Botanical Buzz: Trees with ancient history planted in Dubbo

Standing in the street on the Wellington Road at the new Capstan Drive intersection are these giant sentinels to open up the distant past. I’m talking hundreds of years here. Enough to make you spin round, do a jive step or two; a bit of soul. Amazing stuff. “Whoa yeah,” is what I say.

Dropped off in early April from a road train fleeing the Queensland floods, we received a truckload of 12 Cycads. They measure seven metres-plus to the crown before the two metre spiky leaves. Botanists slot them into the ancient Zamiaceae family, evidence of what Australian author Elanor Dark (1940s) called the Australian landscape, “the timeless land.” Council staff have been rushing fast forward to get them settled.

Three are positioned in our Oasis Valley, Elizabeth Park. While there is a range of different species, our new Cycads are classed with the tallest. The name is Macrozamia moorei. Extant common names are Burrawang and Zamia. They are tolerant of a drier form of rainforest and autumn is the best time to transplant.

Can you believe they grow a mere 10mm a year. The leaf scars along the trunk are jammed so close that some believe growth may even plateau off and become static for many years. Age estimates range between 900 to 1000 years for each tree. They went through historical periods we have only a glimmer of. Hey, hey, what time travellers they are. We are going to be ultra-conservative. If they measure seven metres to the crown where the current leaf bases are, give one hundred years for each metre, giving us seven hundred years, arriving at 1317 AD.

Macrozamia moorei: 12 Cycads have recently been planted in Dubbo with an estimated age range between 900 to 1000 years for each tree.

Macrozamia moorei: 12 Cycads have recently been planted in Dubbo with an estimated age range between 900 to 1000 years for each tree.

From this date in 30 years the Black Death (Plague) will decimate the population of Europe. It would be 200 years before Shakespeare quilled his plays, and 175 years before Columbus ‘sailed his ocean blue in 1492.’

Our Zamias would be seedlings by the time the great Chinese explorer Zheng He sailed for Java, Sri Lanka and on to Kenya in east Africa. What? You haven’t heard of him? True, my school history books left him out as well. Time for an update.

His fleet left the Chinese port of Suzhou in 1405. He had some 27,800 people in the fleet of 62 vessels. It’s all documented. His 6 treasure ships were each 400 feet long (4 times longer than Columbus’ flag ship).

There were 5 expeditions during the Ming dynasty. Our Zamia trees were feathery seedlings at this stage. Recent research shows relics of Zheng He’s visit to Australia’s shores: sunken vessels off the coast, 350 years before Mr. James Cook sighted our coast.

If Asia discovered Australia before the Europeans, perhaps we should view ourselves as a part of Asia after all. Indeed, New Guinea and Indonesia are on our front door step. Zheng He himself may have run his fingers through our Cycad Zamia foliage, little realizing it would end up in Dubbo. Who can say he didn’t? Whoa yeah, is what I say!

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