A recent phone call from Jamie Quilliam meant a return journey to Circular Head for some blackwood pruning and maintenance. I last reported on this plantation in October 2012:
But compared to 12 months ago this visit was a completely different experience. A year ago, to my complete surprise, this plantation was showing plenty of potential for commercial blackwood growth despite many obvious challenges. But this year the trees looked pretty unhappy with none of the strong apical growth seen 12 months ago. Had I misjudged the site? Was all that strong early growth just a flash in the pan?
Potential issues are the rainfall (last season was a dry one so there wouldn’t have been so much growth), and weed competition (trying to control grass growth on these wet flats is a real challenge!)
The first day of pruning was under a howling westerly wind, which confirmed that at least one of the challenges here is exposure. Blackwoods don’t enjoy growing on exposed sites, not if you want them to grow tall and straight.
On the second day we had finished the pruning and Jamie offered to show me the 3 hectare remnant patch of swamp forest which is next to one of the blackwood plantings. This remnant bush had cattle grazing through it until 13 years ago when it was fenced off. Since then the forest has recovered surprisingly well. From a distance I could see some very impressive Eucalyptus brookerana. But what surprised me most was as we got closer I began to notice the magnificent swamp blackwoods, 25-30 metres tall with long straight trunks (see picture). Clearly this farm used to support some fantastic blackwood swamp forest.
I suggested to Jamie that he would have more success growing commercial blackwood by actively managing the remnant bush. There is some regeneration but also opportunities for active management (eg. controlling blackberries) and blackwood planting. The lessons learnt in actively managing the remnant bush might then help solve the problems in the blackwood plantation. Jamie wasn’t sure about this idea. He hasn’t reached the stage of being passionate about growing blackwood, not yet anyway!
Obviously shelter and nursing from the surrounding vegetation is an important factor in native swamp-grown blackwood. But has conversion to pasture completely destroyed the commercial blackwood growing potential of this property? Here is the perfect opportunity to find out. Side by side, plantation blackwood and high quality native blackwood swamp forest. From the outset I realised that this property was an experiment in the making. Can we find a way to grow quality commercial blackwood in plantations on this property?