Anything that is four times older than me, and still standing, is entitled to lean on the ground, instead of standing all the time. A sure sign of resilience is the ability to rest on an elbow and still stand. We see examples of this in this ancient plant, the Moonah. . The prevailing wind will sculpt and prune it so it is taller on one side than the other. When the wind is too strong the bough will resist until it bend to and meets the ground. There it will rest and send forth new growth.
In my home town we have a few remands of ancient scrub that were old trees long before William Buckley lived amongst the Wadawurrung people. (William Buckley was an escaped convict who was rescued and improbably lived with local tribal for 32 years before he resumed his former life and was pardoned.) The tribes people he lived with had great respect for this tree they called it Plenty. It gave plenty back to the tribe in nectar and medicinal properties. Botanists have named it Melaleuca lanceolata. (Lanceolata reads as if it is a “lotta” plant actually the word refers to its lace like leaves). Its long abundant flowering season from October to February is rich in pollen and a food source for bees.
The tree in the photo stands on the Esplanade at the Eastern end of Gilbert St. It should probably be recorded as a tree of significance – however this is unlikely; first as it is one of the last wild trees left on that part of the Bluff, and secondly it would bring attention to it in the summer when the town is overrun with all manner of individuals. Some, likely as not, uninterested in plants. The trees are not endangered, so I suppose that is another reason it stands unnoticed and alone.
The Moonah tree is known throughout the country as a strong plant, well capable of withstanding salty wind and rain. Indeed in many parts of the country it is planted as a tree good at fighting salt degradation – as we observed in many over-farmed mallee sites. It helps to lower the water table and in doing so draws salt deeper into the subsoil.
Of all the wonderful plants I love I have chosen to write about the Moonah because it is not showy. It is not really splendid despite its delicate tiny flowers. After living 300+ years it is often just a stubby black tree with twisted branches, prickly tough leaves, and flowers almost too small to be noticed. Yet this tree is tough. Farmers find its wood makes everlasting fence posts. It makes a wonderful wind break. (Not even the wind will get through it’s tight canopy). As a result it is a popular tree for birds to roost in. Possums love to sleep through the day hidden among the mess of its branches.
Commonly we find it growing in masses of thick undergrowth where it seldom gets much taller than four metres. Along the Anglesea estuary it adds stability to the shallow, poor soil. Under the canopy – at the proper time of year the undergrowth hides the most spectacular native orchids: the Fairy Orchid grows underneath the moonah others grow nearby, the twisted Sun Orchid, the Sharp greenhood , the Wax Lip Orchid.One hundred kilometres away the tree survives in the undergrowth of the Manna Gum – a favourite of the Koala.
In Torquay we are lucky to have at least one streetscape where the trees (photo included) where trees stand 10 metres tall. This stand (also a remnant) is inland, about 100 metres from the surf beach. Here, the tree are protected from the the inshore wind and they reach up to 10 metres into the clear sky. Because they have been protected they are tall and have grown without the handicap of neighbouring plants holding them back.
Like all plants of the Melaleuca family the flowers grow from a filament that when spent remains on the flower stem as a little hard nut like growth. As the plant grows “nuts” from previous flowering’s remain.
The Plenty Tree
The twisted Moonah tree
turns is back to the wind
hunkers down low,
resting a heavy limb
on the dusty dune.
Perhaps the Wadawurrung
sheltered beneath this bough
on the day they
caught a possum to skin
and make into a ceremonial cape.
Even so it grows.
Yearly producing millions
of petals to attract bees
to this generous pollen store
the girls convert to honey
as food we