Victoria's Famed 400-Year-Old 'Separation' Gum Tree Is Dying, Killed Off By Vandals

The Separation Tree. Source: Royal Botanic Gardens.

The river red gum in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens citizens gathered on 15 November 1850, to celebrate news that Victoria would become a separate colony from New
South Wales is dying, the victim of two separate vandalism attacks in 2010 and 2013, which ringbarked the 400 year-old tree.

Royal Botanic Gardens’ director and chief executive Professor Tim Entwisle said the Separation Tree is one of Victoria’s most significant trees and he was deeply saddened to confirm the end was coming, despite attempts to revive the tree over the last four years.

The 2010 ringbarking of the tree. Source: Royal Botanic Gardens.

Gardens staff will reduce the tree’s canopy in coming months to make the area safe. Red river gums (eucalyptus camaldulensis) have the nickname “widow makers” because they prune themselves when distressed, dropping large branches without warning.

The main trunk and scaffold limbs of the Separation Tree will remain in the gardens until deemed unsafe.

The tree has been in decline since 21 August 2010, when the tree was ringbarked and around 90% of the outer bark tissue was lost. A second vandalism attack on 20 July 2013 effectively removed the remaining 10%. The vandalism continues to be investigated by Victoria Police.

Experts tried several methods to revive the tree, but by March last year evidence of significant dieback showed it was unable to repair itself. In November 2014, further investigation revealed the tree’s roots were dying and the canopy is following.

Prof. Entwisle said he hoped some part of the tree can remain in perpetuity as a memorial.

“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 NSW,”he said.

“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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