The blue amongst the green
One of my favourite trees at the Australian National Botanical Gardens is the Argyle Apple (Eucalyptus cinerea) on the Children’s Discovery Walk. Adorned with Gang Gang Cockatoos and many kinds of colourful plastic insects, it inspires little minds to explore the myriad life that trees support.
The Argyle Apple is a very attractive tree with thick rough red-brown to grey-brown bark and visually appealing opposite, blue (glaucous) juvenile which often persist on the adult trees. As such, it is a very popular street and garden tree, and its leaves often turn up in floral arrangements.
Its natural distribution is from north of Bathurst to the Beechworth area of Victoria, but the Goulburn region is its major ‘hotspot’. Its common name is derived from its occurrence in Argyle County, an early name for the Goulburn district. To see it in its natural habitat, I contacted Rodney Falconer, Vice President of the Goulburn Field Naturalists and author of the local native plant guide Down by the Riverside. Always happy to generously share his encyclopaedic knowledge of the area, he immediately offered to take me to Towrang, which was, he said ‘the Argyle Apple centre of the universe’.
I met Rodney on a brisk cold mid-winters day, and as we drove to ground zero, Rodney explained how the Argyle Apple grows on what the locals amusingly call ‘Shitite’ soils. These are shallow, stony and relatively infertile, compared to the deeper more fertile soils which support the more widespread Yellow Box / Red Gum Grassy Woodlands. ‘The Argyle Apple is mostly found on the midslope between the drier hill tops of Brittle Gum forest and the lowland grassy woodlands. It rarely dominates, instead forming a part of the woodland vegetation along with other eucalypt species’.
Arriving in Towrang, about 10 kilometres east of Goulburn we cruised along the roads outside of town. Sure enough there were Argyle Apples everywhere, including some beautiful remnant groves surrounded by farmland. The main thing I noticed was that many of the trees were often smaller and more twisted than those you see around Canberra, reflecting the poorer soils. The other thing I noticed was that all the trees we saw were either growing along the road sides or on private property. ‘Yes, unfortunately none of the Argyle Apples around here are protected in any kind of reserve’, confirmed Rodney. ‘So they are all at risk from clearing which highlights the need for conservation on private land’.
I later contacted the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to clarify its conservation status. It is found in a few protected areas, mainly in the inaccessible Tarlo River National Park and remote parts of Bungonia National Park. However, they confirmed it is not well represented in conservation reserves across its natural range.
Next time you travel along the Hume Hwy between between Goulburn and Marulan, look out for them growing alongside the road, the blue amongst the green. And stop at the Chownes VC Rest Area, a few kilomatres past the Towrang Rd turnoff along the northbound lane, for a closer look at these beautiful trees in their natural environment.
Written by Jo Lynch. Originally printed in ‘Fronds’, the newsletter of the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Garden Number 75, December 2014
Captions: E. cinerea on Children’s Discovery Walk ANBG; a grove of Argyle Apples near Towrang, NSW; Argyle Apple woodland vegetation, showing the more gnarly growth form of many of the trees; Juvenile foliage. Photos: J. Lynch