It is common knowledge that the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is the worlds tallest flowering tree and that Tasmania has some of Australia’s tallest old growth forests. So magnificent are the Mountain Ashes that significant individuals have earned appellations such as ‘Centurion’ and ‘Methuselah’. Alas, the legend of the Mountain Ashes have overshadowed the other giants that reside in Tasmania. There are other giants among the eucalypts that are worthy of more general recognition, and it may come as a surprise to some that the White Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) is one of them.
Practically every plant enthusiast in Tasmania and many tourists who visit the state has seen the grand Mountain Ashes of the Styx or the Tarkine. Few however, even among Tasmanian botanists, have met or are even aware of the giant White Gums of Tasmania’s Northeast. This is because White Gums are often thought of as average sized trees associated with dry forest. Yet, in the Evercreech Forest Reserve just 10km from Fingal, a forest of giantic white gums, locally called White Knights, preside over the wet forests. For centuries they have watched, like silent sentinels from their statuesque vantage point, the changing landscape of Tasmania’s Northeast. The time is nigh for the White Knights to take their rightful place in the annals of Tasmania’s rich botanical heritage, for nowhere else in the world does one encounter white colossuses such as these.
In the 1970s a forester named Des Howe was carrying out a routine survey in the forest about to be fell when he noticed that one of the trees that was to be felled was very tall. A surveyor came in and measured the tree to be an incredible 91m. A more accurate measurement of 89m was later given in the gianttrees website. Girth-wise, the White Knight is just as impressive, being 3.3m in diameter. The White Knight is also believed to be over 300 years old. Due to the presence of the White Knight, 52 hectares in the area was made a forest reserve to preserve the White Knight and other giant White Gums that reside there.
The story goes that botanists initially did not believe that the tall tree reported by the Forestry Commission was a White Gum until leaf and fruit specimens were brought before them. Likewise for me, my experience of the white gum being a average size tree of dry forest was so ingrained that I would have scarcely believed that the White Knights were White Gums until I saw the characteristic seed capsules myself.
It is not difficult to see how the first foresters who came before the presence of the giant white gums likened the trees to Knights, perhaps spotting shiny-clad armour. White has always been the colour of purity and goodness, and there is nothing quite like the sight of Brobdingnagian white boles standing in blazing contrast to a deep green forest understorey. And I am properly awed and impressed, just as the visitors before me that have come to pay their obeisance to the White Knights.