Last month I took this photo of the sun dimmed through bushfire smoke. Its red colour reminded me of one of the trees whose funeral pyre is now making up much of the smoke - the Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata.)
This Angophora has long been one of my favourite trees. Sydney Red Gums frequently have gnarled and twisted limbs, the colours of which change as they shed and regrow their beautiful smooth bark. Early in summer, the new bark is salmon-pink or a deeper reddish-brown, though not as red as portrayed above. What’s particularly striking is the way these colours are caught by the slanting sun in the “golden hours” of sunrise and sunset, making the trunks and branches glow.
The photograph above was taken yesterday evening, and the next one this morning, albeit a little later than the golden hour:
Closer, the gnarled twists look like this:
Closer still, the texture of the bark and variations in colour are amazing, like this tree in the midst of shedding:
Here’s a completely different colour palette:
And this one looks like an abstract painting or a pattern for a military combat jacket:
This image shows another common feature – dimples or pock-marks. Many of the trees also have curious lumps and bumps or swellings.
To this list can be added the creases at branch junctions:
Sometimes the tree doesn’t need a branch as an excuse, just a bend:
The creatures living on a tree may add further features, such as these egg cases (possibly those of a spider).
Another attraction of the Red Gums is the creamy-white flowers they bear early in summer. En masse, the effect is like this tree at Ball’s Head:
The flowers have a good supply of nectar, attracting both birds and bees. Here’s a closer view of flowers and unopened buds being visited by a honey bee:
Although they are called Sydney Red Gums, the trees are found in open forest along much of the NSW coast. Their range does not extend far inland, however. Given room, they can grow into large trees of up to 25 metres or more. The Angophora genus is closely related to the true Eucalypts (Eucalyptus), and to the Bloodwoods (Corymbia), and all three are collectively known as eucalypts. One point of distinction is that Angophoras have leaves arranged in opposite pairs, not alternately. Another name for the Red Gum is the ‘Smooth-barked Apple’, a name which sits oddly with me. Apparently the trees reminded early Europeans of apple trees. Like all eucalypts Red Gums are flammable, though I suspect not as flammable as some of the oilier eucalypts with thick bark.