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Saying goodbye to the Separation Tree

It is with much sadness that the Royal Botanic Gardens confirms that the 400 year-old Separation Tree, damaged in two separate vandalism attacks in 2010 and 2013, is dying and reduction of the canopy will begin in the coming months.

The Eucalyptus camaldulensis (River Red Gum) is the site where citizens of Melbourne gathered on 15 November 1850 to celebrate the news that Victoria was to become a separate colony from New South Wales.

The first attack on 21 August 2010 saw the tree effectively ringbarked and an estimated 90 per cent of its cambial (outer bark) tissue removed. The second attack on 20 July 2013 effectively removed the remaining 10 per cent of cambial tissue and widened the wound significantly.

Despite Gardens’ staff employing a range of innovative horticultural techniques – including patch grafting, bridge grafting, and approach grafting – after the vandalism attacks, the health of the Separation Tree has continued to decline.

Recent investigations have confirmed that the tree is unable to produce callus and repair itself, wood in the canopy has a chalk-like appearance and very little weight to it, and there is no evidence of epicormic growth below the wound or at pruning sites. These factors show that despite the best efforts of Gardens’ experts and external consultants, the tree’s roots are dying and the canopy is following.

Gardens’ staff will soon begin to reduce the tree’s canopy to make the area safe for visitors. The main trunk and scaffold limbs will remain in the landscape until such time as they are deemed unsafe.

Prof. Tim Entwisle, the Royal Botanic Gardens’ Director and Chief Executive, says that the Separation Tree is one of Victoria’s most significant trees and it is important that its story lives on.

“There are also saplings nearby propagated from seed of this tree, including one planted in 1951 to celebrate the centenary of the separation of Victoria and New South Wales.

“Our hope is that these, and other offspring distributed around the State as part of a program in partnership with the Victoria Day Council, will in time become alternative places of reflection and celebration. While the tree may die, its lineage and significance should persist.”

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