By James Wall
After visiting Mount Hotham last week I was amazed by the resilience and beauty of this iconic Australian tree.
We know it as a snow gum or Eucalyptus paucifolia. I always remembered it as having a creamy white trunk, but then that may have been in summer. I haven’t been in the alps in winter for over 20 years.
The colour of the smooth trunk includes rich streaks of greys, lemon yellows, scoria reds and rich creamy whites. As the snow was quite heavy, I spent many hours staring out at them from the protection of a warm lodge. And I am sure in summer when it flowers there is more richness in colour and that the white flowers look like snowflakes, again cementing the aptness of its name.
Not only did these trees withstand about 20cm of fresh snow while we were there; the next night we got 120 km per hour winds belting up the valley. Factor in numerous frosts, minus degree days and you can start to imagine this is one tough tree. With a mountain so devoid of plants (as it has turned into a ski resort) this is one place where these copses probably help prevent erosion.
I was told on the nearby mountains that bushfires had defoliated many specimens but that re-shooting was taking place at the base of the trees. This thing just refuses to be defeated. Another survival mechanism that I noticed was that the branches with new growth were too soft to hold the snow and therefore were bare of snow the next morning while other tougher sections were still covered with it.
We heard that in summer there are some great walks around here with beautiful alpine wildflowers. On searching the web I found this beautifully presented website called Photodiary of a Nomad who had been trekking around Mount Hotham in summer. There are some great photos of the wildflowers.
I also found this classic poem The Snow-gum from the 1950’s by poet Douglas Stewart from his book The Birdsville Track and other poems. It obiously had nothing to do with the birdsville track but was one of the “other” poems.
Available at the nursery:
At the nursery we have the eucalyptus paucifolia in a 14cm pot (left in the picture).
We also have as pictured on the right an Edna Walling Little Snowman which claims it is a smaller form. The trees I saw looked like they would get between 5 and 10 metres, but we also saw some much bigger and older specimens. I would say this plants seeds were selected from one of the smaller trees.
Also keep in mind, with conditions not as harsh in Melbourne, the tree may grow better. You could also prune early lower branches to create a more definite trunk at the base.
However you grow it, your are sure to enjoy this iconic Australian tree.