A personal diary about life in a country town, Bungendore NSW Australia

  20 September 2003

Now you see it, now you don't. Roadside clearing removed this beautiful sample of the native cherry. It just so much tidier now.
Road(side) Rage 

On our daily trip to work from Bungendore we pass out of NSW into the ACT at the top of Smiths Gap, exit the ACT at the Molongolo River and finally enter again when leaving Quenbeyan. That means that along a 15 km stretch, responsibility for roads and forest areas gets a bit confusing. the City of Quenbeyan handle the fringes of town Yarrowlumla Shire handles the bits outside Queanbeyan, and the ACT Government the areas in the middle. (Even the police have trouble with things such as different penalties for traffic infringements between them.)

'Hazard reduction' is big at the moment in the ACT and the roadside maintenance crews are doing an admirable job of cleaning up fallen branches and leaves. It has meant that we've had to stop at times over the last week in the morning and wait for the single lane traffic to be allowed past the cherry pickers and the mulchers. (Why is peak hour the peak time for road work?)

They've been very diligent about the task, also removing scrubby trees on the verges and overhead branches and dead trees that might fall on the road if there was a fire. In their assiduous application of the reduction of hazards they removed the stuffed koala toy that was gaffer taped to a high branch along the road (along with the branch). It always raised a smile when you pointed it out to visitors. But they also did something that wasn't remotely funny.

At the top of Smiths Gap, just fifty metres into the ACT, they cut down one of the best specimens of the 'native cherry' trees that grow along that road into town. And I can't understand why.

While the tree is called a native cherry, it looks nothing like a cherry tree other than having red edible fruit (that in the seven years I've driven past them, I've never noticed). It is also known as 'cherry ballart', the botanical name is exocarpus cupressiformus. Like the best descriptive Latin names, this one tells you that its fruit is external (exo or exeo) to the nut or fruit (carpus) and it looks like (formus) a cypress (cupressi).

It belongs to the family Santalaceae or Sandalwood and varieties are widespread in Australia and Tasmania but cupressiformus is the most common. It withstands tough conditions but grows very well when there is water. It has the characteristic of being parasitic, but unlike mistletoe, it seems to just use the roots of nearby trees to extract nutrients without harming them. This has made it hard to grow in gardens from seed which is a pity as it's very attractive. There is apparently even commercial potential for the fruit but only trees that are transplanted along with the host plant it is attached to seem to survive. This makes cutting them down along the roadside a seem that much more thoughtless act. Botanical knowledge isn't something road crews are famous for.

Adrian Notman in the Rumbalar-e website's Bushtucker section records that the tree was named in 1792,  (that's named as European, the Australian aborigines obviously knew it, and its fruits a lot earlier).

"On the 9th of May 1792, during a voyage in search of missing French Mariner La Perouse. Labillardiere, a French naturalist, while on the coast of Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), recorded in his diary finding "an evergreen tree which has its nut situated like that of the Acajou (cashew), upon a fleshy receptacle much larger than its self. I therefore name this new genus Exocarpos".

While a web search doesn't list it as a currently commercially  available wood, apparently ...

In the early days of  European settlement the timber was used for making cabinets and today, even golf clubs. Woodturners use it under the name “cherry pine”.

You can read more about the 'cherry ballart' (that name was not explained in my searches) at the following sites

Australian Plants Society of Tasmania
Society for Growing Australian Plants Australian Plants Online
And the Rumbalaa-e site's Bushtucker section

Woodman spare that chainsaw.

 


 

 

 

 

 



Understandably since the January bush fires that I wrote about here.





 


There are no leaves, just small scales on the branch tips.


The seed or nut unripe (September)


The ripe fruit. (Summer to Autumn) This image is from a great resource for Australian plants from Farrer University, ASGAP. There was no photo credit.

 

There's a book on Labillardiere from Melbourne University Press.








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Bungendore Country Diary by Fred Harden