Just about every creature walking the earth depends on trees for survival to some extent. Trees produce the oxygen all animals breathe, they provide habitat for a number of species and many trees produce the food upon which various creatures depend.
By increasing the number of trees on both commercial and residential properties, we can help support our local wildlife species, who are under assault at the hands of habitat destruction and other threats. But some tree species provide animals with more resources than others do, and it is wise to use the most valuable species in tree-installation efforts, in our efforts to support local wildlife populations.
The following five are some of the best options for those living in the greater Melbourne area, but they will likely thrive in most areas of southeast Australia.
1. Small-Fruited Fig (Ficus macrocarpa)
Also called the Indian Laurel, Chinese banyan or curtain fig, the small-fruited fig is a large tree that occasionally surpasses 30 meters in height. While this makes it unsuitable for small properties, those with enough space to accommodate these giants will surely notice an uptick in the amount of wildlife found near the tree. Although this is not an Australian native, our local birds often feed heavily on the tree’s fruit, while several wasp species use the tree to complete their life cycle.
2. Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha)
The golden wattle is one of the most valuable wildlife species appropriate for properties in Victoria. In fact, a variety of birds, insects and mammals depend heavily on these species for food. Studies have even shown that sugar glider populations fluctuate depending on the amount of nectar produced by wattles the preceding winter. Members of the legume family, these 3- to 8-meter-tall trees are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which helps improve the fertility of your soil.
3. Snow Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora)
Growing to about 30 meters in height, the snow gum tree is a visually impressive species, which often produces twisted, gnarled branches. The grey, green and white bark is as smooth as it is attractive, and the white flowers that persist from October to January are quite striking to the eye. Many nectar-feeding animals, including birds and a variety of butterflies and other insects, are drawn to these trees during their daily foraging activities. Snow gums are remarkably hardy and adaptable trees, which will thrive in most parts of Victoria.
4. Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata)
The silver banksia is a very adaptable plant, which may grow as a small shrub or a proper tree. Small specimens often remain less than 4 meters in height, but large individuals may occasionally reach 30 meters. Native to southeastern Australia, these trees are important food sources for many local animals, including everything from lorikeets to honeyeaters. However, they also provide food for a number of local mammals, including feathertail gliders and pygmy possums.
5. Weeping Bottlebrush (Melaleuca viminalis)
The weeping bottlebrush is a common ornamental species that can grow as a large shrub or a multi-trunked tree. They occasionally reach 10 meters in height, although most are smaller than this. Often found growing around river banks, these trees feed a variety of nectar-feeding animals, including birds, bats and insects.
It is also important to understand that a tree’s species isn’t the only factor that determines how valuable a given tree is to your local fauna. The age and size of the tree are also important, as older, larger trees tend to provide more benefits to the local environment than younger, smaller trees do.
Older trees often have large hollows, which provide habitat for birds, lizards, possums and other creatures, and their size ensures that even in a bad year, the tree will likely continue to produce some resources for the local animals. Many old trees also harbour large amounts of mistletoe – a parasitic plant that lives high in the tree canopy.
Note that mistletoe occasionally kills tree branches, but it rarely kills entire trees and is quite valuable to a number of wildlife species. For example, some insects visit the plant’s flowers in search of nectar, while many birds construct their nests in the tangled masses.
However, these hollows and mistletoe infestations can indicate that a tree is unsafe, so it is always wise to have them inspected by a certified arborist before making long-term plans for your property.
If you are interested in adding some wildlife-friendly trees to your yard or assessing the safety of some of your oldest and largest trees, reach out to your friends at Trav’s Tree Service. One of our experienced, certified arborists will assess your property and provide you with a number of suggestions that will thrive in your location and help give the birds and the bees a bit of help.