Last July 2011 Clr Phillips put up a Notice of Motion –That Council develop a policy of requiring &/or facilitating the relocation of Canary Island palms where a development requires their removal.”  This was on the Council Meeting agenda last month.  Apologies for the length of this post.

Most of the staff advice is as follows, with my response written in bold. –

  • This will create an obligation on Council to locate & maintain the identified trees in Council streets & parks. (What is the problem with this? Council maintains thousands of public trees).
  • It is estimated the cost of removal & replanting will be covered by the Developer. As a general principle the merits of a development proposal should be considered on the basis of the tree in its original location, not on the developer’s ability to relocate it to a new site. (This surprised me.  I would have thought that if a DA wanted a Canary Island Palm removed, then Council could give approval on the basis that Council is given the tree & Council relocates it to a position of their choice).
  • The species is not self cleaning & mechanical removal of dead fronds is required as part of their maintenance. The trees were popular for civic, institutional & large formal garden plantings from about the 1850s to the 1950s. (Cabbage Tree Palms are not self-cleaning either, yet Council still chooses & plants these in parks & as street trees).
  • Marrickville has several significant plantings, including St Brigids Church & the old hospital site on Marrickville Road; Graham Avenue & Hastings Street behind the old hospital site; Carrington Road South Marrickville, & Brooklyn Street, Tempe. The Graham Avenue palms are listed in Council’s heritage register as an example of 1930s Depression relief work. (All these trees should be listed on the Heritage Register. These trees are well regarded by local residents I have spoken to who find them beautiful, impressive & a positive addition to parks & the streetscape).
  • All of these locations are identified in Council’s Australian White Ibis Management Plan 2007 because of the predilection of these birds to inhabit

    Beautiful landscaping at the intersection opposite Arlington Recreation Reserve in Dulwich Hill includes a Canary Island palm in the traffic island

    & nest in Canary Island Date Palms. Although native & endangered, the Australian White Ibis does not enjoy popular status when living in close quarters with humans, often being described as noisy & smelly. Management of palm habitat to reduce its attractiveness to the Ibis includes pruning into a ‘wineglass’ or ‘pineapple’ shape by removing horizontal fronds to reduce the space suitable for nesting. (Removing their beauty). However, constant pruning can damage palms.  Pruning palm fronds can lead to poor trunk formation & can threaten the health of the palm when applied over several seasons. Pruning also increases the risk of disease spreading between palms. At the time when Council’s Australian White Ibis Management Plan 2007 was being prepared it was noted that the Carrington Road palms had been regularly pruned by Council over the previous 3 to 4 years & their health was being compromised by the constant pruning. (Many in the community were wondering what was wrong with the Carrington Road trees.  Only last month a business owner spoke to me about 1 of these trees concerned that it was dying.  In 2009, 3 replacement Canary Island Palms died during the drought. They were removed & not replaced much to the disappointment of both the businesses & locals). Council’s tree management officer recommended that pruning should be limited to only removing dead fronds & flower stalks to prevent killing the palms. Phoenix palm tree maintenance is at the higher cost end of tree species maintained by Council due to the need to mechanically remove fronds on a regular basis, the elevated platform required for the work, arboricultural hygiene requirements & the difficulty of disposing of the fibrous & spiky fronds, which generally cannot be recycled & must be disposed of to landfill. (That Council would need to prune a few fronds is a small cost considering the overall benefits of this species of tree.  Council would not need to prune more than once year & even that may be an over-estimate.  Landfill from fronds is far better than most of what reaches landfill).

  • One of the recommended strategies of the Australian White Ibis Management Plan 2007 is to limit new ibis nesting habitat in Marrickville through revision of tree management related policies  (Marrickville Council chooses to get rid of trees on the basis of the need to prune & because of wildlife.  If there are no trees for the Ibis, perhaps they will start using the roofs of houses.  Places where these birds could be out of the way & not an annoyance for people like the Cooks River have more grasses than trees).
  • The yellow fruit of the palm, although not attractive to humans are popular with birds & bats & the seeds are highly viable. Self-seeded specimens propagate widely throughout the Marrickville LGA & metropolitan Sydney & it has become a weed species in East Gippsland, the Riverina & Auckland New Zealand. (I’d be interested if you have you ever seen one growing spontaneously in gardens, parks across Marrickville LGA.  I’ve seen 3. All are growing the fork of Fig trees & are small enough for me to remove.  I’d hardly consider them an invasive tree in this LGA.  Wolli Creek would be the only area I would worry about.   Marrickville LGA is not East Gippsland, the Riverina & Auckland New Zealand. Eucalypts are a weed in South Africa & the US, yet we still plant these species of tree in Australia. Causarinas which multiply by sending out endless suckers do not seem to be a problem to Council).
  • Canary Island Date Palms are susceptible to Fusarium wilt. The disease is active in Sydney & has resulted in the death & removal of a fine stand of the palms in Centennial Park. (Is the potential for disease a reason why these trees should not be saved? I don’t think so, nor do the people who pay many thousands of dollars purchasing mature Canary Island Palms to landscape their properties).
  • Consultation undertaken during the preparation of the Marrickville Urban Forest Strategy reflects a growing community interest in trees & in the use of locally provenanced tree species. The observation is made that although these grand, architecturally formed palms were frequently planted & often produced highly attractive landscapes, their day as landscape feature elements has passed & Council should be increasing its plantings of locally endemic species to address biodiversity & amenity issues. (I participated in this community consultation & did not see the issue of Canary Island Palms brought up as a topic by Council.  This blog has always advocated for native food-producing trees to be planted around the LGA.  However, I have also advocated for keeping & caring for non-native trees that provide food for both people & urban wildlife, especially when those trees provide beauty.  It is in autumn that one notices just how many ornamental fruit trees that provide no value to wildlife there are in our parks & streets across the LGA).
  • Any proposal to remove a tree as part of a DA is assessed on its merits.

    Canary Island palms in Marrickville Park

    Where Council agrees that a tree cannot be kept, if practical & appropriate conditions can be imposed to require certain species to be relocated within the development site – this is the preferred option in the case where retention of the tree is warranted & the species is suitable to transplant successfully. Transplanting of trees to Council owned sites within the LGA as a condition of consent is problematic unless there is an adopted policy & process to facilitate this option in an efficient & timely way.  (Once again, I fail to understand why Council sees the transplanting of a tree onto Council property as a cost that should be born by the developer.  Council should be requesting the tree as a gift to the community rather than it be chopped down & added to landfill.  I doubt that there would be many developers who would care that Council takes away a tree that they want to get rid of.  In fact, the transplanting of a tree removes the considerable cost of removing the tree for the developer).

I was not present for the debate. The vote was – For: Clrs Olive, Peters, Phillips, Kontellis & Byrne.  Against: Clrs Iskandar, Tsardoulias, Wright, O’Sullivan, Thanos, Hanna & Macri.  Not passed.

I will continue to advocate for transplanting these majestic trees.  I do so because it seems crazy to throw away a tree that likely has another 80-100-years of life left, that is relatively easy to transplant, provides food & habitat for urban wildlife, is a link to our history & significantly improves streetscapes.  The relative ugliness of our streetscapes in particular is a desperate need in many areas across Marrickville LGA.  Even Council has referred to these trees as creating “highly attractive landscapes.”

I feel disappointed with Marrickville Council.  Surrounding Councils do transplant these trees into traffic islands, as feature trees in appropriate locations & their community benefits.  I have talked to all sorts of people who frequently mention these trees in a positive light, particularly when they have been the beneficiaries of one planted in their locality.  As Ibis are a concern, there are plenty of sites where these trees could be planted where they would not be affecting residential homes.  I sincerely doubt whether half a dozen Canary Island palms a year would come up for removal & perhaps 1 or 2 of these would not be found suitable to transplant due to issues of access, but Council could at least try.  End of rant.

Here is a 1-minute video showing Ibis in a row of Canary Island palms opposite Lewisham Railway Station –

This Canary Island palm beautifies & makes an impressive feature a traffic island in the Stanmore shopping strip