Go on a tour through the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden and explore our most special trees!
Please be aware that touching natural parts might cause allergic reactions.
Allow approximately 1 hour
Scientific name: Doryphora sassafras
Location: At the Forest Lookout
Widespread in wetter forests along the coast and ranges of eastern Australia, Sassafras occurs naturally at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden. The fertile basalt soils and sheltered, shady slopes of Mt Tomah provide ideal growing conditions for this and other rainforest species.
You can see Sydney city from the forest lookout on a clear day! Make sure to head to the viewing point before you continue along the tree trail.
Answer: Sarsaparilla! That’s right, safrole oil can be distilled from Sassafras, which has been used in fragrances and scented timbers.
Examine the leaves growing on a Sassafras tree near the forest lookout, note the smooth, waxy surface and serrated leaf margin.
Search the boardwalk for a fallen leaf that matches (please do not pick any leaves still attached to plants).
Crush the fallen leaf in your hand and try to guess what the smell reminds you of.
2. Rough Tree-fern
Scientific name: Cyathea australis
Location: Where ‘Forest Walk’ intersects with the trail to the Rhododendron garden
Another resident native rainforest species that calls the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden home. Tree ferns can grow up to 20 m high, with fronds up to 3 m long!
The ‘trunk’ of these tree ferns is not a woody mass like that found in other forest trees, rather it is modified rhizome, a type of root structure!
Examine the ‘trunk’ of a tree fern. Notice the rough, bumpy nodules covering the surface. You are touching the roots of the plant! This is not bark! The stem of Rough-tree ferns is covered in ‘adventitious’ roots, which give the appearance of bark.
If you look closely at the cut stump of a fern near the walking track you can see the intricate detail on the inside of the stem. These interesting pattens are part of the vascular system the fern once used to transport water to the crown.
3. Deodar, or ‘Himalayan Cedar’
Scientific name: Cedrus deodara
Location: Next to picnic table on Brunet Meadow
The Deodar is native to the western Himalayas, where it can grow to a height 60m! This majestic pine prefers cool mountainous locations at elevations between 1500 – 3000 m above sea level.
The Deodar is worshipped in Hindu culture, where forests of these trees have been considered sacred places where mediation takes place.
Search the base of the Deodar tree for specialised ‘winged-seeds’ produced by the female cones.
Attempt to differentiate the embryonic component of the seed from the wing that assists seed dispersal from the tree.
4. Brown Barrel
Scientific name: Eucalyptus fastigata
Location: Large tree at bottom of Brunet Meadow next to the path
This huge remnant tree is likely to be several hundred years old! Brown Barrel grows well on the fertile soils of Mt Tomah and surrounding basalt-capped mountains nearby, such as Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine.
These forest giants can reach heights of 60 m or more and several very large specimens can be seen at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden. Brown Barrel is most closely related to Eucalyptus regnans (Mountain Ash), Australia’s largest trees species that grows in wet forest in Victoria and Tasmania.
Brown Barrel, like the Mountain Ash, are more fire-sensitive than other eucalypts, and do not possess a lignotuber, the underground woody mass of growth buds that enable new shoots to grow from the tree base following fire.
Search the footpath beneath this giant tree for small, tough leaves with a slight curve. The veins emanating from mid-rib (centre, longitudinal vein) of the leaf should have an acute angle of more than 45 degrees.
Also search for small cone-shaped gumnuts. Leaf characteristics, such as shape, size and vein structure, along with the characteristics of the woody fruit (gumnut) are some of the main identification features that botanists use to tell apart different eucalypt species.
There are more than 700 eucalypt species across Australia and around 100 species within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area! You are walking in the global hotspot for eucalyptus diversity!
5. Wollemi Pine
Scientific name: Wollemia nobilis
Location: Downslope from ‘the beach’
Thought to be a long-extinct species, a population of around 100 Wollemi Pines were discovered growing in deep, sheltered gully in a remote wilderness area not far from here in 1994! This ‘living dinosaur’ has been the subject of much scientific attention and stringent management plans are in place to help conserve this endangered species into the future.
Fungal pathogens, commonly transported on the shoes of walkers and changes to fire regimes and climate are the main threats to the isolated and genetically similar individuals remaining in the wild.
Examine one of the branches of the Wollemi Pine. You will notice that the leaves are arranged in distinct ‘clumps’ along the branch length. These leaf ‘whorls’ approximately represent growth seasons that occur during each year.
Count the leaf whorls on your branch to estimate how many years this Wollemi has been growing its branch!
6. Mueller Araucaria
Scientific name: Araucaria muelleri
Location: Nearby to the Wollemi Pine
While the Australian mainland is limited to just a few Araucarias, this ancient Gondwanan lineage of non-flowering coniferous plants is more diverse on the nearby island of New Caledonia.
Much like the Wollemi Pine, The Mueller Araucaria is endangered by human activities, changes to fire regimes and climate change. This species has some of the largest leaves of any Araucaria!
Search the lawn and mulch bed for dropped branches from the tree, but be careful not to walk on the garden beds. If you can find some leaves, take it and compare the leaves to other Araucaria nearby, such as the Bunya Pine, Wollemi Pine or Hoop Pine.
You may notice similarities in the branching structure, but this species will have noticeable larger leaves and are quite smooth!
7. Grass tree
Scientific name: Xanthorrhoea glauca
Location: Above the beach pond, at base of the rock garden
This iconic and widespread species occurs throughout eastern Australia and is easily recognised by its distinctive ‘tuft’ of long narrow leaves and very large flower stalk that arises from the crown.
Grass trees are extremely slow-growing, gaining only 1 – 2 cm of growth per year in the wild. As such, the nursery industry has been slow to invest in broadscale cultivation of grass trees and illegal harvesting from the wild is a serious problem. Grass trees make an attractive landscape feature in any modern garden, which has led to their widespread appeal and subsequent high demand.
Grass trees are highly resilient to fire and with deeply buried growth buds can resprout new leaves shortly after the fire has passed.
8. Eucalyptus copulans
Scientific name: Eucalyptus copulans
Location: At bottom of the ‘bog garden’
Known from only two specimens growing in swampy site in Blue Mountains, this extremely rare and endangered eucalypt has a ‘mallee’ habit, which means that instead on a single, large stem, it usually has a number of smaller stems.
The smooth bark of this trees sheds off as the stems grow, while new bark grows just underneath!
Search the footpath next to the tree for freshly fallen leaves, once you have gathered a few crush them up in your hand and breathe in the vapours!
That iconic smell is characteristic in the eucalypts! Did you know that some experts are able to tell apart species based on subtle differences in the smell of the leaves?
9. Silver Birch
Scientific name: Betula pendula
Location: Residence garden lawn
This striking white-barked species grows in cool climates across a very large distribution that includes Europe, Scandinavia, Siberia and parts of eastern Asia. Being deciduous, it loses its leaves during the coolest and darkest part of the year to conserve resources.
This commonly planted street tree is found in parks and gardens throughout the world. The smooth, white bark is commonly found on younger trees but as they age large, dark rough patches develop on the trunk.
Carefully run your hand over the surface of the bark, paying attention to the texture and the feel.
You might notice that the smooth areas feel like paper, while the darker areas are much rougher and harder in texture.
10. Giant Sequioa
Scientific name: Sequioadendron giganteum
Location: At beginning of trail on west side of residence garden, set back in garden bed
Welcome to the largest growing organism in the world! Giant Sequioas can live for thousands of years and attain gigantic proportions. This North American species is endangered, with most of its habitat removed from centuries of logging.
Being among the oldest and largest living things on planet Earth, these forest giants have thick fire-resistant bark that enables them to survive fires over millennia.