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New street tree for the Princes Highway at Tempe (click to enlarge)

I was happy to see that Marrickville Council has planted a new street tree outside the petrol station on the Princes Highway Tempe.  I think it is a Blueberry ash (Elaecocarpus reticulates).

The Blueberry ash is a columnar shaped Australian native tree that grows to between 4-8 metres tall, but is unlikely to reach this height in these growing conditions.  It has dense blue-green foliage, red new growth & produces masses of pale pink flowers over spring/summer. The flowers have an aniseed fragrance.  It produces blue berries over winter that can remain on the tree for many months.   It is bird-attracting & they like both the flowers & the berries.  Cockatoos & Lorikeets especially love the berries.

The tree is planted outside the petrol station.  The owners of  the petrol station have gone to the trouble of landscaping the site with a range of Australian native bird-attracting plants, which is very nice to see.  I imagine they will appreciate this street tree.

Low Grevilleas planted at the entrance to the petrol station. It would be nice if Council used these on traffic islands instead of Nandina that offers nothing for wildlife


Kendrick Park Tempe

In January 2011 I posted about Marrickville Council’s intention to remove 1 Coastal Myall (Acacia binervia) & 6 Swamp She Oak (Casuarina glauca) in Kendrick Park Tempe to allow them to construct a new section of the cycleway.  As Council did not state what species of tree they would replace these with other than to say “locally endemic Cook’s River Valley tree species,” I wrote about my dislike of Casuarinas, which are used extensively along the Cooks River.  I also wrote to Council asking that other species of tree be planted instead of Casuarinas.  See –

I am pleased to say that Marrickville Council wrote to me today as follows –

“We agree that the replacement trees would be better as shade trees, rather than more Casuarina.  Fifteen (15) Swamp Mahogany Trees (Eucalyptus robusta), planted along the foreshore, are proposed to replace those removed.  Rough-barked Apple (Angophora floribunda) trees are being considered as additional feature trees. These species were selected to provide shade & because they are indigenous to the Cooks River Flood-plain Forest community.” How wonderful is this!

Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) is a fast growing tree reaching a height of around 20-30 metres. It has a straight trunk up to 1 metre in diameter & a dense canopy of large dark green glossy leaves to around 5 metres.  Its bark is red-brown in colour & it produces white or cream clusters of flowers in winter & spring. It accepts wet, boggy & swampy sites. It’s great for honey-producing bees & is a food source for Koalas (pity we don’t have any in Kendrick Park).  It is also bird-attracting & recommended if you want birds in your garden.

Rough-barked apple (Angophora floribunda) is a tall growing tree reaching a height of around 25 metres & a canopy spread of around 6-15 metres.  Its trunk is interesting as it has fibrous grey bark & is often gnarled & lumpy. It produces profuse clusters of creamy white flowers through mid spring to early summer.  It is bird attracting & bees like it as well.

I thank Marrickville Council for being open to suggestions & for deciding to plant such gorgeous species of trees. It is wonderful that the trees are useful to wildlife as well & that they will provide food for birds for 9 months of the year.

To lose 6 Casuarina & 1 Coastal Myal & have them replaced with 15 Swamp Mahogany trees & the possibility of large Angophora floribunda as feature trees is something that makes me very happy. There is certainly room for these species of tree in Kendrick Park & they will add significant beauty & much needed shade.  As Kendrick Park is highly visible from the Princes Highway, a more beautiful park with tall, wide-canopy trees will only serve to give passing traffic a good impression of Tempe.

I think this is the flowers of Eucalyptus robusta

Each branch of the Tree Waratah is festooned with these stunning flowers

There is a street tree in Stanmore that made me stop my car to go & have a look. While I was there one other person also came to have a look.  Like me they took photos.

Its correct name is Alloxylon flammeum, but most people call it a Tree Waratah or Red Silky Oak. It comes from the Proteaceae family.  Others in this family are Banksias & Grevilleas. It is native to the rainforest areas on Australia’s east coast, though it can be grown almost Australia-wide.

The Tree Waratah is a stunning tree to look at. It has thin erect branches & is slow growing which would make it attractive to many people.  It has long dark green leaves that are also attractive.  When it flowers in spring through summer it is covered in bright red flowers with each flower looking like a bunch in its own right.  The flowers are bird-attracting which adds to its value as I believe as many trees as possible, especially street trees, should be providing food for urban wildlife.

In perfect conditions the Tree Waratah it will grow to between 8-10 metres with a canopy between 2-4 metres.  It is not a large tree, making it suitable as a street tree.  It can also be pruned to be a large shrub & would cope with pruning by power companies, as it would easily form a v-shape.  If planted in the right place & because of its erect growth habit it could be allowed to grow into its natural shape & not have to be pruned.  Also, it is a much superior alternative to the Ornamental Pear that is currently in vogue as a street tree.

I have never seen these trees for sale in a nursery, but you could ask your nursery to order it in from a specialist nursery for you.   It grows easily from cuttings. If you like Australian birds, this is a tree to seriously consider.  It can be an object of extreme beauty in your garden or if we were lucky enough, Council could do us a favour & plant them as street trees. Wouldn’t that be fantastic.

close-up shows why they are referred to as a Waratah

Our Red Flowering Gum - flowering at 6 months

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

Hot-Pink Flowering Gum

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.

Gum nuts from our Red Flowering Gum

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.

Bee feasting on flower nectar

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.


This months Festival of the Trees is looking at food for wildlife.  Marrickville LGA has quite a lot of  wildlife for an inner city urban area, especially with the Cooks River, the Tempe Reserve & Wetlands & some of our major parks.   The presence of nearby Girraween Park  at Wolli Creek helps our urban wildlife enormously.  However, when we first moved into our home 15 years ago there weren’t many birds in our immediate neighbourhood.  There were some of course, but we were not as aware of them as we were in our previous home.  They were mostly Pied Currawongs in winter, Common Mynas all year round & a couple of Turtle Doves as well.  Over the years this has changed significantly.  Now birds feature strongly in our neighbourhood.  So what happened to bring the birds here?

The neighbourhood around us changed in that many new people moved in & they did 3 things.  They removed the cement from their garden, reduced the size of their lawn or did away with it altogether & they planted trees & shrubs, many of them Natives.  Some of my neighbours are spectacular gardeners converting their bare gardens into mini-botanical havens filled with a variety of bird-attracting plants.  The transformation has been dramatic & they still kept the lemon tree.

birds sunning themselves

The other thing I noticed was that many people started putting birdbaths and/or ponds in their gardens.  This combination of water & food brought the birds back in droves.

It also brought the frogs seemingly by magic.  We put in a pond & 2 days later a rare frog breed arrived.  Now we have small frogs that hibernate under our very small piece of lawn.  They wake up in summer & leave at night.  We hear them, but rarely see them.

At least 24 Turtle Doves live in our block now so their family extended. There are many White Eyes, Willy-Wag Tails, Red Wattlebirds, Magpie-larks, Australian Magpies, large groups of Noisy Miners, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Crested Pigeons, a Common Koel or two, Grey Butcherbirds, Olive-backed Orioles, Silvereyes, Figbirds & Pallid Cuckoos.  Masked Lapwings fly over-head on their way to the river.  Even a couple of Spotted Pardalotes have moved in.  This is amazing as they live in areas with many Eucalypts, not Sydney’s Inner West.

small part of a large flock of Cockatoos who visited

Large groups of Cockatoos fly over most days & when the nuts & fruit are ripe, they descend on mass devouring them.  It’s a gorgeous sight & they are very noisy.  The powerlines can be covered with white birds all with something to say.  Both neighbours who grow the food the Cockatoos like to eat do not mind the invasion of these birds.

We still have the Pied Currawongs & Common Mynas, but they are not so destructive now they are out numbered.  The Common Mynas tried to get everyone to move, but the sheer numbers of birds had their power reduced to almost nil.  They now just get on with living.  We also have native bees & a Ring-Tailed Possum or two.

From a reasonably quiet area in terms of birds, our neighbourhood has become filled with bird song & bird activity.   I love the change.  It seems somehow more like I remember things used to be when I was a child & the presence of birds was taken for granted.

The Australian Museum has a wonderful web-site called Birds in Backyards. They list 40 birds & provide a fact-sheet & a short sound-bite of each bird call.  It is a wonderful reference for school children as well as people like me who don’t know much about birds.  Through this site I have been able to identify 20 of the 40 birds listed that I can hear & many times see from our own back garden.

Birds provide white noise that is soothing & helps block out traffic & other noises that can lead to stress.  They also help you in the garden by eating the insects that eat your plants.


If you want to attract birds into your garden & neighbourhood, all you need to do is plant a variety of bird-attracting Australian native plants & provide a source of water.  The water is best placed near other plants as this gives the birds a sense of safety.  They will use a birdbath in the middle of a lawn, but if there is another in a better location, they will use that one first.

Our birdbath needs filling often & sometimes daily during hot weather.  A wide range of birds use it to drink & bathe at many times during the day.  Sometimes there is a line up.  The larger birds go first with the smaller birds in surrounding trees watching & waiting for them to finish.  At night, much to my delight, the bats use it. I haven’t managed to see them yet, but I hear the “woop, woop, woop “as they take off vertically.

If you can, plan to plant a range of plants of different heights & thicknesses.  Some birds love to go into small shrubs & eat the nectar from flowers & insects while hidden from sight.   Others are not afraid to sip nectar from flowers high up & in open view.  A range of plants will ensure a variety of birds visit.

Cockatoo eating something from my neighbours garden

Native grasses offer a great source of food as well.  I have seen them used in very creative ways by my neighbours.  Most Australian Natives do not require much water once established & thrive in poor quality soil, though they do appreciate mulch & regular fertilizing with a Native fertilizer.

Native plants can be used successfully with a cottage garden if that is your preferred look.  Many are prolific flowerers & some have flowers all year round.  Most respond to pruning allowing them to be kept in a shape you like. Pruning encourages more flowers & bushiness.

From being a person who preferred cottage gardens I have become someone who would rather plant something that gives food to another.  I do think the long drought we had stressed the wild birds & animals, as their water sources shrunk & their food sources didn’t flower or simply died.  The Ibis who have decided to stay in Sydney are an example of this.  Even though it’s raining torrents in Sydney & parts of NSW have flooded, the drought is not over by a long shot.  16 areas or boundaries in NSW (a little over half the state) are classified Exceptional Circumstances. This is done when drought is regarded as severe.

As a number of people have indicated they want ideas for native shrubs & trees, I’ll do some research & put together a list soon.  It will be good learning for me as I am not an expert in this area either.




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