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The Tree of Life

We have a rather large River Red Gum tree (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in our backyard.  It’s a beautiful tree, 20+ metres tall and almost as wide. The garden has been designed to include it as a feature and enhance its beauty.   It provides valuable shade in the heat of summer providing a gathering place away from the house.

I guestimate it to be 40-60 years old, which is not old when compared to other specimens within the shire (which would comfortably sit at over 150 years old). The River Red Gum is a very long lived tree, well known for the colour of its wood and for use as fuel for your combustion fire providing winter warmth in your home.

But this tree is so much more; not only to me but to a host of other residents to the Golden Plains shire who interact with it throughout the year. Now I’m not talking of the friends and family who come around for a beer, a wine, or to cook a few sausages on the BBQ beneath.  

A host of other creatures coexist with this tree throughout the year making it a very special tree beyond what most of our guests might imagine. 

When I look at this tree, I look in awe.  Awe at the apparent ease in which it grows and thrives despite natures best efforts to seemingly destroy it. Standing tall with very little protection, it is open to severe winds, periods of flood and drought, extreme heat, frost, you name it.  Open to predation by a host of creatures, eager to graze on its foliage, flowers and bark.  Open to the many thousand squatters and uninvited guests who appear to crash for short or extended periods of time coming and going as they please.  

But I am also in awe of the complexity in the relationships it forms with both these residents and tourists. What I see when I picture this tree is quite different to what many of you might expect!

 I see a small city, with a local shopping strip. The hardware store, where materials are found for constructing homes (nests) for its residents. The milk bar, where a sweet (nectar) is available in the sugary, cream coloured blooms (my three boys would call these “special treats!”). There is a pre-school, a school and university, where generations of youngsters learn the art of survival from their parents.

And as you know nothing is free in this world. In return these creatures pay their taxes, rent, board or whatever you want to call it. For most, it is in the form of a rather small but regular deposit.  We call this fertiliser, or poo, droppings etc. Others will feed up on caterpillars, lurps and other insects which predate on the trees foliage, reducing the damage to the trees new season growth whilst filling the hungry tummies of those who assist.

Of course as the tree gets older, it needs more fertiliser and therefore it needs to attract a greater population of both residents and tourists! Now many of you would know of this trees notoriety for dropping limbs. For many this is seen negatively but the tree doesn’t see it that way!  For this is the beginning of the trees ability to provide more habitats for an even greater host of mammals, birds, insects and arachnids. 

On the ground, a new habitat is created for ground dwelling creatures which, in almost all cases benefit from the ground shelter and additional housing it provides. In return they assist the tree with nutrient( poo!). Up above, where the limb has torn from the trunk something else incredible is happening.  This is the start of a hollow which can take many more decades to form but will house more permanent and larger residents such as owls, possums or bats.  So when you look at it from the trees perspective, the outcome may be far from what you had previously imagined.

It’s hard to tell which benefits more, the birds, spiders, bats, possums, insects, koalas and many other visitors to this small city, but I would probably call it a draw from where I sit. If anything the winner is probably me, my family and friends benefiting from the vital oxygen but it puts back into our atmosphere and the joy it brings from the shade it casts on a hot summers day!