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The death of an oak



February 22, 2020


The collapse of a 150 year old giant white oak (Quercus alba) in the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria  has brought home the reality of climate change and plant survival.

The much loved tree, thought to have been part of the 1862 planting of oaks the famous Oak Lawn had shown signs of stress. But before further tests could be completed, the tree collapsed, leaving a hole in the city’s most iconic landscape.

The tree’s branches have been left where they dropped, giving tree fans a chance to say goodbye.  Gardens staff are also investigating ways to give the wood a second life.

Professor Tim Entwisle, Director and Chief Executive, RBGV, says: “We are not sure yet of the cause of its demise, but it’s likely to be a mix of old age, droughts, winds and climate change.

“While this species lives to 300 years or more in natural habitat of eastern and central North America, in the warmer Melbourne climate oaks and elms grow twice as fast and can senesce at a younger age. But that’s only part of the story,” he says.

“Melbourne has experienced many hot summers over the past few decades, and the millennial drought, in particular, took many of Melbourne’s historic streetscape trees with it.

“Climate change is a threat to plant and human life, and already it is changing what we can grow in our streets, parks and gardens,” says Prof Entwisle.

In 2017, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria took action to mitigate the impact of climate change on its landscape and important plant collections. The organisation commissioned an assessment of nearly three-quarters of its living collections, testing their viability and likely survival in Melbourne’s predicted climate for 2090. That is, hotter and drier, more like Dubbo in New South Wales or overseas, Algiers (in Algeria) and Tijuana (in Mexico).

In December 2018, RBGV brought 10 botanic gardens and 3 national and international garden networks, from around the world together to create the Climate Change Alliance of Botanic Gardens, a network dedicated to responding to the global impacts of climate change in botanic gardens. Since that time the number has grown to 50 international member gardens.


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