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Continuing the series on native bird-attracting trees …If I was asked to name one tree that symbolised Australia to me it would be a toss up between the Red Flowering Gum Corymbia ficifolia & the Wattle Acacia. I can think of many other trees that are also quintessential Australian like the Waratah & the Banksia. However, for the purpose of this post I am going to stick with the Red Flowering Gum. The Wattle can wait for later.
I didn’t actually see a Red Flowering Gum until about 10 years ago. This is probably because they are native to Western Australian & as I understand it, they had difficulty surviving on the east coast, or at least in Sydney. The first Red Flowering Gum I saw was a smallish tree with many trunks growing in a neighbour’s front garden.
The next Red Flowering Gum I saw were a line of mature street trees along President Avenue Kogarah. They were quite different in that they were much taller (7 metres at least) & had a single reasonably thick trunk. They were in full bloom & each tree was festooned in clumps of vivid red flowers. I fell instantly in love.
Around 5 years later, whist going for a walk, I came across a fantastic street tree, also mature, that was covered with spectacular red flowers. One of the residents came out & said the tree was a Red Flowering Gum planted by
the owner of the house in front of which we were. They too loved this tree & thought the neighbourhood was lucky to have it. The camera got a work out that day.
Since then I have been on the look out for these trees at nurseries. It was not a purposeful search & perhaps they were around, but it was only 2 years ago when we came across some for sale. We didn’t hesitate buying one. This year the nurseries are full of them & they are all grafted varieties to make sure they grow well in NSW.
There are bright red, pink, even hot pink flowering species on offer. Some grow like my neighbour’s into a small shrub-like tree with thin trunks that grow from near the base. Others grow from 6, 10 & 15 metres & the descriptions say they are suitable for use as a street tree because they have a straight growing trunk & a controllable canopy that tends to grow into a round-shape.
So why would you plant one? I think there are many reasons: birds love these flowers. Before I planted our tree I moved the pot & the flowers spilled a considerable amount of sticky nectar on my hands. I think it would be considered good bush tucker because the nectar was sweet & would make a nice drink. Don’t suck the flowers before making sure there isn’t a bee inside because bees love them as well.
Red Flowering Gums were called Eucalyptus ficifolia until the 1990s when it was changed to Corymbia ficifolia. They flower from spring through summer. The flowers also range in size & can be as large as a 20 cent piece. Once the tree has finished flowering clusters of urn-shaped gum nuts remain. These are also good food for bigger birds. Plant specialists say it takes 7 years before the tree flowers, but ours did in its first year. Others say that the tree flowers in one part of its canopy & in another the following year. Many of the saplings we saw at the nursery had a flower or tow allowing you to make sure it is the colour you want. I suspect this early flowering is the result of grafting, but this is just a guess.
The flowers are exquisite & the cup of each flower is a beautiful strong yellow. The leaves are lance-shaped & can be quite long. They also change colour during autumn, though the tree doesn’t drop many leaves. The branches grow a lovely rusty-red colour adding more beauty to this tree. This tree appears to be ever changing throughout the seasons.
It’s also a terrific shade tree & copes with heavy pruning. I don’t think it will be too long before other dry weather countries start growing this tree because it is showy & easy to manage.
There is a new variety called Mini Gum that grows 2 metres high & 2 metres wide. It too has showy fire engine red flowers that develop into gum nuts & often has a repeat flower in autumn. It would probably cope in a pot, as long as it doesn’t become water logged & is planted in a part sandy soil. Like many natives, this tree doesn’t particularly like wet, rich soils & thrives in infertile soil.
It would be perfect for lining the railway lines around Sydney & could be interspersed with Grevilleas. I have heard that Marrickville Council has planted some as street trees somewhere in Dulwich Hill, which is a great decision.
So, if you want a good bird-attracting flowering tree, which doesn’t make ‘widow-makers,’ give the Red Flowing Gum consideration. I doubt you will regret planting one.
One thing that has surprised me when researching street trees is how much impact trees have on property values. It has been found that trees can increase property values up to 25%. Initially this percentage seems amazing & somehow unreal, but when you think about it, properties in beautiful tree-lined streets do sell for more money. If there are beautiful trees on the property as well as a beautiful tree-lined street, then the value of the property is even higher. Those green suburbs that have thousands of tall trees with large natural canopies are well known for their high property values. Yet, much of their housing is similar to that in Marrickville LGA. Those suburbs only look better because they have more tall trees on private property & many more street trees.
Why do trees raise property values? People react to green. Trees make most people feel good on a deep & often unconscious level. Trees make people relax & send the message that here, in this place, we can be happy.
When we drive down a street where the trees are hacked & unpleasant to look at, we have one of 2 emotional responses. We either ignore our surroundings or we become agitated. Even if we ignore our surroundings, we are still unconsciously assessing an area & if asked about it later, we are likely to say that we don’t particularly like the suburb. If we become agitated, we are reacting to the ugliness. We know there is something about the locality that we don’t like, be it the ugly buildings, the feeling of being cramped, the graffiti, general dirtiness or the large areas of cement. We notice all these things because of the lack of trees or because the trees themselves are stumpy, lob-sided & ugly.
This reaction is why some suburbs are designated as ‘not good areas.’ Sure, some suburbs are well known for their criminal activities & although there are many factors that contribute to criminality in a community, trees even have a part to play in this. Research has shown that people who live in streets with many large street trees have a heightened sense of community pride. There is little or no graffiti, less littering & less dumping. People are reacting to the green & the beauty of trees & they think twice before doing an action that will mar this. They will go elsewhere to leave their tags for example.
Lovely street trees bring a sense of order to the visual environment where there is an architectural hotch-potch of buildings because the human eye notices the beauty of the trees & not the ugliness of the
buildings. The city of Canberra knows this well because they hide most of their factories behind a mass of trees. They also plant many tall growing trees in car parks so they eye sees the beauty of the trees & not the asphalt.
For decades the roads leaving Sydney airport were unbelievably ugly consisting of miles of buildings with very few trees. Mascot Council has changed this over the last decade by planting thousands of Eucalypts & other tall growing street trees. To my mind, this has greatly improved the area. The roads surrounding the airport are now green & a haven for nectar-feeding birds. The roads also showcase Australian flora for tourists. Similarly, the M5 was beautified before the Olympics by the planting of masses of trees, native flowers & grasses.
No one wants to live in ugly localities. They do so because they cannot afford to live in prettier suburbs. Seeing acres of tiled roofs disturbs people. We like green. Even if some of us think trees should be a significant distance from our house, we still like trees & even go to places in our leisure time where there are trees because everyone needs a dose of green to feel good. Only skate-boarders & graffiti artists spend their leisure time in cemented areas.
In America insuring the trees is commonplace. Real Estate Agents calculate the tree’s Leaf Surface Area (LSA) when determining property values. A property with more LSA has a higher value than one with fewer trees & lower LSA. These values accumulate incrementally over time because each tree typically adds more leaf surface area after each growing season.
So, if you are considering chopping down a tree on your property or you want the street tree out front removed, you need to be aware that doing so will likely decrease the value of your property & that of your neighbours as well. Sweeping those annoying leaves is really an investment. As for root damage, once a tree is mature, its roots are in place & it will not be creating any further damage to your property. Trees planted 70 plus years ago will not likely be causing damage today. There are businesses that specialise in using sonar to track the path of tree roots & boundaries can be put in place to prevent roots from travelling further if you wish to ensure they won’t encroach on your property. These interventions cost money, but a large tree will pay for itself over time not just in higher property values, but also by lowering household energy costs throughout the year.
With global warming many of us need to rethink our attitude to trees. They are not nuisances that only belong in parks. As climate change advances we will be more reliant on their cooling ability & for their spectacular ability to absorb CO2 & store carbon. Communities will find themselves planting urban forests rather than chopping trees down.