Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Try growing: local timber trees

I don't imagine there are many gardeners out there who would want to grow a tree for its timber, but in preparing for the Illawarra Festival of Wood, I found out a bit about local timber trees. It was a fascinating journey, and I was surprised to find that both there are some great timber trees around, but also that most of them are not in cultivation at all. Here are a few of the most amazing and promising trees, many of which are also very well suited to use in gardens and on verges (hint hint). 


Red Cedar (Toona ciliata) is a well-known and important timber tree with straight- grained reddish timber used extensively for furniture and boatbuilding. Cedar-getters were among some of the earliest Europeans working in the Illawarra, and largely denuded the region of the species. Luckily its local population is recovering relatively well, although there are almost no very large specimens. Here's a great image of a Red Cedar plank from the Love of Wood website.
White Beech (Gmelina leichhardtii) suffered a very different fate from Red Cedar in this region and across eastern Australia. It is a large, slow-growing tree with beautiful white and purple flowers and big purple fruit. Its white, easily worked timber is highly resistant to decay, and was used for house and ship building. It was devastated by logging and it is now very rare in the region. Plant one today and help provide beautiful timber for generations to come!
White Beech timber is almost unavailable, but here is an image from the website of Wollongong's Florez Nursery.
llawarra Plum Pine (Podocarpus elatus) is a much-prized timber tree for many fine woodworking uses such as furniture, plywood, turnery, carving, kitchen utensils, musical instruments. A slow-growing tree, it is unavailable along the east coast, and both uncommon and unavailable in the Illawarra. I had trouble even finding a good photograph of the timber, but here's a shot of the tree so you can get a sense of how good it would look in a larger garden or on an acreage. It can even be kept clipped and grown as a hedge.

A mature Illawarra Plum Pine growing in the
hind dunes at Perkins Beach in Primbee.
Photo: Byron Cawthorne-MacGregor.

Ebony (Diospyros australis and Diospyros pentamera) are small, handsome trees are related to the African and Asian “ebonies”. They have shapely dark green leaves and cast a dense shade, making them useful as street trees. The timber is an attractive black or black streaked with brown figure, hard and close-grained. It is used for piano keys, finger boards for violins and cellos, billiard cue butts, inlay, carving cutlery handles. Only small trees grow in Illawarra, to around 8m high. The timber is not available, and again it's almost impossible to get a photograph, so here's a shot of a lovely Myrtle Ebony (Diospyros pentamera) growing at Perkins Beach in Primbee.
Myrtle Ebony at Perkins Beach in Primbee. 
Photo: Leon Fuller.
There are many other local trees that make good quality timber, including several of the eucalypts, such as Blackbutt (E. pilularis) and Grey Ironbark (E. paniculata). One use for such trees is to protect the edges of an area of natural vegetation from weed invasion, an approach that has been tried with some success in the region. The trees can be harvested when their work is done. More on that another time!

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