For the love of eucalypts

31 Aug, 2013 02:00 AM
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"Eucalypts of Western Australia's Wheatbelt" author, Malcolm French, showing off his book in front of the very rare Silver Princess, Eucalyptus caesia, which is classified as "threatened or in need of monitoring".

MALCOLM French is widely known throughout rural WA, mainly through his involvement with Elders Real Estate, where he is currently WA rural sales manager.

But he has previously demonstrated that he is not only interested in the State's farmlands, but the trees that grow on them as well, so much so that he has just published his second book on WA's magnificent eucalypts.

His first book, The special eucalypts of Perth and the South West, was published in 1997, and it has now been joined by Eucalypts of Western Australia's Wheatbelt.

The new book is not a slim volume of praise for these wonderful trees, but a detailed analysis that has received a tick of approval from professional botanists, so much so that in 2008 the WA Herbarium awarded him "Associated Scientist" status.

But when he is not selling farms, he and his wife are generally living on one, currently in Kellerberrin, so it is not surprising that the book is also written with the needs and interests of farmers and all rural dwellers in mind.

For the purpose of the book, the 190,000 square kilometres of Wheatbelt is defined as running south and east from the Geraldton sandplains and bordered by the Darling and Stirling Ranges on the west and south, with the eastern boundary finishing north of Ravensthorpe.

But to those South Coast wheat growers who have missed out, Malcolm assures them that these coastal areas "contain a large number of unique eucalypts which warrant a separate publication".

And to prove it, he has already started writing the book that will finish the eucalypt saga of the State's South West land division.

It won't cause any premature retirement from writing, for in preparing these books he has identified eucalypts that had never been classified before, with two now carrying his name in their official classification - and publication won't stop him looking for more.

Most trees featured look familiar, with one new one called the Trayning Mallee, found near my old home town, while a very rare variety, Silver Princess Mallee, has recently been found near where we farmed at Kulin.

The book reveals wonderful snippets of information, such as the fact that there are 159 native eucalypt species and subspecies across the Wheatbelt, although one of them, the Marri, actually belongs to the genus Corymbia, not the genus Eucalyptus.

Demonstrating that WA really is different, he notes that of the eucalypts occurring naturally in our Wheatbelt, "50 species are restricted, or almost entirely restricted, to this region".

For those observers who occasionally see a eucalypt that doesn't seem quite right, we are assured that "occasionally a hybrid or an intergrading species may be encountered".

The book includes wonderful photographs of the various trees, complete with more of their flowers and seeds, showing that Malcolm French is not only a great writer, but a professional-class photographer as well.

The impetus for the books grew out of his fascination with the local trees, and in a period when farmers are increasingly planting trees, he is concerned at the number of less suitable trees being planted and the lack of up-to-date information in the hands of people who sell them.

If you want to check the details of a tree, there is a list of common names listed at the back, also giving the botanical name and the page number in the book.

For instance, if you wonder whether the Salmon Gum in the back paddock really is a Salmon Gum, a check on page 186 shows that its official name is Eucalyptus salmonophioia.

You will then see photos of the tree, bark, seeds and flowers and where the tree grows, but if it still doesn't look right, the page also lists similar trees that may be mistaken for the real thing.

The book should appeal to all farmers, rural dwellers and anyone interested in trees, which is just about everyone, and at $49 per copy, it is very affordable.

Check it out on http://www.eucalyptsofwa.com.au/

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