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Tip-toeing through the tulipwoods

The dense,spreading crown of a mature Tulipwood in Victoria St, Grafton.
The dense,spreading crown of a mature Tulipwood in Victoria St, Grafton. Barbara Fahey

ELEGANT, spreading, shapely and abundant, Tulipwoods give very welcome summer shade adding greatly to the charming, leafy appearance of our city. Birds find them helpful for food and shelter. Night birds like Frogmouths take refuge in the daytime darkness of their dense crown.

These are the most numerous of the native species planted in Grafton, third in number only to Jacarandas and Camphor Laurels, both exotic species, unlike the Tulipwood.

However, because tulipwoods are not spectacular in their flowering nor fruiting, most people pass them by without noticing.

The botanical name of Harpullia pendula from the Latin describes the hanging or drooping nature of the pendant fruit bunches. The fruit is a two-lobed capsule, yellow or reddish and papery containing two shiny black seeds. Greenish-yellow flowers appear November to January.

This is a small to medium tree growing to a height of some 24 metres though less in cultivation and is a popular street tree causing very few problems to neighbours and to Councils.

Riverine, sub-tropical and dry rainforest on basaltic or alluvial soils from the Bellinger River in NSW to Coen in North Queensland is the natural home to this species. Its timber is fine-grained, tough, heavy and very durable and is an excellent turnery and cabinet timber.

The largest stand of Tulipwoods left in NSW grows in the Nature Reserve at Susan Island but the early plantings of this species in our city were supplied from the collection of the Botanical Gardens in Sydney, not from the local provenance. Recent plantings, for example in Alice Street between Oliver and Fry Streets are surely from the local seed base. Surely?

Mature tulipwoods can be found in Victoria, Fitzroy, Mary and Alice Streets. Some specimens are reaching senescence and need to be replaced. Then this lovely local native species can continue to contribute to the leafy appearance of our city and to help to mitigate the intensity of February, Grafton's month of lassitude and perspiration.

To attract visitors consistently Grafton must not rely on the brief flowering of jacarandas but instead promote interest in its great diversity of species, particularly of Australian trees. We must be known not as the City of Jacarandas but as truly the City of Trees----all year round.



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