Lo­cal hero

The golden hues of Tas­ma­nia’s south­ern beech forests in au­tumn

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

Each au­tumn, usu­ally around An­zac Day, streams of cars head to Mount Field Na­tional Park and Cra­dle Moun­tain. The draw­card is the ‘turn­ing of the fa­gus’. That isn’t a strange Scot­tish fes­ti­val down un­der, but the name for the spec­ta­cle of Tas­ma­nia’s only de­cid­u­ous fo­liage tree, the south­ern beech (Nothofa­gus gun­nii) or fa­gus, as it’s known lo­cally, turn­ing from green to glo­ri­ous gold.

Nothofa­gus is a genus of South­ern Hemi­sphere trees and shrubs that trace their lin­eage back to when the su­per­con­ti­nent known as Gond­wana dom­i­nated the world. As this split into sev­eral parts, in­clud­ing those we now know as Aus­tralia, New Cale­do­nia, New Guinea, New Zealand and South Amer­ica, different species of Nothofa­gus clung to different re­gions.

There are three species of this genus that are na­tive to Aus­tralia. They are Tas­ma­nia’s de­cid­u­ous south­ern beech (N. gun­nii), the ever­green myr­tle beech (N. cun­ning­hamii), which oc­curs nat­u­rally in Tas­ma­nia and Vic­to­ria, and the Antarc­tic beech (N. moorei), which grows along the east coast of Aus­tralia from south-east Queens­land to the north­ern table­lands of New South Wales.

Na­tive Nothofa­gus spp. re­sem­ble the North­ern Hemi­sphere beech (Fa­gus spp.) for which the genus is named. ‘Notho’ means false and ‘fa­gus’ refers to the name of the Eu­ro­pean beech genus.

grow­ing tips

South­ern beech grows in gar­dens in cool-cli­mate zones with deep, fer­tile soil and reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing. Trees take full sun or part shade but pre­fer al­ti­tudes above 300m. N. gun­nii can be prop­a­gated ei­ther from fresh seed or cut­tings. Take cut­tings in win­ter while the trees are leaf­less.

As it is a small, slow-grow­ing tree that reaches just 2–6m in height, N. gun­nii is also suit­able to grow in a large pot in a shel­tered lo­ca­tion. Its nat­u­rally gnarled and slow growth also makes it an ideal can­di­date for bon­sai. Se­lect a good qual­ity acidic pot­ting mix for pot-grown trees. En­sure the pots are well drained, but keep an eye on them to make sure the pot­ting mix doesn’t dry out.

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