It was late afternoon when a loud crack and thundering crash came from the food forest. After the hottest, driest summer on record, February ended with a nice drop rain, 45mm, from the peripheral edge of Cyclone Oma. It also brought fierce gusty winds. The winds proved too much for the magnificent Mexican fern tree, the crowning canopy of my subtropical food forest.
From a seedling planted 25 years ago, this tree grew into a 30m high giant with a massive umbrella-shaped canopy towering over the fruit trees and smaller legume trees. Its primary function was to support a frost-free microclimate for the frost-sensitive tropical and subtropical fruits.
We were fortunate that it fell where it did and there was no major damage other than a few damaged limbs of valuable fruit trees – nothing a bit of pruning won’t fix.
The vertical root ball of the fallen tree stood 2.5 meters high and nearly five meters long. I was disappointed to see it had taken down a beautiful 25 year-old plum pine that had its roots intertwined with the fern tree.
At the end of the clean up, with an encouraging push the last 2 meters of trunk stood back up erect and the root mass nestled back into the ground. The plum pine stood back up with it, albeit now with a bit of a lean, however we are confident it will survive.
The branches and canopy yielded nearly 10 cubic meters of woodchip mulch. The 60cm wide trunk has been sawn into one meter lengths and will be moved to different spots in the food forest to feed the fungi, the decomposers and provide slow-release nutrients to surrounding trees. The timber is not suitable for building or durable items.
I thank this giant tree-being for 25 years of providing a microclimate for the food forest, for sequestering many tonnes of carbon, for providing habitat, cycling nutrients and in the end for a bounty of fresh biomass to mulch and support other plants. I’m also very grateful it fell where it did with minimal damage and where it was easily accessed to clean up.