Thursday, March 7, 2013

In which I finally mention trees...

I finally, finally started learning some trees yesterday! I am in the Plant Identification and Conservation class here but so far the practical (lab) portion of the class has been learning about flower structure and how to "key out" plants based on different morphological characteristics. Unlike in North America, the large majority of trees here are flowering trees (as opposed to conifers like pines, spruces, and firs, which are evolutionarily... less advanced? Or less complex in terms of their reproduction. Anyway, they don't produce true flowers, just cones). And since eucalypts and acacias, both flowering trees, make up at least 50% of the trees here, and there are more than 800 species of eucalypts and 950 species of acacias in Australia, knowing a bit about flower part identification, flower buds, and fruits is critical to figuring out the species. So, unlike in Arizona where you can learn about the bark type, needles (or leaves), shape of cone (or flowers/fruits), and habitat, in Australia you can't just look at a tree and say "Oh, why that's a white gum!" (it may be a white gum, but so may twenty other species). So, before I actually got to really learn any trees, I had to sit in a lab looking at all the intimate flower, fruit, and bud parts, analyzing valves and discs and calyptras and hypangia. Not that any of you need to worry about these things. Point is, I finally got to walkaround and learn a few trees in my Plant ID class yesterday!

Here are a couple of eucalypts I learned yesterday to share with y'all.

Eucalyptus grandis aka flooded gum:
Looking at how the bark is from bottom to top also plays a factor in identification but, alas, is not fullproof when dealing with 800+ species whose flowers all look the same.

E. microcorys aka tallowwood:

This tree is exciting because it is a major food tree for koalas! I pass this tree every time I walk to campus and there are little koala terds under it so I'm going to have to keep an eye out. The bark is a beautiful reddish brown the comes off in fibrous chunks.

E. tereticornis aka forest red gum:
This is also an important koala food tree and one that I pass by occassionally. It grows all over campus but I'd never know if I was actually looking at this species until I analyze the fruits and buds since so many other eucalypts look so similar.
Lastly for today, E. pilularis aka blackbutt:

I would love to say I know these trees front and back and up and down, but... I only know that the individual ones I visited are what they are. For the rest, they may be what I learned, but they may also be one of a dozen other species. Whether it's a Eucalyptus microcorys or Pinus ponderosa, I do enjoy looking at and learning about trees :)

Here's another fun fact: Australia has native conifers mostly from the Cuppressaceae (cypress) and Araucariaceae (Jurassic and Cretaceous-era conifer family with only three funky-looking genera in Australia) families. There are NO native trees in Australia from the Pinaceae family (pine trees are actually kinda weedy here...hehe :) ) . HOWEVER, all the conifers that I have learned have the suffix "pine" attached to them, even the native cypresses! So instead of saying "cypress" or "hoop araucaria" or whatever, the trees are called "cypress pine" and "hoop pine" and "plum pine". Here's something else to add to the confusion: plum pine (Podocarpus spp.) is a conifer! Guess what I thought what I was looking at when I saw these leaves/needle things? It sure wasn't a conifer!:
Anyways, Australian conifers and I are gonna have to get to know each other a little better here soon. At least these other funky Jurassic trees look like conifers from a distance:
Hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii)

Bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii)

Wollemi pine (Araucaria nobilis)

Interestingly, the wollemi pine was thought to be extinct until 1994 when a small grove was discovered 200km west of Sydney. There are only about 100 trees growing in the wild, and for a small price, you too can have your own little wollemi pine! (This organization sells them to raise money for wollemi conservation but they also have a lot of interesting information about the tree).

Well, I hope I haven't bored you all to tears about trees. As some of you know, I get ridiculously excited when talking about trees. Ironically, just hours after I learned these eucalypts, I got to talk a bit about backburning in my EcoCultural Studies class, which is more about analyzing the relationship between humans and nature/anthropocentrism and the environment. But, as the resident forestry "expert" (ha!), my opinion was called upon in the example of backburning. Who knew I'd geek out about forestry in a social sciences class??

Until next time! Surfing was a blast and when I get the pictures back, I will update you all on how I rocked at it!

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