Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weeping Bottlebrush

Callistemon viminalis (Melaleuca viminalis)
This widespread Australian native is one of our only two locally indigenous Callistemon species. It has a graceful shape and long flowering season, and is much used in local gardens and streets. As with all callistemons, its flowers attract honeyeating birds, and butterflies.
The natural habitat of these small trees is in watercourses, on all kinds of soil. They would once have been very common in all along the creeklines of the district, including those in inner-city Toowoomba, where they would have grown with black tea-trees (Melaleuca bracteata), river she-oaks (Casuarina cunninghamiana), and an assortment of rainforest trees, shrubs, and vines.

We still see many of them in creeks along the range, but they have been largely cleared from the red and black soils west of it.

The early white settlers gave particular attention to clearing the vegetation in our creek-beds. In the early days, it was because scrub-covered watercourses provided cover where aborigines could hide, and provided them with routes along which they could travel inconspicuously, and from which occasional attacks on white settlers were launched.
Later, it was done because of a belief that vegetation in creeks impeded the water flow, making floods worse.
What a pity that this ruthless clearing drove our local platypuses to extinction!
Early attempts at revegetation, once the value of trees in preventing erosion was recognised, was done with willows, because of their quick growth as well as the widely held belief that they were more beautiful than any native plant. Unfortunately, willows exclude low-growing vegetation under their canopies so effectively that the soil under them is poorly defended from scouring by floods.
Modern revegetation efforts in creeks use natives, including this species.
Despite their natural preference for a creek habitat, weeping bottlebrushes have proven to be very hardy trees in situations where they can be quite challenged for water. They are widely used as street trees in Crows Nest (photo at right), and are a favourite front-yard tree on smaller suburban blocks in Toowoomba.
There, they may be the only remaining plant of a “native” garden of the kind which was popular in the seventies. Most of the plants chosen tended to be short-lived species, which have now lived their life-spans and are only memories.
Fortunately, the weeping bottlebrushes are relatively long-lived and continue to grace many Toowoomba gardens.

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