Our forgotten woodland plants
Posted on 2 June, 2021 by Ivan
Hats off to anyone who has been working hard to restore and replenish our treasured landscapes. We love where we live, and we especially appreciate efforts to restore our fragmented natural woodlands and increase habitat for our local wildlife. It is pleasing to see the return of many trees and shrubs through numerous revegetation efforts, and also from natural regeneration following removal of livestock grazing.
The powerhouses of our current landscape are often the mighty Eucalyptus trees of multiple species. Often the focus of revegetation and restoration efforts, Eucalypts provide enormous habitat value to many animals large and small. However, they are only part of a healthy ecosystem. A recent update to the article titled ‘Forgotten woodlands, future landscapes‘ (originally published in 2013) by Ian Lunt reminded us of the missing elements of our current day woodlands. Ian points out that historical evidence shows us other plant species once dominated our local environment in central Victoria.
The article is an excellent read, well-researched, and points out that two hundred years ago, another group of trees – Honeysuckle, Oak, Lightwood and Cherry – formed extensive woodlands across many parts of south-east Australia. Today we call these trees Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata), Wild Cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis), and Lightwood (Acacia implexa) or Blackwood (A. melanoxylon).
This work supports Connecting Country’s evidence-based approach to landscape restoration. Many of our on-ground projects over the past decade have worked to rebalance our woodlands, and return the missing shrubs and prickly plants that once were prevalent in the landscape. These small trees and shrubs provide essential food, nesting sites, and shelter from predators for our threatened woodland birds and other small animals.
Please read on for an extract of the article, courtesy of Ian Lunt.
Forgotten woodlands, future landscapes
Picture a gorgeous woodland in the early 1800s. What do you see? Majestic gum trees with bent old boughs, golden grasses, a mob of sheep or kangaroos, and a forested hill in the distance? The luminous landscape of a Hans Heysen painting, perhaps.
It’s an iconic Aussie landscape. But something’s missing. The trees are wrong. Or at least, they aren’t all there.
Two hundred years ago, another group of trees – Honeysuckle, Oak, Lightwood and Cherry – formed extensive woodlands across many parts of south-east Australia. Today we call these trees Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata), Wild Cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis), and Lightwood (Acacia implexa) or Blackwood (A. melanoxylon).
Did you picture a woodland dominated by any of these species? If not, I wonder why. Do we picture eucalypt woodlands because eucalypts now dominate our local bush? In doing so, did we forget the felled species and remember the hardy and persistent?
Indigenous Australians and early white explorers and settlers knew these woodlands well. William Howitt extolled the beautiful Sheoak and Banksia woodlands near Melbourne:
… nearly all the trees were shiacks [she oaks], — not the eternal gum-trees, — and these, interspersed with Banksias, now in fresh foliage, and new pale yellow cones, or rather bottle-brushes, with a sprinkling of gums and golden wattles, gave what you rarely see in that country, a variety of foliage and hue. (HOWITT 1858, P. 206)
Early surveyors inscribed combinations of ‘oak, honeysuckle and gum’ across many survey plans, as on this early map of Mount Alexander in central Victoria. Mount Alexander is still covered by bush, but it’s now dominated by eucalypts, not Silver Banksia. I wonder how many honeysuckles survive on the range, and how far away the nearest large population might be?
To read the full article on Ian Lunt’s website – click here