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
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
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
Australian Plants Society of Tasmania
Society for Growing Australian Plants
Australian Plants Online
And the Rumbalaa-e site's
Woodman spare that chainsaw.