Talking Trees

A Blog by John Halkett

Scribbly gum works of art fashioned by nature

The scribbly dialect zigzags around in a seemingly random and indecipherable pattern.

A standout feature of the spectacular forests of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney is the extensive stands of scribbly gum (Eucalyptus haemastoma), particularly in areas of poor soils on the typical sandstone country of the region. The trunk of each scribbly gum is a work of art fashioned by nature.

Scribbly gum is usually a small tree, frequently of very poor form 12 to 15 metres in height and 30 to 70 centimetres read more

Silver birch and shamanistic pee-drinking stories

The tree can also be found in several more temperate regions of Australia.

Silver birch (Betula pendula), is native to Europe and parts of Asia, though southern Europe, it is found only at higher altitudes. Its range extends into Siberia, China, and southwest Asia in the mountains of northern Turkey, the Caucasus, and northern Iran. It has been introduced into North America, where it is known as the European white birch. The tree can also be found in several more temperate regions of Australia. read more

Tastes like heaven smells like hell – encounter with the Durian tree not for the faint-hearted

Durian Fruit

Your breath will smell as if you’ve been French-kissing your dead grandmother.

Out in the Malaysian forest with forestry people beware if you happen upon a durian tree with ripe fruit. You are likely to be invited to try some as others watch on in a sort of forest initiation. It is really an invitation you can’t decline.

Durian (Durio zibethinus) trees are members of the hibiscus or mallow family, and are renowned for their large edible fruit. They are also related to breadfruit read more

The red cedars of Neverland

Peter McAra standing next to ared cedar trees

Recently I was fortunate to have had a tree adventure in Neverland, where I was privileged to spend some time with Peter Pan and Wendy. True! Neverland is a property in the Illawarra region of NSW, and is the home of Peter and Wendy McAra, better known as Peter Pan and Wendy.

They are both distinguished retired academics, and although you wouldn’t think so to look at him Peter is also a much celebrated author of numerous romantic novels and stage plays. But in addition to these interests, read more

Akatarawa giant rātā – a secret New Zealand tree treasure

Akatarawa giant rātā in thick forest near Wellington.

The now New Zealand piece of the once great southern continent Gondwanaland drafted south before the Australian eucalypts evolved, but did, and still does, host a eucalypt ancestor, the Metrosideros trees, including the pohutukawa, or New Zealand Christmas Tree, plus the Northern and Southern rātā trees. So, no eucalypts (or snakes) made it onto the New Zealand as Gondwanaland fragmented – all those millions of years ago.

Talking about rātā trees, hidden in the Akatarawa Forest, near New read more

Blue quandong – bush tucker and jam

Bushy trees growing on the banks of the Fitzroy River

What is a blue quandong (Elaeocarpus angustifolius) tree? Also called the blue marble tree or blue fig, though it is not a type of fig. Quandong is a corruption of guwandbang, a word of the Wiradjuri aboriginal people of Australia, is a tall, elaboratively buttressed, fast growing evergreen tree. It grows from South East Asia to the south of Queensland and northern New South Wales, preferring rainforests and the banks of streams. Quandong trees can also be found in New Caledonia, read more

When it’s cold the tough get going

Siberian larch – boreal forest.

The realm of the Siberian larch.

The largest forested region on the planet is the boreal coniferous tract, which accounts for about a third of the Earth’s total forest cover and dwarfs tropical rainforests. Boreal forests blanket a swathe around the Arctic Circle, across Alaska and into northern Canada. They cover about eight million square kilometres of Siberia alone, where they are known as the taiga. Vast amounts of carbon are lock up there, with so much biomass that worldwide levels of 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

From tepees to a mainstay of Canada’s timber industry

Lodgepine forest

Lodgepole pine is a coniferous linchpin of forest ecosystems across a vast area that encompasses the western Canadian province of British Columbia and runs down the Rocky Mountains into the United States of America. It is a highly adaptable tree that can grow in all sorts of environments, from water-logged bogs to dry sandy soils.

Tall, straight and slender, it takes its name from the use of Canada’s first people for tepees, and by subsequent settlers for the construction of buildings. Also, 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

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