Thursday, April 10, 2008

Toowoomba’s Unusual Red Cedars

Toona ciliata

I wish I’d known, before I planted three trees on my place, that Toowoomba’s local red cedars were a bit different. I would have gone to some effort to get hold of the special local variety rather than just putting in any old T. ciliata, as I did.
There are a lot of planted cedars about the town - and a lot of good reasons for planting them:
∙ There is the romance of planting the famous timber tree that is such an integral part of the history of Eastern Australia.
∙ There is the practicality, of a tree which needs no watering in a Toowoomba drought, and withstands frost after its first year.
∙ There is the usefulness, near buildings, of a winter-deciduous tree - shady in summer and letting the sunlight through in winter. Red cedar is one of the very few such Australian natives.
∙ There is the interest of the annual cycle, beginning with bright red new leaves in spring. (Cedargetters used to find their prey by getting up on a high point where they could overlook rainforest, and scanning for the distinctive spring leaves.) Racemes of fragrant white flowers come next, and are followed in summer by the summer seed capsules which ripen to shed their winged seeds in March. The photo of the empty seed capsules, below, was taken this week. They remind me of black-backed daffodils. The no-fuss, no colour leaf-drop will come when the weather turns cold, just as we begin to feel the need for whatever warmth the sun will give.
∙ There is the satisfaction to be had from a fast-growing tree which is eventually, potentially, enormous. The photo at the head of this article is of the tree which I think is Toowoomba’s most beautiful, the cedar on the corner of Lindsay and Bruce Streets.
Here's another picture of it.

The one at right is about 20 years old. As you see, red cedars grow far too big for ordinary suburban blocks, especially as they are thirsty plants which shouldn’t be planted within 5 metres of a drainage line for fear of the damage they might do. Parks, school grounds, highways, bushland reserves, and acreage residential blocks are the places where we should be seeing these wonderful trees.
The unusual thing about our local trees? Most cedars are smooth and green on both sides. Ours covered with brown fuzz underneath. The specimen at left even has some of the fuzz on the upper side. I don’t know whether this applies to all local specimens. Perhaps one of my readers will enlighten me?
The Lindsay street tree has no sign of fuzz, but I don’t know whether it is a planted specimen or a remnant of the original rainforest. (If so it would have been young when clearing occurred. It’s low branches show that it has done most of its growing in an open situation.) The photo of fuzzy leaves comes from a naturally occurring tree perhaps 20 or 30 years old, which makes me wonder also whether the fuzziness is more pronounced in young trees.

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