Today’s guest: the mountain ash tree
Sofia: Hi, I’m Sofia Ceiba, and on this episode of Talking to Plants we are going to meet the mountain ash tree (Eucalyptus regnans). We are going live to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, Australia to talk with Granny Gumster, the mountain ash.
Sofia: “Granny Gumster” is a cool name. Where did you get that from?
Granny Gumster: Hi-ya, Sofia! Because I’m a gum tree, also known as a eucalypt or eucalyptus tree. Some people call me a mountain ash or Tassie oak because they think I look like an ash or an oak, but those types of trees don’t grow in Australia. I have many more common names like stringy gum and swamp gum. It can get mighty confusing!
Sofia: Yes, it can get confusing! People in different areas give the same plant different common names, so one plant species can have all kinds of common names.
Granny Gumster: Yep! That’s why every plant that people classify scientifically gets one scientific name like mine, Eucalyptus regnans, so that everyone is clear what plant they are talking about. But to keep things simple, just call me Granny Gumster.
Sofia: You bet! Tell me about where you live and some things about yourself,Granny Gumster.
Granny Gumster: I live in a pretty small area of South Eastern Australia, in the states of Victoria and Tasmania. I like to live in mountainous regions where it’s cool and wet. I like areas with over 39 inches (1,000 millimeters) of rain per year. Any place with less rain than that and I get thirsty!
Another fun fact is that my species is one of the tallest flowering plants in the world, maybe even the tallest. We can grow over 300 feet (90 meters) tall! My American friend, Fredwood the coastal redwood, is only a little taller than me and my mountain ash pals.
Wollert (the Leadbeater’s possum): HOWDY!
Sofia: Oh, we have a surprise guest! Who are you?
Granny Gumster: That’s Wollert. He’s my buddy the Leadbeater’s possum, sometimes called a fairy possum. He lives in a hollow in my trunk. His species mostly lives in mountain ash forests, so our species have been neighbors for a long time.
Wollert: I eat the insects under Granny Gumster’s bark. YUM! Granny Gumster’s not crazy about insects, so she gives me a place to live and I give her free pest control! Win-win! Tell Sofia about our troubles, Granny …
Sofia: Troubles? Oh no! What’s troubling you two?
Granny Gumster: We mountain ash and Leadbeater’s possums only live in a small part of Australia. We mountain ash trees can live for 350-500 years, its thought, and it takes a very long time for hollows to form that possums like Wollert can live in.
Lots of us have been logged over the years and big bushfires have wiped out a lot more of us. Some scientists predict that our forests might be undergoing something called “hidden collapse” where us old mountain ashes are disappearing due to logging and big fires. That allows other types of forest to take over where we used to be. And the possums lose precious habitat.
People haven’t really been noticing that until now, so the collapse of our forest spaces and the homes for the possums have been hidden.
The good news is that now that people know about the declines of us mountain ash and the possums that live with us, they can start making choices about protecting more of our habitat and trying to prevent the huge fires from burning down our forests.
Sofia: I’m really sorry to hear about your problems there, but it sounds like there is still some time for people to do something to protect you and the home for Wollert and the other possums.
I hope that being on the show today helped people get to know you and want to get to know you better so they can help protect you.
Granny Gumster and Wollert: US TOO! Thanks for having us on the show, Sofia.