Wildflowers - Casuarinas (She-oaks)

Submitted: Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 14:11
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One of the most striking vistas for me around the Centre, especially on the road between Uluru and Kata Tjuta is the sight of the Desert Oaks (Allocasuarina decaisneana) in all its stages of growth. The juveniles are almost comical with their single straight trunk sprouting short branches giving them a hairy triffid or feather duster appearance.

Image Could Not Be FoundThe juveniles remain like this until their long tap roots reach water, about 30 metres down, which may be 20 to 30 years and then they transform to beautiful, many-branched, 12metre tall adults.

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The Desert Oak ranges from as far north as Bililuna at the northern end of the Canning Stock Route to between the Mann and Musgrave Ranges in South Australia. (It was used for well construction on the CSR between 1908 and 1910.) Its stands tend to run in lines across the country and is mostly found in swales in red sand with spinifex groundcover. Some she-oaks have male and female parts on separate plants and others have male and female parts on each plant. The Desert Oak has male and female on separate plants and its cones are the largest of all the species.

Most Australians know the she-oak with its gracefully hanging needles ssshhhhing in the breeze or making a soft carpet beneath the tree. But she-oaks, Casuarinas and Allocasuarinas, are neither oak nor pine. They are of the family Casuarinaceae which is not closely related to any other family. They can be found on a wide variety of habitats from coastal foreshores to desolate rocky sites or swampy flats and are also found in nearby Pacific islands and SE Asia. The genus Casuarina was split some years ago and now 5 species of Casuarina and 58 species of Allocasuarina are recognised in Australia.

The name Casuarina (or Allocasuarina, "Allos" meaning like Casuarina) is derived from the Malay word for cassowary, ‘Kasuari’ and refers to the foliage which is said to resemble the cassowary's quills.

She-oak was a name given by early colonial craftsmen who considered it inferior for joinery! However, it became widely acclaimed for its beauty in fine inlay work and small items such as boxes.

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The Shrubby She-oak (A. distyla) above, grows in NSW from south of Port Stephens to the ranges east of Cooma and usually grows 2 to 3 metres tall. Shown are the flowers and branchlets. In this case the branchlets stand up rather than hang down. If you look closely, or better still, under a magnifying glass, on each needle or branchlet you will see evenly spaced joints. These are scale-like leaves which encircle the branchlet and the number of leaves in each whorl is the best way of to identify the species. Young eyes and steady hands are best for this task! It is easy to count the Desert Oak leaf-teeth as there are only 4.


Most Casuarinas flower in early spring. The female flowers are usually small red, fluffy globules and grow along the branches. When mature the bracts become woody to form the characteristic woody cone. Male flowers are usually insignificant, brown, elongated spikes and grow on the ends of the branchlets. Plants produce a large amount of pollen which is dispersed by wind.


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The A. torulosa (sorry for misspelling in pic above) has many common names. It grows from NE Qld to SE NSW in wet sclerophyll forest and on the margins of rain forest. Note the beautiful cones.

Mature she-oaks are generally protected from fire by their thick bark but can be killed by hot fires if there is a build-up of litter. During fire they shed their seeds and with suitable conditions, prolific germination occurs after on the sterile nutrient rich ash bed. Damaged trees regenerate by buds that lie dormant under the bark (epicormic buds) which grow when the tree is defoliated (in the same way that Eucalypts do).

Once successfully germinated the dense mass of seedlings crowd out other native plants. Young she-oaks need to have at least 5 to 7 years of growth before they start to produce seed bearing cones and at least 10 years before they have a reasonable number of cones in their canopy.

I understand that the Wooly Oak or Stringybark She-oak (below) which is predominantly and inland species of northern NSW and southern QLD does not tolerate fire well.

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The craft wood potential of the hard, beautifully grained, reddish timber was recognised by early settlers and exported to England. Here it was treated as a prized wood, only to be used sparingly on highly prized projects. She-oak was used as roof shingles and axe handles and to construct kegs and casks. Aboriginal people used it for making spears and clubs and young she-oak cones were chewed to promote salvia in dry mouths, as they travelled through the hot, dry landscape. Water could be extracted from the roots.

Give me a campsite near a clump of she-oaks with a gentle breeze murmuring through the branches. Complete the scene with red sand and a glimpse of ancient hills in the distance. Paradise.

I look forward to seeing your pics of Casuarinas.

Min
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Reply By: Member - John T (Tamworth NSW) - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 16:00

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 16:00
John and Min

This is one of my favourite pic's taken out there in 2008 - on the way to Rainbow Valley. It has everything I love about that country (except a waterhole to camp next to)

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Follow Up By: Member - Min (NSW) - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 16:21

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 16:21
John,
A great pic, and so is the one on the Darling - superb.
Min
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Follow Up By: Member Boroma 604 - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 16:26

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 16:26
Gooday,
The desert Oaks fascinate me also, this is a photo of an Avenue of them i took on The Great Central Road in August 2011.

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Follow Up By: Member Boroma 604 - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 16:31

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 16:31
Gooday,
The previous photos got away from me before I was ready, the Grass Tree would be the most magnificent specimen I have ever seen, also on the Great Central in August as well as the Desert Kurrajong on this page.
Cheers,
Thomas J.

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Follow Up By: Member - reggy 2 (VIC) - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 20:06

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 20:06
Nice photo Thomas of Kurrajong and outfit ,but you must be travelling in the future , going so fast LOL
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Follow Up By: Member - Min (NSW) - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:01

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:01
Hi Boroma,
Great pics. I know that Kurrajong we stopped there too. Love the GCR, we did it in 2009 and can't wait to do it again. I can't understand why people say there is nothing to see. Blind.
Min
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 20:30

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 20:30
Hi Min

Another great story to add to Val's list. Well done and here are some pictures of Desert Oaks taken from various desert locations from South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. They are a great tree and a true symbol of the desert and make the most perfect camps. They is nothing better that laying back in the swag and hearing the wind blowing gently through the leaves.


Cheers

Stephen

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Follow Up By: Member - Min (NSW) - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:11

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:11
Hi Stephen,
Thanks so much for those lovely pics. Maybe I can take better photos in the future with my new camera (still just an aim and fire but a good one).

Wish we could have seen your Sturt Desert Peas, must have been a sight. Every time we tried to get up your way recently the weather/closed roads stopped us.

Thanks for the updates on the BVT and ferry.

Min
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 23:50

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 23:50
Hi Min

You would have loved the Sturt Peas at Roxby Downs, they were unreal.

As for photos of trees and flowers in desert locations, it is not until Val started this great little segment that you do not realise the pictures that we have taken in the past, could be put to good uses years later.

It has made me rethink our bush trips and will take a closer look at the vegetation next time and better photos.

The updates on the BVT and ferry have gone on far longer than I ever thought and now looks like it could be most of 2011 as well.


You have done a great story.



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Stephen
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 09:16

Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 09:16
Hi Stephen,

You have some stunning photos there, I particularly like the first one on the Gunbarrel, just beautiful.

You make a good point about the photos we have taken over the years. I spent a lot of time last night finding one of the photos in my post. But in the process I found a fair few other shots that will be useful in the future! What wonderful things are digital cameras ... providing the photo filing system is up to date.

Cheers,

Val
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Follow Up By: Member - Michael P (QLD) - Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 09:50

Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 09:50
Hi Val,
See what you have started.
Amazing!

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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 10:52

Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 10:52
Hi Michael,

Guilty as charged - good fun though!

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: equinox - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:13

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:13
Some from the Gibson Desert:

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Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:13

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:13
On the track to Kurlkuta.
Who knows where that is? :-)




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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:38

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:38
Not me! Can you enlighten us?

Cheers,

Val

BTW is there anywhere the Okka has not been !
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Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 07:08

Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 07:08
NW of Tjukurla :-) .............................................(Sandy Blight Junction Road).

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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:26

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 21:26
Hi Min,

Casuarinas are indeed beautiful and useful trees. You mention their use for fine cabinet work and shingles. Casuarina torulosa, the Forest Oak is regarded as one of the best for shingles – Timbertown, near Wauchope on the NSW mid north coast used to put on a good demonstration of shingle splitting. Im not sure whether Timbertown is still functioning as a tourist operation; it used to be a good place for a visit.

Casuarinas were also much sought after as fuel wood, especially by bakers. The timber apparently burns with an even temperature, and not too hot, but retaining heat well. It also burns away to a small amount of white ash, making the task of firebox cleaning that bit easier. I have heard it said that the eastern shore of Lake George was once covered with quite a forest of Casuarina cunninghamiana, the River She-Oak, but it was used to fuel the trains back in the days of steam locomotives. Hence there is not much Casuarina forest left there today. Image Could Not Be Found

As a camper who loves a modest campfire I look out for any Casuarina wood if it is about. I can vouch for the small amount of residual white ash it leaves in the fire pit that is often quite warm the next morning.

The ability of Casuarinas to withstand fire is interesting. After the Canberra fires of 2003 many of the beautiful River She Oaks were badly burnt and there was a search for any information that would shed some light on whether they would resprout. Sadly only a few recovered.Image Could Not Be Found

The memorable sshhhhing sound of wind in casuarinas is said to be caused by the wind blowing over tiny grooves that run along the branchlets – a bit like blowing across the top of a bottle. These grooves help regulate the loss of water from the branchlets, helping Casuarinas to withstand dry or salty conditions.

Casuarinas are used quite a lot for street planting and as horticultural subjects, in Canberra at least. The River She-Oak is quite hardy away from water, as is the Swamp Oak, Casuarina glauca. (Apologies if some of these have been renamed Allocasuarina!).

The Desert Oaks are remarkable and beautiful trees, but the River She-Oaks and the coastalImage Could Not Be Found C. equisetifolia are beautiful too – I would be hard pressed to choose between them for beauty and elegance. A couple of other species deserve a mention. Buloke or Bull Oak (C. leuhmannii) is an erect tree found in inland NSW forming forests withgrey box and cypress pine. Belah (C. cristata)is found in similar areas but extends west into WA.

I have fond memories of childhood Christmases celebrated around a big freshly cut Casuarina tree that reached to the ceiling and smelled wonderful as the branchlets dried out. A real bush Christmas. I wonder why we don’t grow Casuarinas instead of pine trees for Christmas trees?


Cheers,

Val

A few images of Desert Oaks
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Follow Up By: Member - Min (NSW) - Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 22:38

Friday, Jan 14, 2011 at 22:38
Hi John and Val,

I'm amazed by yours and everyone's beautiful photos. It is wonderful to see that so many people who may not necessarily have a great focus on wildflowers are still moved to take photos of them.

You are so right, there are many species that could be added to the list and many uses, past and present for Casuarinas, not least as beautiful additions to our own gardens. For example, Allocasuarina nana only grows to 1 metre high, is frost hardy and requires little water.

Being conscious of wildflowers and stopping to examine them and learn about them adds another dimension to our travels all around this country.

Thank you for your initiative in starting this series on the forum.

Min
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Reply By: Member - John Baas (WA) - Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 01:05

Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 01:05
Another Sunset Shot. Near Well 18 CSR.

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Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 07:21

Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 07:21
At Pennyfather, Cape York.


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Peter
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Follow Up By: Member - John and Val - Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 09:20

Saturday, Jan 15, 2011 at 09:20
Now thats what I'd call a really useful tree!

Cheers,

Val
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