The black she-oak

 

The black she-oak

Allocasuarina littoralis – habit

The black she oak (Allocasuarina littoralis) is a fast-growing, erect and conical-shaped, small tree with an open canopy through which sunlight filters. As an adaptation to reducing water loss, the leaves are reduced to small scales along an elongated stalk (cladode) which assumes the plant’s photosynthetic activities. This gives the tree a pendulous appearance although the branches emerging from the trunk with its dark fissured bark are upward sloping. Wind moving through the foliage produces a delightful sighing rustle. The plants are either male or female. During spring the male produces beautiful, solitary red flowers at the ends of the branches while the female produces clusters of red-brown flowers that eventually develop into small, seed-bearing cones. The large number of small seeds within each cone are a prime food source for the yellow-tailed and glossy black cockatoos. Insect-eating birds are attracted to the tree (which is a butterfly host species) during flowering.

This species occurs naturally in woodlands and open forests along the east coast of Australia from Tasmania to northern Queensland. It is very adaptable and grows in a range of soil type (nutrient poor sandy soils through to well drained clay), at most pH levels and in full sun or partial shade. It makes a good screen or wind-break for allotment edges, protecting more vulnerable species whilst allowing penetration of sunlight. As it is a nitrogen-fixing species, the black she oak helps maintain soil fertility. Similarly, it is a valuable regeneration species that reduces soil erosion whilst tolerating short periods of drought. Additionally, very attractive bonsai can be created using three or four plants in a single pot.

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