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Casuarina grove in Sydney Park

I confess to not liking She oaks (Casuarina) much. I quite like their needle-like leaves & even their appearance. Despite that I think they have more negatives than positives I will write about their attributes as unbiased as I can.

The Casuarina has around 60 different varieties.  They are often described as a shrub, though I cannot see why.  They grow to varying heights, but most reach around 10 – 20 metres.  Its growth is straight up & does not have a cascading form.  Their leaves are called cladodes, they are long segmented branchlets that look like pine needles.  Each segment is a leaf.

Casuarina leaf debris

These leaves drop & form a thick blanket around the tree & anything other than a Casuarina won’t grow.  You can manage to keep shade-loving plants under a Casuarina as long as you remove the fallen needles. Having lived with these trees I can say from experience that if you leave this job longer than a week, it becomes a big job as the needles will literally bury your plants.

Developers like to plant Casuarinas at new housing developments because they grow very fast & need no care.  They can reach a good height within 3 years & they thrive in very poor soil & semi-arid areas so they can cope with only the water from any rain.  The leaf debris also prevents any weed growth.

Casuarina sends out suckers from which new trees grow. These are hard to remove, but can be mown over

The Casuarina grows extensive root systems & is excellent in binding sandy soils & dunes to prevent erosion.

Casuarinas produce hundreds of small woody fruit that look like small spiny cones.  These cones are very dense & will not break if you tread on them.  The Glossy Black-Cockatoo (also known as the Casuarina Cockatoo) eats the unripe Casuarina cones, though I don’t think this bird hangs around Marrickville LGA.  Wood turners like Casuarina timber.

On Marrickville Council’s side of the Cooks River the Casuarina is the main species of tree because they are indigenous to this area.

The Silky oak, (Grevillea robusta, the Southern Silky oak or the Australian Silver oak) is the largest Grevillea of its species. Native to eastern coastal Australia, it’s a fast growing evergreen tree growing to 18 – 35 metres tall. Its growth is conical & it does not have a cascading form.  Its girth can grow to more than a metre making it excellent at carbon sequestration.    Its leaves look like fern fronds, grow to a length of 15-30 cm & are dark green.   The underside of the leaves is either grayish-white or rusty-red coloured.

This tree is rare because of over logging.  Furniture makers & wood turners love its beautiful timber.

Grove of Silky oaks in Bicentennial Park Rockdale

Grevillea robusta becomes literally festooned with fantastic golden-orange flowers that can be as much as 15 cm long in the spring.  The flowers last for many months & are filled with nectar making them a valuable food source for birds & flying foxes. It is also attractive to honey bees.

This tree does drop a lot of leaves, but unlike the leaf debris from a Casuarina, the leaves can be composted or laid directly as mulch on your garden.

Some people like myself can get contact dermatitis from touching the leaves.  If I wanted this tree in my garden, I would simply minimize contact with the leaves until it had grown to a good height.  You can easily keep kids away while it is growing if they show sensitivity to the leaves.  Because this tree grows straight upwards, the offending leaves get to above head height quite quickly.  The leaves that have fallen to the ground do not create itchiness as far as I know.

I’d like to see some Grevillea robusta planted both in parks & as street trees by Marrickville Council.  I have seen this done by Kogarah Council & the trees look stunning.  There is a grove in Bicentennial Park right next to a grove of Casuarinas making it very easy to compare the 2 species.

As far as I am concerned, the Silky oak beats the She oak hands down.  The Silky oak is a better looking tree, produces less debris, its leaves are suitable for compost, it produces tons of vibrant flowers for many months, it’s shade-producing & a prolific food producer for wildlife & honey bees. Perfect.

The Silky oak produces masses of golden flowers. You can see why wildlife love these trees

Ibis nesting high up in the trees

We discovered this park a couple of months ago & what a discovery it was.  If you are into nature, a bit of bush, water, birds & walking, this is a great place for a wander.   The sign says it was opened for the bicentenary in 1988. The park is divided into 3 sections known as North, South & East. This post is about East & North Bicentennial Park. We have yet to visit South Bicentennial Park, which looks more of a wild park as it’s part of wetlands. It’s a big place that joins with Scarborough Park, which has its own North, East, South & Central. Scarborough Park Central is more like a regular park with playing fields & a skate park filled with talented kids.

View from one part of the walk

If you wander through the playing fields to the bank of trees, you find yourself entering a bush area filled with trees. Many of the trees are quite substantial in girth & height & must be a few decades old.

A ring of moving water does an oval journey around a couple of islands before it travels to a wetland lake in South Bicentennial Park on the other side of President Avenue.  The islands are filled with natural bush & trees. Many of the trees have Ibis nests high up in the branches with families of Ibis perching. It’s quite a sight.

The sound from baby birds trilling, as only Ibis do, was lovely.  There were also wild ducks & geese when we were there.  The path around the islands & to the pedestrian bridge is a wide path of mown grass, no concrete anywhere, which feels like a luxury these days.

Bridge over the water near the car park

It’s safe with enough people with dogs walking around to know that someone would hear you if you needed help, yet you are far enough away from the traffic & the sight of buildings to feel you are anywhere other than in the Inner South East of Sydney. The terrain is mostly flat, suitable for a pram, but not a wheelchair. However, there is a car park near the water & a pedestrian bridge that is suitable for a wheelchair.

It’s a fabulous place for a walk or a picnic as there are plenty of shady places to lay a blanket & watch the birds & other wildlife. There are also plenty of places for the kids to have a run or explore.  The skate park is part of Scarborough Park. When we were there it was filled with kids & I watched while they took turns allowing the little less experienced or younger children have a go before they did their runs & leaps into the air.

Another view along the path

Rockdale Council has done a very great thing with this group of parks.  They have ensured that there is something for everyone whilst protecting areas purely for wildlife habitat.  The map shows they have protected & worked on a significant wildlife corridor that is perfect habitat for water birds.  I think they should be commended for this. In the past the area would have been drained, filled in & housing built on it or the park would have been made accessible for people from corner to corner with the wildlife having to make do. That this area has been made a wildlife sanctuary is a wonderful thing.  We loved the place & will go again because there is a lot to see.




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