Nature Stuff

A few big Australian trees

It’s possible that the tallest trees that ever lived grew in Australia. Unfortunately historical records aren’t very good and so the claim can’t be confirmed, although Australia does still have the tallest hardwood trees in the world.

Big Eucalyptus regnans

This lovely big old Eucalyptus regnans is still growing in Tasmania

The first time I visited Tasmania was in 1993. It was an amazing, beautiful place, with the most remarkable old-growth forests that seemed to be everywhere. Some of those forests had the most bewildering, fantastic giant trees on the planet. It was nature all over — trees, wildlife, scenery, more scenery, more wildlife — okay, you get the idea.

Ten years later I went back and was shocked at how much it had changed. You can still have a great time in Tassie, but if you want to see nature then you will not be rewarded with the sheer abundance of wild beauty that I saw in ’93. However, you can still find some some preserved patches of the old magic, including some surviving giant trees, if you know where to find it. At the end of this page I link to a website that tells you about some of the biggest ones. It has some good photos too.

A real giant

One tree I’d have loved to see alive was a very famous Eucalyptus regnans called El Grande but like with so many of the best trees I’ve left my run too late. It was a beautiful tall, healthy gum tree — the most massive tree in Tasmania — until it suddenly became the most massive Tasmanian dead tree in 2003. With a volume of 439 cubic metres it was one of the world’s most special and significant trees and made the one shown above look small. More information here and here.

Swamp Gum forest in Tasmania

A stand of Swamp Gums (Eucalyptus regnans) growing in Tasmania in 1993. This image shows how some of today’s giants might have looked when they were perhaps a hundred years younger.

According to the 1999 edition of the Guiness Book of Records the tallest tree ever measured was 132.6 metres (435 feet) and had once been more than 150 metres (500 feet). Perhaps it was one of the giant gum trees, the Eucalyptus regnans which hit that mark. Those trees, called Swamp Gums in Tasmania or Mountain Ash in mainland Australia, are famous for reaching incredible heights in high-rainfall areas with decent soils. You can still see some nice tall regnans in Victoria and Tasmania. Tasmania still has the biggest but Victoria has some really tall ones that just might be left alone long enough to take the record.

Big old gum tree in Tasmania

Most people would have no idea that gum trees can reach this size. This lovely old specimen was at Dip Falls, near Mawbanna in northern Tasmania. It looked like it was slowly dying — possibly of old age — when I saw it in 2000, but it still looked superb

Shrinking Nature

When my grandparents were kids, the tree in the photo above would have been the kind of thing they were talking about when they referred to a big gum tree. Now, most people wouldn’t even believe you if you said gum trees can get this big. They’d say a big gum tree would be no more than about 6 feet across its base. And if you look around these days, it’s getting harder to prove that wrong unless you’re prepared to do a bit of travelling to places like Victoria or Tasmania. This phenomena, where the big things just aren’t as big as they used to be, and where people don’t believe they ever were, is sometimes referred to as ‘Shrinking Nature’.

Tall Trees Walk, Tasmania

A younger generation of Swamp Gums grows among some giants along the Tall Trees Walk in Tasmania’s Mount Field National Park

Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

Some of the trees here are amazing. Real teary-eyed stuff, in my opinion. It takes about half an hour to cover the length of the Tall Trees Walk. That tree in the big picture at the top of this page is one of the giants growing along that trail. If I’m walking the Tall Trees walk I personally find it even better to take in Russell Falls along the way. The Tall Trees walk takes you past plenty of lovely tall gum tree giants (Eucalyptus regnans). In fact, after seeing so many tall trees you start taking them for granted (until you get back home and realise you can’t shake the memory of those trees out of your head). Another good trail at Mount Field National Park is the Lyrebird Trail. Not as many tall trees as the Tall Trees Walk, but in its own way perhaps even more beautiful.

Last time I was on the Tall Trees Walk it was close to sunset and I saw almost 20 wallabies within half an hour. It was great to see that much wildlife and it reminded me of the idyllic place Tasmania was before the poison baits.

Arve Big Tree

Arve Giant

First time I saw this giant was in 1993. As is so often the case, the photos here don’t do justice to the size of it. It had an impressive 17.2 metre (56.4 feet) girth and was 86 metres (282 feet) high.

You can see from the photo above right that the top of it had been exploded off in a lightning strike. The tallest trees in a forest are most at risk of being hit in a storm and I got used to seeing this kind of damage.

When lightning strikes a tree it super-heats the moisture in the timber, causing it to instantly turn into steam and expand, and that makes the timber explode. Thankfully, trees like this one can often survive if most of the trunk is undamaged, even if they do come out of the experience lacking some of their earlier height.

Big Eucalyptus regnans, Tasmania

Big Gum Tree

It might not have the widest base but this tree, a Eucaluptus regnans, was once listed in the Guiness Books of Records as the tallest hardwood in the world. In 1962 it was 99 metres tall (325 feet) and it kept growing until a lightning strike blew the top third off it. This tree stood alongside many other giants in the Styx Valley in Tasmania.

Tall forest

Tasmanian forest photographed in 1993

I took the photo at shown here in 1993. That dot near the bottom of the image is my rental car on the road there and it gives a good idea of the typical size of swamp gums alongside it. In order to make this logging road, a lot of other tall trees would have been chopped down. It’s likely that this forest would have been cleared by now and replaced with plantations.

Tasmanian pine plantations

Pine plantations

The photo shown here, taken in 2000, shows a typical pine plantation in Tasmania. Unfortunately, by harvesting generations of trees from Australia’s notoriously poor soils, those trees are not rotting back into the soil to provide nutrients for the next generations of trees. In other words, each successive generation of trees will be less vigorous.

The difference 7 years makes

My first two visits to Tasmania were separated by 7 years and I was astonished at how much land had been cleared in that time. When I was there in 1993 I was told by a logging official that clear-felling of timber had stopped and that it would never happen again in Tasmania. To be honest, I think he was pretty angry at me for asking about it. But I saw clear-felling taking place the next day and on my following trip I saw signs of clear-felling in lots of places. Where they’d originally kept stands of trees alongside the roads so people in their cars wouldn’t see the logging, those remnant stands had been chopped down too, revealing the full extent of clearing and also the extent of the planting of radiata pines. (Let’s hope people don’t get tired of pine furniture.) Tasmania sure seemed different. If you do still want to visit Tasmania, the national parks there do still have some lovely stands of trees that are wonderful to see, and at the bottom of this page I give a link to a list of giant remaining Tasmanian trees.

The Grandis

The Grandis in 1989

New South Wales

The tallest tree that ever grew anywhere just possibly grew in New South Wales, although that’s an awfully difficult thing to prove. We do know that all the really big ones are gone, but there are still some lovely trees growing. A real favourite of mine is a large Eucaplyptus grandis, a type of tree which also goes by the name of Flooded Gum.

The Grandis

The Grandis in 2001

This superb big tree was still healthy and getting bigger when I last saw it in July 2007. Eucalyptus grandis is a spectactular tall-growing species of gum tree with rough dark bark around the base and smooth silvery light bark above. Apparently this one is approximately 400 years old and about 77 metres (250 feet) tall. Its lowest branch is 25 metres (82 feet) above the ground.

The first few times I saw this tree it was possible to walk right up to it along a raised wooden platform, as in the photo above (taken in approximately 1990). However that platform has been removed and replaced with a new one which offers the view shown here.

It’s growing near Bulahdelah in mid-northern NSW. The locals call it ‘The Grandis’ and claim it’s the tallest tree in NSW. I now believe there is an even taller gum tree living in NSW and an intriguing mix of pride, politics and secrecy seems to be keeping that one out of the public’s eye.

I’ve taken a whole lot of photos of big trees. This page shows only a few of them. The next page shows a few examples of unusual and beautiful Australian trees.

Where are the really big Tasmanian trees and just how big are they?

This website gives an excellent guide to the biggest trees known to exist in Tasmania and where you can find them. There are some really big ones in there.

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