The currawongs found competition for the fruits of the native cherry this summer – I was determined to get to this bounty before them.
For years I have waited patiently for the berry fruits of these beautiful trees – with fine, filigree foliage – to ripen so I can sow them in my garden. The currawongs, however, have always beaten me to my favourite tree at a site in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution to take on the marauding currawongs – both the grey and the black species – this year but all the same I visited the tree a little earlier than I usually do, on the second day of January, to discover it festooned with juicy fruit a little earlier than usual.
It appears the usually eagle-eyed currawongs had not noticed.
The native cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis) looks a little out of place in the Australian forest, one generally dominated by eucalypts and wattles. To my eyes, this member of the sandalwood family resembles a small conifer from the northern hemisphere, often with a conical top. Its leaves form in dense clusters, the bark is rutted and rumpled and does not flake like the eucalypts, or have the generally smooth texture of the silver wattle, common in the same places, wet forest, as the native cheery grows.
When it comes to choosing bird-friendly plants for the garden, nursery catalogues usually recommend callistemons (bottlebrushes), banksias, correas and grevilleas.
Gardeners tend to select plants with stunning flowers, which attract members of the honeyeater family by providing pollen and nectar, and so often overlook the ones that bear seeds and berries later in the season.
These are a vital food source with the approach of autumn and winter for not just species like the omnivorous currawongs and ravens, but for smaller insect-eating birds, and the honeyeaters.
The native cherries are so named because of their plump, red-orange fruits, and in summer and autumn they are alive with birds of many species. Often the smaller birds feast themselves in the dense hearts of the trees which cannot be reached by the currawongs.
I’ve even seen swift parrots in native cherries, building strength in autumn for their long migratory flight – the longest of any parrot – to the mainland.
Arriving to live in Tasmania from my first port of call in Australia, Townsville, I soon discovered what this colder-climate species meant to birds and I set out to plant some in my garden.
They were not in the catalogue of the Plants of Tasmania Nursery at Ridgeway and I soon discovered the native cherry is a root parasite, obtaining nutrients from the spreading roots of host trees in the forest, and is hard to grow from seed. The best method of propagation is to scatter berries at a selected site, although there may be only a slim chance they will take hold.
So each year I gather the cherries, give the outer fruit a chew as the currawongs would, and throw the seeds under the wattles and eucalypts in my garden. They’ve never taken hold in 16 years, but I live in hope.