Friday, June 13, 2008

Three Hundred Year Old Ebony Tree

Diospyros humilis (D. ferraea subsp humilis)
The most interesting plant I saw this week was a native ebony, pictured at left, at Mt. Tyson.
It’s estimated age is three hundred years. It’s a good example of the size-for-age typical of our local dry rainforest/vine scrub tree species. Relatively small when mature, they are well suited to suburban planting. We can have our trees, confident in the knowledge that we won’t find ourselves with a future monster in need of expensive removal.
There are four local species of ebony, all potentially good garden specimens. As with many rainforest tree genera, they have one species which is better adapted to dryness, and this is it. (Photo at right is another specimen in Irongate Environmental Park.)
It’s a slow-growing tree, the smallest native ebony and its well-formed canopy and deep green, shiny leaves, (red when new), make it pretty at every stage of its life - the perfect thing to pop into the garden among faster-growing but perhaps shorter-lived plants. Its deep roots mean that it lives in harmony with close neighbours, neither suffering from competition nor causing others to suffer, and needing no care at all once it has passed the baby stage.
Typically of dry-adapted plants, it has the littlest leaves of all the ebonies and may lose them in dry weather. A bit of help from a gardener in the form of mulch and perhaps supplementary watering will help keep the canopy dense all year round.
The little acorn -like fruits are produced in generous quantities. They are edible, but at that size are hardly worth the trouble. They are best left for the birds, which love them.
The heartwood is black. This is one of the best ebony timbers - another good reason for putting some of these trees for future generations to enjoy.

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