Australia’s Favourite Tree: the contenders

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Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) — a long-lived wattle with cream ball-shaped flowers. Native to eastern states and SA, it’s now also found in WA, often as a feature or shade tree. Blackwood is used for furniture and guitars; and by Indigenous people for food, medicine and weapons.

Boab (Adansonia gregorii) — found in the Kimberly, WA and western NT, Australia’s boab has a huge bottle-shaped trunk that stores water: just one of the reasons this is an important tree for the local Indigenous people. The boab is deciduous during the dry season.

Bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii) — a large, symmetrical ancient conifer native to Qld. It has huge cones containing large, delicious seeds traditionally roasted and eaten by Indigenous people. Weighing up to 10kg, these cones can be a hazard when they fall.

Coastal tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) — a bushy shrub or small tree found over much of Australia’s coast – especially the south-east, although in WA it’s an environmental weed. It has lovely white, five-petalled flowers.

Coolabah (Eucalyptus coolabah) — made famous by the song ‘Waltzing Matilda’, the name comes from the Yuwaalayaay (and neighbouring) language group and the tree was widely used by Indigenous people. It has rough bark on the trunk and smooth bark on the branches above.

Cypress pine (Callitris glaucophylla) — common across mainland Australia, this native conifer contains substances that make it termite-resistant. Indigenous people use it for its insect-repellent and medicinal properties. It thrives best under Indigenous fire-management practices.

Darwin woollybutt (Eucalyptus miniata) — this tropical tree is native to northern Australia. It has orange/red blossoms that come out in winter, a rough fibrous-flaky bark on its on trunk, and is smooth further up. It’s important for controlling erosion, bird nesting and honey production.

Deciduous beech (Nothofagus gunnii) — found in the temperate rainforests of Tas, this is one of Australia’s few native deciduous native plants. The leaves of this small tree turn vibrant yellow, pink, orange or red in autumn. It’s part of a plant group that once covered the ancient continent of Gondwana .

Illawarra flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius) — immortalised in the Cold Chisel song ‘Flame Trees’, this spectacular deciduous native tree erupts in bright red bell-shaped flowers in late spring, followed by large seed pods that can be cooked on a fire and eaten.

Ghost gum (Corymbia aparrerinja) — often large trees, ghost gums can be found in open woodland areas in Central Australia. They have smooth white bark and cream flowers and tend to be solitary trees. Ghost gums are featured in the paintings of Indigenous artist Albert Namatjira.

Golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) — native to the south-east of mainland Australia, the golden wattle is also a weed in other areas. Its profuse golden blooms adorn our coat-of-arms as a national emblem, and are used for perfume and honey. 

Grey mangrove (Avicennia marina) — found in intertidal areas around the fringe of Australia’s mainland, the grey mangrove plays an important role in ecosystems by stabilising riverbanks, filtering sediment and creating habitats for waterbirds and juvenile fish. Its aerial roots are its most distinguishing feature.

Gungurru (Eucalyptus caesia) — best known through the cultivated variety ‘silver princess’, a name that celebrates the silvery-white powder covering its branches and flower buds. This WA tree is also well known for its beautiful pink and red flowers. It has a weeping shape and is often seen as a feature tree in gardens.

Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii) — this ancient conifer is only found in the rainforests and swamps of Tas. It’s very slow growing, taking about 500 years to reach maturity, and can live for thousands of years. Its timber is used for boat-building and furniture making, and has an unmistakeable perfume.

Karri (Eucalyptus diversicolor) — growing up to 90 metres tall, the karri is one of the tallest tree species in the world. It’s found in forests in south-west WA, with a pale trunk that changes colour as it ages, and white flowers (important for honey production). Its wood is prized for building and furniture.

Macadamia tree (Macadamia integrifolia) — also known as the Queensland nut, this tree provides the delicious edible macadamia nut that Australia is famous for. It grows naturally in the coastal rainforests of the Qld – NSW border region. The nuts were traded by Indigenous people.

Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla) — this mid-east coast native is a well-known feature of parks and gardens across Australia. It is a banyan, which means it can grow from seeds that land in the canopy of a host tree, growing roots towards the ground, and eventually strangling the host. Figs are only pollinated by fig wasps.

Mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) — this giant is the world’s tallest flowering tree: the largest individual living tree, named Centurion, stands 100.5 metres tall in Tas. Growing naturally in forests in Vic and Tas, it regenerates only from seed and is often killed by bushfire.

Mulga wattle (Acacia aneura) — a large acacia widespread in arid regions and vital to Indigenous people in Central and Western Australia. Its seeds can be used to make seedcakes and its wood for digging sticks, woomeras, shields, bowls and spears.

Old man banksia (Banksia serrata) — this east coast native grows on sandy soil as an often- gnarly tree or woody shrub. Named after its serrated leaves, this is one of the species collected by Sir Joseph Banks from Botany Bay in 1770. It’s an important food for animals including honeyeaters.

Paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia) — known as the broad-leaf paperbark, this tree has thick, papery bark that peels in sheets, and fluffy white autumn flowers. The bark was used by Indigenous people for baby blankets. It’s native to Australia’s eastern coast.

Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) — found widely in the deserts in central and southern Australia, the quandong is sometimes called the ‘native peach’. Its fruit are well-known bush tucker, and can be used to make pies, fruit juice and chutney. The seeds can be crushed and used on sore gums.

Queensland bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris) — this tropical and subtropical tree becomes bottle-shaped as it ages. It is not hollow but swells due to water held in its trunk.

Queensland kauri (Agathis robusta) — the kauri is another slow-growing ancient conifer that can live for thousands of years. Mature trees grow to a majestic 50 metres high in the forests of Eastern Australia. It has a long, straight, smooth-barked trunk, making it valuable for timber.

Red cabbage palm (Livistona mariae) — this rare NT palm with large fan-shaped leaves is mainly restricted to Palm Valley in the Finke Gorge National Park. Research suggest seeds of this palm were carried to the Central Desert by humans, backing up an Indigenous story.

Red cedar (Toona ciliata) — a rainforest tree in the mahogany family, this tree grows up to 60 metres high, so is not recommended for the backyard!  Red cedar was extensively logged for its beautiful-looking timber. It’s also one of Australia’s rare ‘deciduous’ natives.

Red flowering gum (Corymbia ficifolia) — native to WA, this tree is now one of the most commonly planted ornamental eucalypts, thanks to its spectacular flowers. Hybrids provide flowers ranging from bright red to orange and pink. Its flowers also tell Indigenous people information about the seasons.

River red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis)— widespread across Australia, river red gums provide shade along inland waterways, like the Murray-Darling catchment. Forests of this tree contain many significant Aboriginal sites, including trees showing scars where bark was removed to create canoes or shields.

River sheoak (Casuarina cunninghamiana) — this casuarina tree has fine needle-like leaves, good timber for making furniture and can help control erosion, such as along riverbanks. Indigenous people have extracted resin from the timber.

Snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) — native to eastern Australia, snow gums are common in cold sites above 700 metres. It’s able to survive in deep snow and its trademark twisted trunk and limbs are a result of harsh alpine conditions. Living snow gums help snow accumulate.

Sydney red gum (Angophora costata) — closely related to the eucalypt, this beautiful tree is sometimes called a smooth-barked apple. It grows in sandy soil, often over sandstone and occurs naturally in Qld and NSW.

Weeping bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis) — often used as a screen or street tree (it’s tolerant to smog), this bottlebrush is well known for its striking red flowers that hang in clumps up to 15 centimetres long. It grows naturally along the eastern coast from northern NSW to Cape York.

Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis)— this critically endangered species is one of the world’s rarest plant species. Previously thought to be extinct, when it was discovered in 1994 it became internationally famous as a ‘living fossil’. Only a few plants remain in a hidden valley west of Sydney.

The bottom 15 – Updated 5 August

We can now reveal that the following trees are in jeopardy of missing out on the Top 20! Here’s the bottom 15 as the count currently stands, rearranged into alphabetical order – 13 of which will likely be eliminated on Friday 12 August:

Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon)

Coastal tea tree (Leptospermum laevigatum)

Coolabah (Eucalyptus coolabah)

Cypress pine (Callitris glaucophylla)

Darwin woollybutt (Eucalyptus miniata)

Deciduous beech (Nothofagus gunnii)

Grey mangrove (Avicennia marina)

Macadamia tree (Macadamia integrifolia)

Mulga wattle (Acacia aneura)

Quandong (Santalum acuminatum)

Queensland bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris)

Queensland kauri (Agathis robusta)

Red cabbage palm (Livistona mariae)

Red cedar (Toona ciliata)

River sheoak (Casuarina cunninghamiana)