As a consulting arborist, much of my time is spent behind a keyboard, and my enjoyment of being among trees curtailed by the reality of office work. When I do venture out, it is often to view trees that have been compromised by the urban environment, or are earmarked for removal to make way for development. Every now and again however, I am fortunate to encounter a truly remarkable tree. Not long ago, I was asked by the local government to assess the condition of an old Algerian Oak (Quercus canariensies). What I encountered left me in awe and well compensated for the recent weeks spent in my office.
Located in a reserve in the outer east of Melbourne, the tree is truly spectacular on many levels. Its rounded canopy reaches to the ground and obscures the trunk making it difficult to scale, so that as you approach the tree does not readily relinquish the secret of its grandeur. I did not appreciate the tree’s size (it measures 22m in height and 36m across) until I stood beneath the canopy, where arching beams bend down and sweep the ground and ascending main limbs give the impression of being inside a great hall or cathedral. The ground beneath is blanketed in a deep layer of leaf mulch in which few oak seedling and the odd tuft of grass are the only greenery in the carpet of spent brown leaves. The tree has a stout trunk that trifurcates low, measuring a little over 7m in girth at just under 1m above grade. A later check of the Australian National Trust tree register and database places this tree well within the realm of the largest registered specimens, ranking among the largest specimens in of Algerian Oak in Australia and almost certainly in excess of 100 years of age.
An adjacent Algerian Oak, maturing and well sized in its own right sits just to the north of this champion tree. It appears diminutive by comparison, having been truly overwhelmed by its dominant neighbour, and it now is relegated to providing a prop to several limbs of its dominant neighbour which, as they have grown over their little neighbour have grafted with branches in its upper crown.
Not a perfect specimen and certainly not untouched, the main branching union between the three primary limbs immediately atop the trunk, having developed included bark at the common attachment point, partially failed several decades ago, resulting in the development of a cavity within the trunk. The tree has responded to the partial failure by producing reactive growth, accelerating thickening of the trunk. The arborists of the day responded by installing no less than thirteen cables that resemble a ropes course draped through the canopy. The tree, unmoved by the episode continues to thrive and is of exceptional vigour.
Growing in an obscure corner of the park the tree is set between adjoining neighbouring properties and hemmed in on two and a bit sides by a gravel road. Having been fenced in some time ago, it has all but engulfed the reserve, seeming to claim it entirely as its own. It is now at risk of being itself compromised by the surrounding land use with calls to “tuck in” the sides of the lower canopy, the branches of which threaten to scratch passing vehicles. Move the road I say, and give the veteran tree all the space it requires! We do not know how long the species can live in Melbourne, though in its natural habitat it can well exceed 200 years. There is every chance this grand specimen, if given the opportunity will be standing tall long after I am gone.Download fact sheet