Autumn in the Highlands

Melia azedarach (White Cedar) is a deciduous tree native to the Illawarra region

Autumn is a great time to enact tree planting projects or to replace those depleted or dead plants that have suffered from either old age or harsh summer conditions. Autumn is also a great time to enjoy the colours provided by deciduous trees. Many people are unaware that the Illawarra region is home to two spectacular deciduous trees. These little known gems are the White Cedar (Melia azaderach) and the Red Cedar (Toona australis).

The White Cedar has spectacular yellow autumn foliage along with an abundance of lilac coloured flowers in spring that produce decorative fruit that is a favourite food source of many birds, especially the King Parrot. In open country they grow to approximately 8-10m tall with a beautiful rounded spreading crown. This is an iconic tree of rural Australia and is found around many stock yards and rural homesteads. The fruits are poisonous to fish (used by Aboriginals for fishing) and are best kept away from dams and waterways. Many people might be more familiar with its exotic name the Indian Bead Tree.  

The Red Cedar is well known for producing a timber of commerce and has been pursued since the early days of settlement and is now quite rare. Trees grow rapidly and produce a soft durable timber which is easy to work and has been prized as a cabinet timber around the world. In autumn its leaves turn red. Traditionally the problem facing growers wanting to grow this tree was the dreaded Cedar Tip Moth (Hypsipyla robusta). According to one well known plant scientist there is a window of opportunity for re-establishing the Red Cedar as the Tip Moth is now in serious decline. We have found it to be a very fast growing, hardy tree as long as adequate moisture is available for them. For further information go to the report Growing Australian Red Cedar on Agrifuture’s website.

Many Eucalypts also have deciduous barks. This eye catching display of colour belongs to the Grey Gum (Eucalyptus punctata). A rich tapestry of colour on the ground can also be enjoyed along with the beautiful decorative trunk.

Being a lazy gardener I avoid planting deciduous trees that have large, troublesome leaves that blow around and litter the landscape. Examples of trees I avoid include Plane trees, Liquidambers and some maples. . The Southern Highlands has no shortage of deciduous trees so I prefer to enjoy the autumn colour of other peoples gardens, hence avoiding the post autumn cleanups and having bare trees in the garden during winter. Overuse of deciduous trees can make many highland gardens drab and boring during winter.