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Artarmon reserve - soils, vegetation

It is not only the climate and seasons that affect the type, quantity and quality of vegetation in our area. Soils are another factor. Artarmon is located on a lens of Wianamatta shale which lies over the Hawksbury sandstone. This accounts for the heavy clay most of us encounter when we dig over a new or neglected plot. The clay soils extend through much of the higher areas of Artarmon and Chatswood but peter out where the sandstone is exposed on ridges and in gullies. Artarmon Reserve has examples of both clay and sandstone soils. Clay soils have both advantages and disadvantages.

The bad news first. They are difficult to work when either too wet or too dry. Too wet and they are heavy and stick to gardening tools - too dry and they set like concrete. As if you needed me to tell you!

The good news is that they are moderately fertile. They retain moisture much better than sandstone soils and respond well to applications of organic fertilisers, unlike sandstone soils, which are forever thirsty and have an insatiable appetite for organic material. Clay soils retain organic material longer, becoming lighter and easier to work.

Originally our clay soils carried a magnificent forest of Blue Gum, Eucalyptus saligna and Blackbutt, Eucalyptus pilularis.

That forest fell to the saws and axes of the early settlers. The timber-getters took out what they wanted, the rest was cleared for farming by soldiers and emancipists. William Gore and his successors Richard Hayes and George Robert Riley farmed east of the railway line. When Artarmon Railway Station opened in 1898 the area was opened up for subdivision and residential development.

There are still a few Blue Gums and Blackbutts beside the creek where clay soils have been washed down into the sandstone gully. There you'll find too the much loved Sydney Red Gum also known as the Smooth-barked Apple or Rusty Gum, Angophora costata.

Blue Gums are tall straight trees with a heavy crown, smooth blue-green bark and a stocking of rough grey fibrous bark. The leaves are narrow, paler underneath and have a long tapering point. It has been an important timber tree used for construction, poles and flooring.

Blackbutts are very large straight trees. The smaller branches reach upwards with fluffy bunches of leaves at the top. The bark is grey-brown, rough, stringy and covers most of the main trunk. The upper trunk and branches are smooth and creamy-yellow. It has been one of Australia's most important trees for housing and other construction.

The beautiful Sydney Red Gum sheds its grey bark near Christmas. It is seen around th e harbour and places like Harold Reid Reserve where it grows between and over sandstone rocks. Look for a tall or gnarled tree with smooth bark, grey before it sheds to show magnificent rust-red. It often has wrinkles or folds under its armpits. Its leaves are narrow and unlike eucalypts they are arranged opposite each other on the stems. It is often stained with the dark red gum, which was once used to stop bleeding.

Next issue I will talk about some of the other species to be found in the reserve and also about the work being achieved there by Council officers and volunteers.

by Mollie Shelley

Courtesy of Gazette November 2011
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