Text and images by Warren Sheather
We tend to think of the Conifers and other members of the Cupressaceae family as inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere. Australia is also home to members of the family. Callitris is the most widespread genus of the family with 17 species native to Australia and 2 species occurring in New Caledonia. New South Wales is home to 10 Callitris with half of these occurring in the Northern Tablelands.
Callitris are often called Cypress Pines. This is a rather confusing common name as they are neither Cypresses nor Pines. Callitris are usually tall shrubs or trees with typical conifer foliage. Bark is persistent, hard and compact. The leaves are in alternating whorls of 3. Male cones are small and carried on the ends of short branches. Female cones are a prominent feature. They are woody, up to 25 millimetres in diameter, with woody scales and containing a number of winged seeds. Picked cones open and release their seeds in about a fortnight.
Some Callitris produce highly-prized, termite resistant timber.
Horticulturally, Callitris could be grown in preference to exotic conifers. They are faster growing and drought resistant.
Propagation is by seed that usually germinates in about 3 weeks.
Three Callitris are of particular interest:
Callitris oblonga has a fractured distribution. There are three subspecies.
One is found in Tasmania. A very small population occurs along the Corang River in southern New South
Wales and the third subspecies is a native of the Northern Tablelands and is known as
Callitris oblonga subsp. parva.
This northern subspecies has populations scattered throughout the region. The two most visible populations are found along the Waterfall Way, east of Armidale.
Botanically there are differences between the three subspecies but horticulturally they are similar.
Callitris oblonga is a tall shrub or small tree that will reach a height of five metres. The branches are dense and the foliage dark green. Female cones are clustered together, longer than broad and up to 24 millimetres in diameter.
Callitris oblonga is a handsome plant that could be grown as a "stand alone" specimen or as a component of an informal hedge. The dense foliage provides safe nesting sites for small native birds. The species is classified as a rare plant.
Callitris endlicheri (left) is known as the Black Cypress Pine and is an imposing
conifer that reaches a height of 10 metres. Branches are spreading and the foliage is dark green or
grey-green. Female cones are ovoid (egg-shaped) and up to 20 millimetres in diameter.
Callitris endlicheri is widely distributed in eastern Australia extending from central Queensland through New South Wales to northern Victoria.
The species has an interesting distribution on the Northern Tablelands. There is a large population on a hill close to the Bundarra Road near Booroolong Creek, west of Armidale. The species then appears around Dangar's Falls, east of Armidale. In days gone by the western population may have extended closer to Armidale. A large dead Callitris endlicheri has been found in a property near Tea Tree Creek. Rabbits may have been responsible for eating juvenile Callitris plants and reducing the original population. Callitris endlicheri could be substituted for exotic conifers.
Callitris glaucophylla (left), the White Cypress Pine, is an attractive and useful
tree that will reach a height of 20 metres. The branches are spreading to erect and the foliage is
grey-green. Females cones are globular, about 25 millimetres in diameter and may be solitary or in
Callitris glaucophylla has probably the widest distribution of any Callitris. The species is found throughout mainland Australia with the main concentration in western New South Wales. The Pilliga Scrub is one of the strongholds of the species and is logged for its valuable, termite resistant softwood timber. Callitris glaucophylla could be another native substitute for exotic conifers. A tall hedge or screen could be created by alternating this species with Callitris endlicheri.
Callitris endlichleri - on the steep gorge walls of Dangars Ck.
Callitris endlichleri - Apsley Ck.