Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bailey’s Cypress

Callitris baileyi

 This rather special plant was photographed on private property at Geham. You can see what a pretty feature plant it would be, especially in rather formal gardens.


Bailey’s cypress can be distinguished from our other local cypress species by the triangular look of its branchlets (which are also thicker than those of other local species).

At first glance, the photo seems to be showing you some little green branchlets, but with a close and careful look you can see that everything green  is actually leaf. The tiny, narrow leaves grow in whorls of three and lie tight against the branches, where their ridged keels produce the attractive pattern that you see here.

Seed is ripening on our local plants this week, offering us a rather brief opportunity to collect it for propagation. The capsules lose their seed fairly quickly, so they need to be collected whole, just as some of the capsules in a group are beginning to open. They should be kept in a warm dry place until they all open and shed their seeds, which should be planted while very fresh.
(If you're doing this, don't forget the ethics of seed collecting. Nature needs its seeds, so no more than 10% should ever be collected from any wild plant population. Also remember that it's against the law to collect it from National Parks and Conservation reserves.)


The natural range of this rare plant is a fairly narrow strip along the Great Dividing Range from the Bunya Mountains It is classified as "near threatened", as term which indicates that, without intervention, the population is destined to decline. Its  habitat is growing increasingly fragmented and it’s not easy to find plants in the wild any more. Some infill planting on private property would help to build up a healthy local population.

It is important, with young native cypresses, to go easy on the tip pruning. There is no need to prune them at all, and a plant that is provoked into forming multiple trunks is never as sturdy as a single-trunked specimen. The lesser trunks tend to fall away as the plant approaches mature size, spoiling the lovely symmetry of the canopy.

This young plant, on the Polzin Road side of the Charles and Motee Bushland Reserve at Highfields was planted a few years ago.  What excellent native Christmas trees these would make, if planted in gardens or in large tubs.

This one grows on the road reserve on the corner of Reis Road and the New England Highway at Highfields. It is known to have been planted in 1880. is the smallest of our local native Cypresses. You can see that even a plant 130 years old is still beautiful, and able to function as an effective screen plant or (with trimming of the trunk) a shade tree. Even at this age, it would not have outgrown a well-chosen garden situation.
This is one of the plants that have evolved to survive a climate where bushfires are frequent, not by being fire resistant (they burn like torches!) but by producing seeds that love to grow in the ashes after a fire has gone by. Bushfires are followed by a population explosion. The gradual removal of fire from much of this plant's range may explain its decline in the wild. Take, care, though. This is not a good one to plant near the house anywhere that bushfires are a concern. (Just to keep our sense of proportion, this caution applies to all cypresses and most other conifers, of both native and introduced species.)
Bailey's cypress grow best  where they have sun for all or most of the day. They tolerate saline soil, and are very drought tolerant once established.


Jodie said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi Patricia - I found a Bailey's Pine yesterday in the State Forest over near Yarraman. I'd been looking for a while actually. A nice little tree. Peter

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi Peter.
Nice to hear from you. And it's great to hear that Bailey's cypress is growing there. It would be interesting to know where the seed came from.
I think there's a good chance that this plant will re-establish itself in some of its original range, as seed finds its way into areas which are now being conserved. Finds like yours are encouraging for those of us who grow rare plants in the hope of helping our damaged environment to recover a little.
And yes, they are pretty little trees from infancy, which makes them such good garden specimens.