Canberra has long been referred to as a Garden City and Bush Capital in recognition of its surrounding land and urban forest which has been strategically planned over 100 years. The incredible range of species found throughout our city is part of its heritage and character. Trees that contribute to our city’s history and character are so important to us that we have a register to protect them, and we’re now home to a living collection of around 48,000 trees across 94 forests at the National Arboretum. If we had to pick the stars of Canberra’s urban forest and those that influence its character it would be the Elms, Plane trees, Oaks and Eucalypts.
Elm trees in Australia are regarded as some of the most significant elm trees in the world. This is largely due to the Dutch elm disease pandemic that swept through Europe, killing a vast majority of the older species. Now, the mature Elm trees in Australia are some of the oldest there are. It’s important to care for these trees and make sure they’re not destroyed by Elm leaf beetles. There are several species of Elm in Canberra, but the main ones are the American, English, Scotch and Chinese. The American elm is a beautiful looking tree that is a very popular choice in suburbia because of its tendency to arch across the street. The English elm, which can be found in Canberra’s Glebe Park, is a grand species with a broad-spreading canopy. The Chinese elm is a graceful tree, known for its weeping form and attractive bark. Interestingly, Chinese elms are not attacked by Elm leaf beetle, unlike other northern hemisphere Elm species.
London and Oriental plane trees are a common tree species for urban areas because of their tolerance of pollution and soil compaction. They can grow into large and attractive shade trees on favourable sites – Green Square, Kingston is home to a particularly grand Oriental plane tree. There are also three London planes in Manuka that are quite unique – the size and spread of their canopies are contained using a tree pruning technique called pollarding. During a trip to Japan in 1946, Canberra’s Superintendent of Parks and Gardens Lindsay Pryor witnessed this tree pruning technique and directed the pruning of the trees upon his return. Trees pruned in this fashion are actually quite a rare sight in Australia.
Like Elms, there are several species of Oak in Canberra but the three most common are Pin oak, Red oak and English oak. Pin oaks and Red oaks are well-known for their stunning autumn colour. Spectacular examples of the Red oak can be seen in Canberra’s north on Edkins Street, Downer. English oaks are common throughout Canberra, but there is one in particular that has historical significance. Located on the corner of Capital Circle and Kings Avenue is “The Duke”, planted by the Duke of York (later known as King George VI) during a visit to Canberra in 1927. An additional 78 English oaks were planted in the area during the Great Depression and became to be known as York Park. Cork oaks are less common throughout suburban Canberra, but there is a large plantation at the National Arboretum, which has been listed on the ACT Sites of Significance Register. Cork oaks can also be found between fairways 18 and 27 at the Royal Canberra Golf Club, outside the Australian Federal Police College and in Telopea Park opposite Manuka Swimming Pool.
Canberra’s most prominent genus is Eucalyptus which heavily blankets our hills and higher land. Canberra’s urban areas were primarily treeless grazing land 100 years ago and many Eucalypts you see in the area have been planted as part of urban development. Tuggeranong in particular is home to a lot of Eucalypts and were a strategic planning decision to retain indigenous character of the area, and in recognition that natives were more cost effective to maintain in our climate. With Canberra’s unreliable rainfall patterns and the forecast of more frequent extreme heat waves, Eucalypts are likely to feature strongly in future plantings. Eucalyptus is an amazingly resilient and adaptable genus and one of the best in the world at regulating water loss through their leaves during dry periods. This ability allows Eucalypts to thrive in our hot dry summers where some of their northern hemisphere friends wilt and suffer.