A Blog by John Halkett

Category: Plants (Page 1 of 3)

From mattresses to psychotherapy – the amazing kapok tree

Kapok tree cluster

The tallest tree on the African continent

I remember back in the last century when I was a kid sleeping on a kapok mattress. Put your hand up if you remember doing the same.

Of course, kapok filled mattresses are a product of the kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra). A tree that when mature is an impressive sight – the tallest tree on the African continent – soaring up to as high as a 20-story building, with a huge dense spreading canopy. Not surprisingly local inhabitants usually referred to kapok read more

Madagascar baobabs – a worldwide attraction

The remnants of what was once a more extensive forest.

There are few avenues were people drive out just to see at sunset, but the Avenue of the Baobabs at Morondava draws admirers from all over the world. A dusty road half an hour’s drive north of the town of Morondava on the west coast of Madagascar passes through a stunning grove of baobabs, the remnants of what was once a more extensive forest.

The famous Avenue of the Baobabs has perhaps more than 100 trees in the grove. The species – the read more

King Billy pine a nod to Tassie’s geological ancestry

King Billy pine in forest.

A throwback to the days of Gondwanaland

I have always been intrigued by King Billy or King William pine. I haven’t seen one in the wild, so a trip to Tasmania beckons! In a country now dominated by eucalypt trees King Billy pine is a throwback to the days of Gondwanaland. Then of course species of ancient conifer trees ruled the Southern Hemisphere.

Today very few of these ancient conifers remain where they co exits only in Tasmania along with a few other Gondwanaland conifer relicts and the broadleaf read more

Ghost gums and the desert oak

Ghost Gums in Central Australia

This photograph was taken by my brother-in-law David Feitz. In his day he was one of the country’s outstanding photographers of the Australian outback.
This Central Australian ghost gums image is emblematic of the paintings of several Australian artists. Famous amongst them was aboriginal artist Albert Namarjira. He received international acclaim as a painter, particularly for his watercolour landscapes during the 1940s and 50s. A number of his painting were renowned for their striking read more

Famous London plane trees disappearing from Sydney streets

El-Alamein Memorial Fountain and plane trees.

Living in Sydney’s inner-city suburb of King’s Cross as I do the dominant tree in the neighbourhood is the deciduous London plane tree. With large maple-like leaves and towering height the London plane is a tree of pump and circumstance. The branches begin high up the trunk so that mature trees have a lofty, architectural quality, giving plenty of shade without restricting the view at street level.

Planted throughout London in the nineteenth century to complement the cities imposing read more

Purple rain in November

Jacaranda tree, Sydney.

I can’t let November pass without mentioning the stunning jacaranda trees, now so much a feature of Sydney’s cityscape. The jacaranda tree’s hold on Sydney and its imagination is now so well entrenched that the tree is often mistaken for an Australian native. It’s actually indigenous to south America.

The species most commonly planted in Sydney, Jacaranda mimosifolia, was collected and taken to the Royal Gardens at Kew, England, in about 1818. One early source gives the credit to plant read more

‘Powder of the Devil’ … the revolutionary cure for malaria

Cinchona Tree

Now the national tree of Peru and Ecuador, Cinchona changed the course of world history. There are more than 20 species of this impressive 25 metre tree with large, shiny, conspicuously veined leaves and deliciously fragrant, white to lilac-pink flowers that grow in small clusters, generally pollinated by butterflies and hummingbirds. But the tree’s real claim to fame is the effectiveness of its bark for treating malaria.

In the early seventeenth century, when Spanish colonists and Jesuit missionaries read more

From primitive rafts to speedy bombers

Bulsa Plantation

The world’s lightest hardwood continues to be widely grown. Balsa (Ochroma pyramidale) is a large, fast-growing tree native from southern Mexico to southern Brazil, but can now be found in many other countries, including Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Solomon Islands.

Balsa trees can establish themselves in forest clearings or on abandoned agricultural fields and grow extremely rapidly. Their speed of growth accounts for the lightness of the wood, which has a lower density read more

More than just wine bottle stoppers

Harvesting Cork Trees

Cork oak, Quercus suber a medium-sized, evergreen tree is the primary source of cork for wine bottle stoppers and other uses. It is native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. It grows to up to 20 metres, although it is typically more stunted in its native environment.

Cork oaks commonly live more than 200 years. Cork harvesting is done entirely without machinery. The European cork industry produces 340,000 tonnes of cork a year, with a value of €1.5 billion and employs 30,000 people.

The read more

More trees – you will feel better

Couple walking dog in forest

As if being renewable, storing carbon and contributing to climate change mitigation isn’t enough – trees make you feel better – true! It’s not stretching the point to say your health and well-being are likely to be improved if you walk amongst the trees.

Increasing urbanisation means that people have less access to nature in their daily lives. Australians on average now spend about 90 per cent of their time indoors. This coincides with reports of increasing obesity and nearly half of Australians read more

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