A recent display of ACT Heritage Registered Trees at the ACT Heritage Library in Woden included a poster featuring osage orange trees and three olive trees (Olea europaea) on the site of the former Charnwood Homestead in Fraser. When registered in August last year, the largest olive tree was 13 metres in height with a 15-metre width and a trunk circumference of 4.35 metres.
The homestead was first owned by Henry Hall, one of the early pioneer farmers in this region who retired to Yass in 1874. Part of the citation reads that these trees are recognised "for their landscape and aesthetic value due to their visually striking, somewhat enchanting trunks and grand size".
I visited these olive trees three weeks ago. The largest tree was laden with fruit at head height so I picked one black olive and pierced it with a fingernail. Bright red juice spurted out and covered my hands with a red/purple dye. Then I visited the olive trees in Weston Park. There are two youngish trees and six old trees but only two of them were bearing fruit. Parrots were feeding on the ground under the trees and in their branches. Only a ripe olive from one of the trees produced the bright red, oily juice.
At Festa della Repubblica in Forrest a fortnight ago, small black olives locally grown and cured, were for sale. An Italian has told me fresh olives can be washed and dried thoroughly, spread in a single layer on baking trays and baked in a low oven (50C) for two to six hours until shrivelled but not totally dried up. When cool, dress in olive oil, herbs, citrus zest and garlic. Marinate for a few days and eat within a fortnight.
Samantha Ning, tree protection officer with Urban Treescapes in City Services, calls the Fraser olive trees "magical". She points out that anyone can nominate a tree for the register. One species that interests Sam is the Irish strawberry (Arbutus unedo) and, in April, she photographed and tasted the fruit, which "wasn't too bad – a bit like a guava, kind of jelly like in the centre. You wouldn't eat them in the way you eat a regular strawberry, but I think they would make a nice preserve". A number of Arbutus trees in Dirrawan Gardens, Reid, are on the ACT Tree Register.
Associate Professor Dr Dianne Firth of the faculty of arts and design at the University of Canberra is a landscape architecture expert on the ACT Heritage Council. For big trees with edible bits she referred to the English oaks (Quercus robur) at Palmerville Heritage Park in McKellar and said these were 1820s plantings, the mother of all the English oaks in Canberra. The largest is 35 metres wide and 25 metres high.
As Dianne Firth pointed out, oaks were planted as a valuable food source for animals and pig farmers still collect acorns in autumn from the oldest established streets of Canberra. Acorns are said to improve the taste of pork.
Landscape architect David Moyle of Redbox Design Group has suggested a mulberry tree on Gill Street in Lyneham. He says the tree isn't huge, about 8 metres in height and 8 metres wide, and it is not part of the original street tree plantings of the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense) or more recent replacements with ash trees. He assumes it was planted by a resident.
The mulberry "attracts a fair bit of happy attention from the neighbourhood kids (especially our youngest, Emma) at ripening time and, interestingly at Science Fair time when the children are raising silk worms". In China, the white mulberry (Morus alba) is the chief source of food for the silkworm and kitchen gardeners with a black mulberry (Morus nigra) will know just how delicious those berries are and that they stain the teeth, hands and clothes.
Landscape architect Paul Costigan named all the eucalypts that are flowering now. He walked from the National Gallery of Australia towards the National Library and said the smell of honey from the gum blossoms was almost overpowering. He noted beekeepers move their hives around to chase the flowering eucalypts.
Murray Fagg, from the Australian National Botanic Gardens, suggested manna gum (Eucalyptus viminalis). He has seen on the ground beneath the trees blobs of sweet crumbly white manna gum, the size of a pea, which exudes from the bark in summer and early autumn. It is used by Indigenous people.
Readers are invited to name their favourite big trees with edible bits growing in Canberra and areas surrounding the ACT and at the South Coast. One respondent will win a copy of 365 Nature by Anna Carlile (Hardie Grant Books, $49.95). The book's theme is projects to connect you with nature every day. The author's company, Viola Design in Melbourne, encourages design with an eco slant that celebrates and protects the environment.
Winter suggestions include growing mushrooms, growing edible bulbs, making parsnip and apple soup, building a campfire and baking poppyseed damper with an easy compote recipe for rhubarb with honey and earl grey tea.
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