been completely shattered due to a tree which decided it didn't need that 100kg branch.
  • Sean
    edited January 1970
    The token efforts using plastic barricades that councils are doing to keep the trees alive is not helping either. Someone needs to explain to them that the "drip line" is not right at the base of the trunk ....

    These trees are important. We have one of the last remaining great stands of elms in the world (the northern hemisphere elms were devastated by Dutch elm disease). While the elm leaf beetle was introduced a decade ago, our trees remain magnificent. It would be a tragedy to see them die while our governments increase their own water consumption.

    Exotics easily make the best street trees for the city as they are more polution hardy and the deciduous variety provide far superior much needed shade in summer and more light in winter than the indigenous counterparts. As we've seen during the St Kilda fest, native trees can be dangerous in the city. They are prone to falling on people and even under extreme temperature changes - exploding - unpredictably. The city is a completely different environment to the bush. People need to realise this.

    And the so callled "44% chance" guesswork that the El Nino cycle is over (based on changing ocean temperatures) is purely propaganda. Prepare for Stage 4 water restrictions. The government needs to get serious on climate change.

    Got to get back to work .... mountains to overcome.
  • peter_j
    edited January 1970
    A recent Age editorial on the subject:

    THE AGE 03.03.07
  • N
    edited January 1970
    I didn't really get a good look at the article as I'm just about to go to uni. From what I could gather through speedreading it is that the Elms have a historical and/or cultural relevance to Melbourne.

    I suppose this is where Sean's opinion might be coming from. I agree that they should be saved, and yes, they do provide "superior shade" but seeing as the function of a street tree is to provide shade then yes, the elms do that job very well.

    As for the suggestion that native trees can fall or explode. I, unfortunately, missed that lecture on the Great Man Injuring Tree Species of Australia. I have heard that some species of Eucalypts such as the River Red Gum do occaisionally drop their limbs during hotter seasons to save water. As for exploding trees I'd like to know which species in particular does that. Just for my own interest so I don't specify this exploding tree in the future.

    The Age article hits the nail on the head, the Elms provide a sense of Place to Melbourne. And, are steeped in our history. I don't think it's about saving the trees under the guise of "water saving". That's just posturing by the government. Industry uses the most water and now that we're on Stage 3 in the city and Stage 4 elsewhere, it seems to be a bit of a stab in the face that despite the drought, Coca Cola Amatil has now secured a place up north (I think) to bottle, yes bottle, water. For Four dollars a megalitre. How about Amatil buying the water and watering the trees and farms/livestock?
  • peter_j
    edited November -1
    Malcolm Maiden reckons pulling down foreign trees has racist undertones that might make migrants uneasy.

    "An assumption that a pre-immigration environment is automatically more virtuous supports an assertion that foreign trees must go because they are taking Australian trees' jobs."

  • Justin
    edited July 2011

    Please allow me to throw an ecological and educational perspective into the ring.

    Sclerophylly (hard waxy leaves - characteristic of drought tolerant plants - very often highly flamable - also with chemical properties that suppress other plant growth) tends to cultivate fire and fire tends to cultivate sclerophylly; a process initiated by Indigenous folk app 40,000 years ago (Flannery - Future Eaters) and which displaced gondwanan rainforest flora that typically had lush and non-flamable foliage properties.

    Overall, my belief is cultivation of sclerophylly works to aridify the landscape by reducing organic matter in the landscape and thus nutrient and water holding capacity and thus capacity for plant growth. Discussion with old farmers, and observation, reveals that reduced vegetation cover tends to shun rainfall, facilitating the increasing loss of vegetation and thus continued aridification [=desertification - which will be more pronounced if climate change predictions are true].

    Argument: Non-sclerophyllous vegetation = drought beating, moisture cultivating vegetation. Using non-sclerohyllous veg as street trees = educating public about sustainable water use. I argue that Vegetative Indigophilia locks us into a course of desertification and that we need to embrace the use of evergreens and non-sclerophyllous plants.

    Regional landowners have always used non-sclerophyllous trees to protect their houses and assets from fire. Most food trees are non-sclerophyllous. Their leaf litter creates good compost.

    As for ageing, early planted street trees. If they're crook, start replacing them, and get some new and diverse varieties. Someone with insight could produce high-value - justifying extra cost of harvesting lowgrade (with cavities and deformities, but consequently unique and beautiful) timber in complex localities [cities] - heritage furniture from these heritage trees; Councils are too willing to chip these trees. Good planting and establishment procedure and species selection counts for so much and lacks so often - I've seen this problem way too often (bloody bureaucracies). Put power lines underground. Stop channelising storm water: let it soak the soil, feed the trees and fill the ponds. Plant more trees!

    Plant food trees so tha people can congregate seasonally and 'really' use public open space; modern day white fella corroboree.

    My 2 bob - best to all
  • peter_j
    edited November -1
    Fascinating and very educated take on things Justin. Thanks.
  • pie_in_ur_sky
    edited November -1
    I've not much in the way of an educated opinion on Melbourne's trees, but I can provide a somewhat foreign perspective.

    Being away from Australia for the bulk of my life has imbued me with a persistent drive to compare, critique and rate every structure I notice in this spread out city, and many of Australia's other cities to boot.

    Since first setting foot in the place I've considered Melbourne to be the Australian city that most makes me feel like I'm back overseas. By this I mean it has an air of cohesion, and a sense of variety that I have never really got from the other settlements. It might be the sheer amount of immigrant students who live and work around my place of rest but I think it also lives in the 'little things' Melbourne shows off.

    Whether it be magical buildings hidden in back streets, the parks and their trees that are the subject of this discussion, or any number of other points of interest, Melbourne's reputation as a multicultural, cultured metropolis is well deserved.

    On topic now and every time I walk through a leafy park and realise the trees are not eucalypts, but rather something a little more 'northern', I really get a sense of satisfaction that I live in a town of real interest, and make a mental note to come back with a frisbee and a puppy at some point. Melbourne's parks and trees add a sense of austerity and introspection to the city streets which I personally find very valuable.

    The environmental impact of these trees may or may not be a dire situation, but I would not begrudge them this water when I think of the outdoor time, the 'green' time and the bicycle rides the parks generate. As such I think the trees represent each of the things you mentioned in your OP - a link to the past, a part of the city's identity (I would expand on the identity trait and highlight that the trees are part of Melbourne's foreign appeal) and a real Melbourne past-time. The trees and their parks are another charming facet of the array of foreigner-friendly features Melbourne can show off, and as such I think they're worth the cost of their presence.
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