Fruit Trees


 I'm walking through country burnt in last summer's fires. Different areas are affected in different ways, with some having had relatively cool burns and others that burnt quite hot. Where eucalypts were burnt right to the crown of the tree, they are sprouting bunchy  epicormic growth all along their branches. In these areas, small trees are killed outright, so what's called the midstorey is gone, these can be wattles, leptospermum and young casuarinas and an array of other species. But everywhere, everything is pushing forth new growth. There is an extraordinary abundance of grass trees in flower and all sorts of flowering shrubs - boronia, broom, hovea, and ground orchids too. We tend to think of this rebirth as some sort of Australian exceptionalism, but really every ecosystem around the world will do this in its own way. The only other outcome is desertification.

Desertification proceeds apace around this country. In areas of high rainfall like Kyogle Shire, the degradation that has occurred with land clearing and overgrazing is often masked, but with a keen eye, you can spot the bunchy epicormic growth of gum trees under great stress, or the erosion on hillsides causing a terraced effect. Creeks and rivers become muddy with rain and weed species like lantana, camphor laurel and privet predominate. Bare earth rings  alarm bells to those who see. And remember, this is not just a world of plants, native wildlife seek to live here too. Even in urban backyards, we can see these processes happening. And we can choose to be a part of this regeneration if we want.

Of course, every backyard should have a fruit tree or three in it, but we can also plant habitat for wildlife. Tufty grasses make great homes for skinks to live under and fairy wrens to nest in. Provide a log feature for bigger skinks to live in. Spiky shrubs, like fingerlimes can be great for slightly bigger birds' nests to protect them from the crows. Bottlebrush and grevillea will feed the raucous honeyeaters, but remember the little ones too. A smaller hidden-in-the-shrubs bird waterer is good for  these fellas in summer, so they can drink in peace. And remember, if you don't lock up your pet cat, you will never see the wrens, finches and robins nest in your yard. 

Further afield, grass, shrubs and  trees play the same role on a large scale. Tufty grasses are loved by bandicoots for shelter, the little piglets of the bush,  turning over soil to find grubs and roots. And small pademelons or wallabies will sleep amongst them in the day too. Fallen timber can be a fire hazard but it's important to leave something for small creatures to shelter in. Skinks like the black land mullet and native rats too,  appreciate their cover. Shrubs provide shade, shelter and food for an array of species. Old trees are needed to provide the hollows that so many of our mammals, owls and parrots need to nest in. And all plants shed leaves, bark and twigs to cover the earth, providing habitat for small invertebrates that recycle all of it back into the soil. 

Rich river flats are at their most beautiful, in my opinion, when they are dotted with forest redgum. This species is loved by koalas, but if the tree is under stress it can be less than tasty for them and they do need choices in their diet. Our older Richmond river flat redgum do need young recruits planted to replace them as they age,  if you are seeing epicormic growth on them it is a sure sign of this. Think about planting other species too that koalas love, like tallowood and grey gum. Keep in mind, to connect planting areas to each other, as animals need hectares available to them to find everything they need throughout the year. For a full list of suitable trees for koalas, this is a great site and has a listing based on shire areas for the best species to plant around the country

So now is a great time to plant something to provide shade and shelter for your garden wildlife for the summer to come. And also for the wildlife and plant communities eking out an existence, within and beyond our fences, for the decades to come.

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