Bee in my bonnet about Wahroonga figs vs Laman Street figs

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I seriously need to get out more. I spent a little bit of time yesterday reading Railcorp’s web page and reports on the figs at Wahroongah station that are no more. There were a few things that were just priceless.  

‘We considered root pruning, canopy pruning, root barriers and a maintenance regime. However, the problem is that most of the trees are already too large and invasive, and they are only part way through their growing cycle.’  

The figs were planted in 1910 so they’re a century old. The trees in Laman Street are twenty years younger and our arborists tell us they’re nearing the end of their life cycle. I’d believe the Wahroongah arborist. 

‘We appreciate that the replacement trees are an important issue for the area and intend to come back to the community 12 months after replanting to get their feedback on the new trees.’ That’ll help everyone feel better.  

How to increase the beauty of Laman Street - put a container and a wind sign next to the Lone Pine (at right of picture)

 

‘Relocating the trees was also considered, but it is unlikely the trees would survive the process.’  

Tell that to the mature tree nursery at Peats Ridge or the Olympic Site at Homebush Bay where they relocated Moreton Bay figs from Queensland.  

‘We have approval to replace the existing fig trees with six large blueberry ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus)’  

They requested Magnolia Little Gem  – perhaps these were rejected on the basis that they’re not native? – and were granted permission to plant Lemon Myrtle / Backhousia citriodora with Eleocarpus as a second choice if the lemon myrtle were unavailable.  Imagine Lemon Myrtle not being available. Eleocarpus is a pleasant tree but you’d have trouble getting half a dozen people under one to get some shade. 

‘Ground penetrating radar was not considered necessary as arborists and landscape architects were able to determine the extent of the damage by undertaking a physical assessment of the platform surface.’  

Our council don’t believe what radar tells them anyway; if Railcorp have the same attitude they very sensibly saved some money – not that GPR seems to be expensive.  

Tree pruning is another way to make a mature tree ugly and less valued by the community

 

From the Railcorp arborist’s report (1.77MB, available for download on the Railcorp page ) there are some lovely things – I do love arborist reports –  

‘4.3.1 All of the subject trees exhibit good health and vigour despite having their root zones nearly completely covered with asphalt pavement…  

‘4.3.2 …Recurrent root pruning has also occurred…  

‘4.3.3 …Acording to the Heritage Council of NSW, one of the Hill’s Fig Trees died following installation of asphalt pavement in 1982…  

‘5.1.1 A Tree Preservation Order applies to all land within the Municipality of Ku-ring-gai…The TPO generally protects all trees of a height of  five (5) metres or greater or with a trunk diameter of 150mm or greater. …the subject trees were protected…’  

Some protection this afforded them.  

‘5.1.2 …While preferring fertile, well-drained soil conditions with plentiful summer moisture, Hills [sic] figs are adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions and will survive in very poor soil conditions 

In Newcastle we all know how tough figs are. Goes with the territory. One of the recurring themes at the design workshop on Laman Street and Civic Park was the fact that the land now occupied by Civic Park was previously industrial land, and that therefore the soil is poor quality. This was designed to warn us that the trees won’t thrive there.Hasn’t hurt so far. 

  

‘5.2.2 … The Hill’s Figs …are considered unique in terms of their presence on an island platform… 

Thankyou Heritage Council for preserving something unique. Not. 

  

‘5.3.2 …[they] provide considerable visual amenity to the platform and surrounding areas …[and] provide important shade and shelter to the platform area.  

Thankyou State transit Authority - seat near Art Gallery

 

‘6.5.2 Due to the ongoing and costly maintenance of the trees, the State Rail Authority has considered their removal, however, the public response to the plan has been predominantly negative.’  

7.1.1 …The trees show no significant signs of decline and could be expected to live for more than 40 years in this situation.  

‘7.1.2 …Figs are very tolerant of canopy pruning. As long as they remain structurally sound, they can tolerate regular pollarding (if undertaken in accordance with proper arboricultural standards) and hedging for many years. Heavy lopping does cause injury to the tree, and may lead to the formation of defects or create wounds that lead to entry by disease pathogens.’  

Newcastle City council provide dramatic pictures on their website of the severe pruning that was routine in Laman Street in the 40s and on, however, no arborist has said that the Laman Street trees are diseased – in fact quite the opposite so they have well and truly survived that historically discredited practice.  

‘7.3.2 …Hills [sic] Figs are tolerant of significant root loss…pruning of woody roots creates large wounds that are open to infection to fungal pathogens…’  

There is no suggestion that figs in Newcastle are infected. Infection with Phellinus was the cause of the failure of several Hill’s figs in Hyde Park. This was widely reported and the replacement of these trees is planned but the underlying problem there has nothing to do with either Newcastle or Wahroongah.  

The reason why the footpath and street were closed on Sunday 13 6 10 is obscure as there was very little wind

‘7.3.4 One of the reasons that roots are growing close to the surface and causing pavement deformation is that root growth is limited by available oxygen in the underlying soil. Where soils are heavily compacted roots often grow close to the surface. Compaction at the time that the asphalt pavement was installed has probably exacerbated this problem. Sealing of the soil surface also exacerbates the problem, since the natural percolation of rainwater through soil normally draws atmospheric oxygen into the soil.’  

I couldn’t disagree more with the logic behind the first half of this statement. Newcastle’s full of figs where there could be no cause for soil compaction – Learmonth Park, along the storm water drain near Hamilton South school, in Harker Oval,next to the railway bridge where Hunter street and Maitland Roads meet and so on and so on – and they have fantastic superficial roots. Obviously an issue for municipal plantings but the underlying cause is incorrect in my opinion. It’s just what figs do.
 
I’m incredibly impressed that the arborist who wrote the report gave definite suggestions about suitable species for replacement plantings – this is something we’re still waiting for in Newcastle. He suggested
  • Lemon Scented Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
  • Queensland Pittosporum (Pittosporum rhombifolium)
  • Blueberry Ash (Eleocarpus reticulatus)
  • Ivory Curl Flower (Buckinghamia celsissima)
  • White Feather Honey Myrtle (Melaleuca decora)

A train station’s very different to Laman Street which houses our gallery, our War Memorial building where the library is, an important war memorial grove and steps to a large municipal fountain so these choices wouldn’t be right for this situation, but all power to the arborist for completing his task. 

And one little thing that was obvious when testing the walkability of this town this weekend – there is loads of hardware next to the rail line between Civic and Newcastle station (some of it’s shown below). If anyone is planning on removing the rail line they need to tell the workers and State Rail.  Home 

 

  

   

   

  

 

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