Friday, June 4, 2010

Celerywood

Polyscias elegans
Family: ARALIACEAE
This picture was taken at Rockmount two weeks ago. The whole tree was a mass of fruits, and must have been a picture in spring, when it was covered with little purple flowers.










The (distinctively flat) celerywood fruits are adored by our local native fruit-eating birds, such as satin bowerbirds.





The trees themselves are very good value in a garden. Although they have a very lush, green, “rainforesty” look they are really very tough survivors. Even young seedlings thrive through droughts, and the also survive frosts so long as they have a bit of shelter from the worst of them.


These plants are growing on a high, exposed site, in a cow paddock on the western side of Mt Kynoch.




Celerywood seedlings couldn’t possibly have established themselves in this kind of environment. The kikuyu, the cows, and the harsh, windblown western exposure would now make it impossible. So these trees must have begun life in a kinder habitat, and are now evidence of a lost ecosystem, part of the extensive area of dry rainforest which must once have been common around Toowoomba.
Celerywoods are very fast-growing - one of our fastest trees - and like so many dry rainforest plants, they prefer to begin life in the shelter of trees and shrubs, but reach rapidly for the canopy to spread their leaves in the sun.




This one has been in the ground at Peacehaven Botanic park (Highfields) for two years, and has had no water since it was first planted. You can see from the slightly yellowed leaves that it would be happier with other plants around it, but it will get over this, and no doubt make a shapely tree in a short time.










Here is an example of the more typical young growth form. This sheltered specimen at Ravensbourne National Park is making a very fast bolt for a high place with good view of the sky.

This tendency grow tall and thin, together with an inoffensive root system, makes celerywoods suitable for use between buildings.




Old, rainforest-grown trees can have a trunk diameter of 75cm, but it is rare to see such a magnificent specimen nowadays, as they were cut for their soft timber which was used to make disposable items like fruit-cases (These were once as common as cardboard boxes are now. We used to break them up for kindling to use in fireplaces and wood stoves) .
Timber-getters used to identify them by the faint celery odour of the fresh bark. (The leaves have a stronger smell).

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