We owe a lot to trees. Not only do they produce the oxygen we breathe but they are also carbon sequesters that remove and trap carbon from the atmosphere, helping to green our nation and buffer us from the impacts of climate change. Clearly, the more of us there are, the more of them we need.
National Tree Day, celebrated annually, is a great initiative to encourage all Australians to consider trees more deeply and to plant more native species. Founded in 1996 by Planet Ark, the day has now become so popular that it is Australia’s largest community tree-planting event. Annually, around 300,000 Aussies roll up their sleeves, step on a shovel and plant a tree on this day.
What species should you plant?
Clockwise from top: Summer red gum, smooth-barked apple; lemon-scented myrtle; native frangipani. Images: Imagvixen, Getty Images/Canva NFP; Karen H Black, Getty Images/Canva NFP; Karen H Black, Getty Images/Canva NFP; N Nehring, Getty Images/Canva NFP.
Of course, Australia is renowned for its diversity of eucalypts. From a conservation perspective, these species are Australian tree royalty and the mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is the king. Its species epithet means ‘ruling’ because it is the world’s tallest flowering plant. Specimens tower above 100 m in Tasmania and Victoria. Other eucalypts that are essential to our ecosystems are hollow-bearing gums such as manna gums, river red gums and scribbly gums.
Unfortunately, many Australians who occupy suburban blocks won’t have space to plant these larger species (although if you do, please consider them). But if you’re considering adding some natives to your garden, we’ve created a handy list of tree and shrub species you might consider.
And to plant the seed of the importance of our flora, we have also created this fun kids’ activity for you to share with budding botanists (answers are on final page).
Trees are the silent ‘givers’ of ecosystems
Ecologically, of course, all native flora plays an outsized role. Plants are autotrophic primary producers that are able to acquire energy from sunlight and convert it into food and shelter for a multitude of heterotrophic species—including us.
Clockwise from top: Mammals including the green possum, koala, spotted-tailed quoll and Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo are heavily dependent on particular trees within their territories. Images: Coral_Brunner, Getty Images/Canva NFP; Alizada Studies, Getty Images/Canva NFP; Craig RJD, Getty Images/Canva NFP; ozflash, Getty Images/Canva NFP.
Beneath the earth, tree roots, coupled with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, generate an astonishing communications network. Trees also provide shade, knit together soil with their roots, protect arboreal species, and bear fruit, flowers and even symbiotic fungi that have nourished wildlife and First Australians for millennia.
Mammals including the green possum, koala, spotted-tailed quoll and Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo are heavily dependent on particular trees within their territories.
Major Mitchell’s cockatoos, pardalotes and powerful owls shelter in hollows, and a plethora of other birds nest and roost in their branches. Reptiles and insects dwell under bark or lurk in gnarls or crevices.
When you consider how amazing the 24,000-odd tree species found on this continent really are, we really should celebrate them more than once a year!