It was astonishing to learn that the South Gippsland Shire Council has determined that the removal of the 17 remaining 50-year-old Queensland Brushbox trees in Peart Street, Leongatha, is justified, and should then be replaced by one of the most ineffective street shrubs conceived, the deciduous, plum-dropping, purple leaved Prunus blireana, or Flowering Plum.
Queensland Brushbox (Lophostemon confertus) is one of the most widely planted street trees is Australia.
It is a sturdy, very attractive, bushy, long-lived (500 or more years) Australian native tree of the subtropics that has established a relatively high star rating for carbon storage, rainfall interception, stability, pollution removal, cooling and heating offset value, pest, disease and biosecurity rating, and climate adaptation.
Moreland City Council gives it a star rating of four out of five and it is a recommended street tree in the Yarra Shire, where it is described as being an attractive, “well-structured tree that rarely fails”.
It also provides useful habitat and a food source for nesting, roosting and feeding birds and insects, including bees.
It is noted as being a tree that rarely sheds limbs, has low weed potential and has a high tolerance of compacted soils.
In all, in an era of climate change and unreliable rainfall patterns, the perfect tree for aerial powerlines-free street verges.
Just one of the Peart Street trees is obviously unhealthy and indeed Arborzone Professional Tree Services, engaged by the Council, found the trees to be “generally in good health”.
I surveyed the remaining Brushbox trees in Peart Street in late October and was surprised to note close to none of the much publicised “berries” (capsules) on the footpath.
I interviewed a woman mowing a front lawn in thongs who, amongst 42 other survey respondents, wanted the trees removed due to the “trip hazard” created by the small capsules on the footpath and falling branches.
I asked if the Council had swept the footpath, and she said she was unaware of this ever happening. Perhaps the claimed capsule hazard is limited to a season?
I noted there were no powerlines issues apparent and that only one square of footpath was significantly raised – by about 25mm. Peart Street otherwise seemed to lack many effective shade trees in private gardens.
Serious questions need to be asked in relation to the planned removal of these trees: Of the 122 surveys sent out by Council to owners and tenants, do the 42, or 34 per cent, of surveys returned in favour of tree removal represent a democratic decision in relation to trees that are owned by the whole community and not just those of Peart Street?
Given Council’s advice that the most relevant nuisance factor listed by residents encountered was the slipperiness of shed seed pods, and given that this
event is limited to seasonal shedding, that a 2016 request for tree removal due to “nuts falling into (a) Telstra pit and causing (a) trip hazard” was found not to be backed up by site inspection evidence and that all street trees shed materials of some sort, is removal justified?
The other reasons given by respondents in the Council survey included the dropping of a “large amount of branches”, that the footpath is “constantly lifting…” and that the “debris constantly falling”… creates a “potential fire hazard…”.
All of these latter reasons appear controversial, need to be free of exaggeration and need backing evidence.
Do the rest of Leongatha’s residents with Brushbox trees in their streets find them worthy of removal due to debris hazard?
The removal of the 17 well-established Brushbox trees and their replacement with Flowering Plum appears likely to be a much more expensive contract than the $8500 quoted by the current, interim Council.
What precedent will be set in Leongatha and elsewhere in the Shire by Council’s decision? Will any residential street be able to have their trees removed?
Will future residents of Peart Street want the replacement shrubs, Prunus blireana (Flowering plum) removed due to their ineffectiveness as a street tree, the lack of shade they provide and the plum stones they leave on the footpath and grassy verge?
Will the whole of Leongatha be able to have their street trees removed if there is 34 per cent positivity in a survey response?
The street scape of a town is a very important part of its attractiveness, liveability and economic well-being.
Towns like Bright have capitalised on this and have created a beautiful and very popular tourist town.
Leongatha must wake up from its slumber and start caring more for its environment – the street trees need to be appreciated for the value they add.
Ian Cornthwaite (Diploma Applied Science – Horticulture Amenity, and horticulturist for over 40 years), Allambee Reserve.