The White Cypress is sought after by many, for different reasons. There is no doubt, the future of this classic beauty must be carefully considered.
Often referred to as a Pine Tree, this look-alike belongs to the Cupressaceae family. Its botanical name Callitris glaucophylla originates from Greek words – Glaucos meaning silvery or bluish-green and phyllon, referring to leaf. Crush a leaf and it will expel a fresh pine scent.
On sandy soils and well-drained slopes, where it prefers to grow, this narrow upright tree can reach 20 metres. On skeletal soils, it is often supplanted by Black Cypress (C. endlicheri) – distinguishable by its greener foliage and egg-shaped cones; the cones of White Cypress are globular shaped.
Male and female cones are found on the same tree, and during winter, the male cones shed masses of pollen relying on wind to transfer their pollen to female cones. Later in the season, the cones split open to shed their small winged seeds. Regeneration comes from seedlings buried in the ground rather than buds.
Unlike many Australian species, the White Cypress is not resistant to fire and excessive burning makes regeneration near impossible. Fire suppresses seed production, which leaves damaged trees vulnerable to predatory wasp attacks.
Sheep and cattle (and rabbits) also suppress the growth and survival of seedlings when broad scale clearing occurs. Earlier this year the Queensland Government banned broad scale clearing of remnant vegetation and graziers are now required to apply for approvals to clear any vegetation for feeding livestock.
Alternatively, some land managers are now replanting White Cypress with the goal of sustainably harvesting its highly prized honey coloured timber. So-called Cypress Pine is well-known for its resistance to decay in the ground and attacks by white ants, termites and Lyctus borers; so doesn’t require treatment and is safer for commercial use. It has very small shrinkage on seasoning and is widely used in the building industry.
White Cypress is deemed as a most important native species by commercial forestry and there has been much debate about its harvesting from natural stands. In 2013, the NSW Premier asked the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to investigate active and adaptive management of Cypress forests in the State Conservation Areas of the Pilliga, namely Brigalow and Nandewar.
Research carried out by the Commission suggested that ecological thinning of dense Cypress forests would actually benefit biodiversity, if applied at patch scales rather than broad landscape scales. The report recommended that additional interventions such as targeting grazing and prescribed burning be available as options where appropriate.
Timber managers, running out of areas to log, were hopeful the report would secure the industry’s future. However, the Government did not accept the Commission’s recommendations.
The White Cypress has a strong place in Aboriginal culture; its timber once was used to make woomeras, canoe poles and spear shafts, while its resin provided waterproof adhesive. The wood has a characteristic resinous odour and a slightly greasy feel and it is the oil distilled from the wood that is now sought by emerging companies. It has an incredible soothing and grounding property and is used widely as a fixative in perfumery and, more recently, in anti-anxiety aromatic medicine.
White Cypress and Wildlife
Unlike exotic pines, White Cypress are important habitat for birds and mammals alike. The thick fibrous bark supports an abundant supply of grubs bringing insect-eating birds to forage. Grey-crowned Babbler and Apostle Birds love to forage in foliage and on ground nearby. Parrots and cockatoos feed on seed-bearing cones while dead trees provide hollows for insectivorous bats and reptiles. Pollen yielded in useful quantities benefits bees.
Nest entrances of the Funnel Ant (Aphaenogaster Barbigula) are a common ground feature over extensive areas of sandy soils dominated by Cypress in Eastern Australia. The deep cavities they excavate play an important role in altering both the physical properties of the soil and its hydrology.
An Underestimated Garden Specimen
Land care groups encourage residents to plant native Cypress instead of ubiquitous exotic conifers. Toowoomba Regional Council, with the help of volunteers, grows native Cypress species at the Crows Nest Community Nursery. Volunteer Patricia Gardner has an amazing blog showing many of the local native plants.
Supervisor Nursery Operations Lisa Churchward said people could get confused when buying Cypress as it is a common name given to a lot of nursery plants including both exotic and native.
“Being able to tell the difference comes down to education and the use of botanic names in place of common,” Ms Churchward said.
“In a cultivated situation native Cypress are a great ornamental tree reaching a height of 18 metres. When maintaining trees it is best to make sure they are maintained to a single trunk as multi branching down low can cause the tree to split.”
Callitris Mistletoe (Muellerina bidwilli)
This rarely observed mistletoe specialises on native Cypress (Callitris species) and is mostly western in its distribution. As the Brigalow Belt encompasses large swathes of Callitris, for example the Pilliga Scrub in centralwestern New South Wales, mistletoe is commonly found. It is absent from Stradbroke Island but does occur on both Moreton and Fraser Islands.