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A Trio of Aussie Trees

Can you guess how many types of eucalypts there are in Australia? Do you know why eucalypts are often called ‘gum trees’? What part of the fig tree do bats love to eat? And why are macadamias so expensive?

Eucalyptus ‘Gum’ trees 

There are over 800 species of eucalyptus found across Australia. They look similar except for the shapes and sizes of their fruits and flowers. In fact, Eucalyptus macrocarpa from Western Australia has the largest gumnut of any Eucalyptus species with nuts as big as 10 cm across! Eucalypts grow in all the different climates, regions and ecosystems of Australia. This makes them one of the most resilient and iconic of our trees.  

Gum trees have been used by Aboriginal People for a very long time. Traditionally throughout the Murry-Darling basin, River Red gums are used to make canoes whereas in other regions, Stringy Barks are preferred. Eucalypt timber is also sometimes used in making boomerangs, shields, Yidaki’s (didgeridoos) and coolamons.  

Eucalypts are called gum trees because of the sticky gum (sap) that oozes from any break in the bark. Gum tree bark can vary from dark, fissured ironbark to smooth, pale bark. Medicines such as eucalyptus cough drops are even made from the oils of the tree.  

Because of their iconic status, Eucalyptus trees have had a significant role in shaping Australian history, art, culture, landscape and even childhood memories. Watch the videos below showing how gum trees feature in the stories of much-loved children’s book author, May Gibbs.

Click here to watch a 15:00 minute video reading of 'May Gibbs - Tales from The Gum Tree'.

Click here to watch a 5:00 minute video reading of 'May Gibbs -Gumnut Babies'.

Video's created by Story Box Library and above image was sourced from MayGibbs.Org 

Fig trees  

Most native Australian Figs (Ficus sp.) are big, beautiful fruiting trees with long, hanging aerial roots, often the stars of parks and large gardens. What’s not to love about a tree with abundant edible fruit, and spreading canopies of waxy leaves that provide deep shade all summer? Figs grow in the temperate rainforests of eastern Australia. There are many native species, including the Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla), the Port Jackson Fig (Ficus rubra) and Sandpaper Fig (Ficus coronata). How do you think these figs got their names? 

The ripe fruits of fig trees attract many birds and flying foxes (bats). But in fact, the small, round fruits are edible to humans too and turn purple when ripe (usually in autumn). Read the story of ‘Ficus The Flying Fox’  who loved to eat figs. Find out why one day Ficus waited for the sun to go down and flew off in search of a new home.  

Macadamia trees 

Macadamia trees (Macadamia integrifolia) grow in rainforests and moist open forests in northern NSW and Queensland. In spring the tree is covered in long, fragrant racemes (flower clusters) made up of 50 pink or cream flowers - a pollinating insect’s dream! After flowering, the tree produces edible nuts, which we know as ‘macadamias’. Within the outer leathery green shell is a hard, brown nut and inside that is a delicious edible seed. 

Though the habitat in which Macadamias grow naturally has been nearly entirely cleared, there are around six million Macadamia trees in Australia. As Australia’s only native food tree export, Macadamias earn our country about $250 million dollars each year! But why are they so expensive?  The main reason for their value is that it takes seven to ten years for a tree to bear fruit, which means a lot of waiting time! Then, the nuts must be harvested by hand, making the process very labour-intensive. Have you ever cracked open a macadamia nut? Watch the video to see how it’s done.  

Have you ever cracked a macadamia nut? Watch the video to see how it's done.

Activities - A trio of trees

1. How tall is it? 

One famous eucalypt, the wonderful Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is the tallest flowering plant in the world. 

Can you guess how tall it grows?  Google the answer to see how close you were.  

2. Cracking it open 

Can you come up with a novel way to crack open a macadamia nut? The weirder the better! 

3. Fieldwork Children examining a tree with magnifying glass

Conduct some fieldwork in your school to identify any iconic trees. Do you have any Eucalypts, Figs or Macadamias in the playground? 

  1. Go for a walk and do some sensory observation - touch, smell, look, taste, listen. 
  2. Make a tally of the iconic trees.  
  3. Make a pictograph of the trees. 
  4. Record the size and shape of the trees by sketching (take paper, a pencil and watercolour paints on your walk). 
  5. Use a ruler to measure the size of the leaves, seeds and flowers. 
  6. If you’re feeling artistic, place the leaves under paper and rub over it with a crayon or soft pencil.

4. Getting to know your tree more

Choose one of the trees you found and answer the following questions:  

  1. What are the characteristics of the tree e.g. height, width, colour, shape? 
  2. What type of habitat does the tree trunk provide? 
  3. How is the foliage of this tree used by people and native animals? 
  4. What are some relationships between animals/humans and this tree? 
  5. Are there problematic species (weeds) in this area, taking nutrients from this tree? (e.g. Lantana, African Olive, Prickly Pear)  
  6. Do we need to plant more of these trees in our school?  
  7. What do you see when you look at a tree? Something to climb, make a table from, sit in its shade, make paper from, etc. 

5. Protecting your tree

Present your findings about your chosen tree to the class. Use persuasive language to explain why caring for this tree is important. Bonus points if you can use the words: sustainability, biodiversity, environment, resources, protection. 

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