Canberra is renowned for its urban greenery, so much so that it has been named as the Bush Capital and Garden City of Australia. There’s not a street within the city and its suburbs that isn’t tree-lined and there are now approximately 48,000 trees dotting the ACT, its 94 forests, green belts and arboretum. It’s difficult to define the city’s most common trees due to the vast number, but the few that stand out as some of the most popular include the Eucalypts, Oaks, Elms and Plane Trees.
The humble Eucalypt is Australia’s most famous and prolific tree, and in Canberra, this is no exception. Canberra’s elevated land is carpeted with a number of Eucalyptus species and Tuggeranong in particular has a high percentage of these proud natives. It’s no secret that Eucalyptus trees are an Aussie domestic species, but many of Canberra’s Eucalypts were planted as part of the city’s strategic planning endeavour, in order to preserve the Indigenous character of the area. With Canberra’s dwindling rainfalls and increased heat over the last few decades, the decision to plant natives is a great idea. If you’d like a hardy, adaptable species of tree in your own garden, you can’t go wrong with a small species of Eucalyptus, such as the Eucalyptus preissiana — aka the bell-fruited mallee — which only grows to a maximum height of 4 metres (trust me, that’s small for a Eucalypt). This attractive and resilient tree grows well in the area and has bright yellow flowers and interesting bell-shaped gumnuts.
There are a number of beautiful Oak species throughout Canberra, with English Oak, Red Oak and Pink Oak being the most prolific and Cork Oaks also making an appearance. English Oaks are dotted throughout the city and 78 were planted during the Great Depression in what is now known as York Park. There is even an historically famous English Oak known as ‘The Duke’, which was planted in 1927 by King George VI (who was at the time the Duke of York). The Duke is located on the corner of Kings Avenue and Capital Circle.
Pink and Red Oaks are also prevalent throughout the city – especially on Canberra’s north side. These stunning trees are known for their radiant red and pink hues throughout the autumn months. Unlike their bright relatives, there are not as many Cork Oaks lining the city’s streets; however, this amazing tree can be found at the Arboretum — where there’s a large plantation of them — at the Australian Federal Police College and at the Royal Canberra Golf Club, to name a few places. The Cork Oak is of course the tree that produces bottling corks! The species bark is stripped off to produce cork and unlike many other trees, the bark then regrows, making this a completely renewable producer!
Most people don’t realise that Australia is home to some of the oldest Elm Trees in the world! This is because the Dutch Elm Fungi Disease pandemic killed off most of Europe’s older Elm species, leaving our island-bound trees safe and sound. This is truly a fact to be proud of and the fact that Canberra has so many Elms lining its streets makes Australia’s capital an important place for tree enthusiasts and admirers alike. Unfortunately, the Dutch Elm Disease (which is a fungus carried by the Elm Leaf Beetle) has come as close as New Zealand, which is why it’s vitally important to get your trees checked if you see any pest infestations and also abide by our strict import laws to ensure this doesn’t happen here.
Canberra is home to English, American, Chinese and Scotch Elms. Glebe Park’s English Elms offer abundant shade and beauty, whereas you’ll recognise the other species around the city by their huge canopies, which either arc across the road (American and Scotch Elm) or weep gracefully (Chinese Elm). Regardless of the species, this important tree is stunning and well worth planting on your own property, if you have the space.
The beautiful Plane Tree is, unfortunately, another species that has been heavily affected by fungus in other parts of the world, which makes Canberra’s Plane Tree population another point of pride for our city’s botanists. Another unique local feature of these trees is that in 1946, Canberra’s Superintendent of Parks and Gardens, Lindsay Pryor, witnessed a unique form of pruning called pollarding and decided to adopt it here. Pollarding causes the canopy to form into a dense-yet-cropped form, kind of like a buzz cut for trees, and this is quite a rare method for Australia. Examples of Pollarding can be seen on the London Plane Trees in Manuka, but if you’d prefer to experience the Plane Tree in all its glory, there’s an Oriental variety in Green Square, Kingston, that offers perfect shade for a picnic.