The last of the deciduous: Nothofagus gunnii

Nothgfagus gunniiIt is most remiss of me, that I should write of one of Tasmania’s most iconic trees only now, after more than a year of blogging about Tasmania’s fantastic flora.

Introducing a tree that needs little introduction – Tasmania’s one and only deciduous native tree, the inimitable Nothofagus gunnii, the Deciduous beech, the Tanglefoot. There are those too, who simply call it the Fagus.

The Deciduous beech is a small tree from the beech family (Fagaceae). It reaches little more than 2 meters at the slightly lower altitudes but practically sprawls over boulders in the alpine zones. It is a mere dwarf compared to it’s much more widespread relative, the Myrtle beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii).

Nothofagus gunniiThe legacy of the Deciduous beech however predates that of the Myrtle beech. As far as geological time is concerned, the latter is a much younger player in the biogeographical game.

Fossils very similar to that of the modern day Deciduous beech have been found in Antarctica, which leads one to conclude
very similar species were in Antarctica before Australia separated from that now snowed out landmass.

The deciduous nature of N. gunnii also leads one to think that deciduous-ness might have been a much more common feature of the Tasmanian tree flora in times past.

Alas, this is not really the easiest plant to visit. The Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens (RTBG) has at least one specimen, but it is a small one hardly more than 50cm tall, and it is largely obscured by other plants.

Obscured! That’s criminal, particularly given that an illustration of the deciduous beech graces the signboard at the entrance of the RTBG. Still, that is one of the closest places to civilization that one may visit this icon.

Nothofagus gunnii

Most understandably, the Deciduous beech must be one of Tasmania’s most difficult-to-cultivate icon. It takes a long time to grow, if it even survives. Still, once it harmonizes with a sincere plants-person, a most exquisite bonsai plant the Deciduous beech will make.

Nothofagus gunniiBut the connoisseur will seek the Deciduous beech in it’s highest abode. The true seeker must travel to the mountains to the west, during April of the Austral fall. They must drive west bound, up windy beaten roads, through the grand forest of the Mountain Ash. And where the road ends by the Dobson Lake, they must by foot alone traverse boulder and tarn, beyond where the highland gums surrenders to frost and exposure. Then, and only then, does the sincere seeker arrive at the Tarn shelf, a true mecca of nival endemicity, where the deciduous beech basks upon the alpine boulders in it’s most exposed, most brazen magnificence.

Nothofagus gunnii

And then one may say that one has witnessed the leaf fall of the last of Tasmania’s deciduous, the yellow of the autumn Fagus.

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About David Tng

I am David Tng, a hedonistic botanizer who pursues plants with a fervour. I chase the opportunity to delve into various aspects of the study of plants. I have spent untold hours staring at mosses and allied plants, taking picture of pollen, culturing orchids in clean cabinets, counting tree rings, monitoring plant flowering times, etc. I am currently engrossed in the study of plant ecology (a grand excuse to see 'anything I can). Sometimes I think of myself as a shadow taxonomist, a sentimental ecologist, and a spiritual environmentalist - but at the very root of it all, a "plant whisperer"!
This entry was posted in Biogeography, Botanical Heritage, Fossils, Plant Appreciation, Shrubs, Tasmanian Endemics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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