Friday, 9 January 2009

Our Christmas tree

School finished for the year around 18 December and one of the first holiday joys for us kids was decorating the house for Christmas.
I'm talking about the olden days here so we didn't have any fancy decorations. We made our own. Mum let our imaginations run loose so we had pleated streamers running in every direction. And then dad would take us into the bush to choose a small tree which he cut down and took home for us to decorate as well. The tree was always a Native Cherry, or Cherry Ballart and I've since found out that its scientific name is Exocarpus cupressiformis. As the name suggests, it looks a bit like a cypress tree. It's a common small tree in the bush in south and east Australia.
We don't do that any more because it's not ecologically sound or even legal to be chopping down trees like that. Shame really because I liked it, but some people find the smell a bit strong.
The Cherry Ballart is a very interesting plant that tends to get ignored because it's so common. It's semi-parasitic, drawing nutrients from nearby trees, usually eucalypts. It's extremely hard to propagate so it's not usually found in home gardens even though it is attractive in colour and shape. One of the most interesting things about it is the fruit - fleshy, green turning to red, edible, berry-like and remarkable because the seed sits outside the fruit (hence 'exocarpus'). The leaves are reduced to scales so the angular stems are photosynthetic.
I took a photo of the fruit last week but it wasn't until I saw it on the screen that I realised that I also had a photo of the flower. The flowers are minute, only 1.5 mm across, and pale green. You'll find one in the photo below if you click on it to enlarge.


Denis Wilson said...

Hi Boobook
Nice story about one of my favourite small trees.
You mention the "smell". I remember at the back of the Grampians, near Dunkeld, the local hunters observe that the large number so feral deer there love to eat the low foliage. SO if you see a Cherry Ballart tree neatly trimmed up from the base, you know for sure there are feral deer about.
Excellent photo of the fruit with tiny flower. I recently photographed a similar tiny flower, of the plant known as "Wild currant". I will write it up one of these days. My flower was red, but the structure is diagnostic of that large family.

Duncan said...

Deer like to rub on them too Boobook, I've seen them virtually ringbarked. It's one of their favourite rubbing trees.