This post is part of the Festival of the Trees, a blog carnival by tree lovers in celebration of trees & the benefits they bring. This post is about an ordinary tree with an extraordinary impact on urban wildlife.
In 1998 I decided that we should have an Alexandra Palm in our back garden. I chose this tree because we don’t have much space. Fortunately we have massive street trees in view so they give us the feeling of living amongst trees.
As is usual with everything I plant, the Palm has grown to double the size indicated on its ID tag. At one stage I worried fearing it may fall on the house in a storm. This fear went when I watched it barely move during severe winds that damaged some roofs in the area. Around this time I met a woman who hated Palm trees. “Why would anyone want a telegraph pole in their garden?” This is why.
This single tree provides food for around 10 varieties of birds that come for its twice a year supply of food. The seeds are ‘guarded’ while they are ripening for 2-3 months by many varieties of birds. In the meantime, they build nests, mate & hatch their eggs.
In winter, this palm & others in the neighbourhood provide a source of much needed food for many varieties of native birds. The Indian Mynas don’t eat from it often, the native birds come in droves. They eat in cooperation, big ones with little ones. There is rarely a fight.
At the summer fruiting the babies are brought to our tree to feed from its prolific fruit. They leave their babies in the tree for some while to forage for other types of food, knowing they will be safe hidden amongst the spray of berries or high up in the fronds. Sometimes there can be 2 different species of baby bird left in the tree. They sit quietly & look at each other. In winter these babies return as adults knowing there is a guarantee of a good meal.
The small birds nibble on the riper seeds, the large birds eat the seed whole. Then there are the fruit bats that come at night to feed. I like the whoop, whoop, whoop of their wings beating through the air before they land in the tree. Sometimes they come in too fast & crash. Then all you can hear is tiny sounds of rustling while the bats are eating & the occasional seed that drops to the ground. Then whoop, whoop as the bats take flight again.
We get a lot of delight from the visiting wildlife. The baby birds that sit for great chunks of time in the tree have long & enquiring looks at us. By the time they return as adults, they show definite recognition of us even going so far to herald their return. At times the nearby street tree is full of different species of birds checking out how their feast is cooking. As the seeds ripen, the street tree gets busier. We both think there are many more birds in our neighbourhood than there was before we planted this tree.
Many of the babies get flying lessons from the Palm to the neighbours’ roof, back & forth, back & forth until suddenly the little one takes off across the road & the parents madly chase it screaming commands. The command must be to return to the Palm tree because they always do.
I used to worry that the neighbourhood would be inadvertently populated by Palm trees, that the birds would spread the seeds, but this has not happened. For some reason most of the large birds that eat the seeds excrete the seed sans the meat around the seed within minutes of eating it. Their digestive system must burn the meat of the seed because a good majority of the seeds that have been eaten land back in our garden. By the end of the fruiting season, if we don’t remove them, there will be a couple of inches of seeds piled up like mulch around the base of the tree. They are easy to scoop up & pop into the recycling bin. A few have sprouted but their root system is not invasive & they can be plucked out with very little effort.
I guess for many people Palms would be a nuisance. Not only do you have to remove the seeds after they have dropped naturally or been excreted by the birds, but there is also the casing of the seed branch, the dried out & empty seed branch which falls twice a year & the fronds which fall as the tree is growing. The dead fronds can be quite large, but they are light to move & cut up easily with a pair of secateurs.
To us, the work this tree causes is far out-weighed by the increase of birds that have come to live nearby. We also put in a birdbath in a safe place, so the day is broken up into bath time, meal time, bath time, meal time. It’s nice for us & like a TV show for our cats who sit enthralled & fixated.
The latest addition to the neighbourhood is a Ring-tail Possum who has come to live in the street tree, within leaping distance from the Palm. He came as a baby & sat on the fence. At first we thought he was a rat until we saw his long curled tail. I have been told possums eat bananas & apples, so it stands to reason he eats Palm fruit. Clever guy has moved in next to a perpetual meal that lasts for months & happens twice a year. I no longer worry about this tree nor care about the opinions of Palm tree haters. It’s not a native tree, but I am convinced that this tree has helped much of the wildlife survive the protracted drought we are having. NOTE: I have just been told the Alexandra Palm is native to the Queensland rainforest. See comment by Bob & my reply.