Forestry Tasmania will seek to identify, manage and protect giant trees in Tasmania’s Permanent Timber Production Zone. Giant Trees are defined as trees that are at least 85 metres tall or at least 280 cubic metres estimated stem volume. Based on current known examples, trees of this volume are generally at least 5m in diameter at chest height.
Under this policy, Forestry Tasmania will:
• Protect currently known Giant Trees;
• Periodically remeasure known Giant Trees;
• Undertake surveys to identify any Giant Trees within coupes in the Three Year Plan that have the potential to contain these trees;
• Maintain a register of all Giant Trees recorded in Tasmania;
• Promote with other forest managers a state wide tourism strategy for Giant Tree appreciation on all tenures and participate in its implementation
– Forestry Tasmania, October 2013
Tasmanian Oak is the common name used to refer to the timber of up to eight different species of Eucalypt that are all marketed collectively. The three main species, E. regnans, E. obliqua and E. delegatensis are all hardwoods that are highly favoured for floorboards, furniture, veneer and plywood. Although these three species are not only found within Tasmania, regnans and obliqua are generally more successful down on the island. The problem is their sourcing. Although they are used in plantations, particularly in New Zealand where there is a high rainfall, anyone buying these products must exercise extreme caution in order to evade the use of trees that have been logged from Old Growth forests in Tasmania. That is harder than it sounds, as so often Old Growth forests are logged, or partially logged and then the tract is used for regeneration for the purposes of logging. Prompting the question, when is a plantation not a plantation?
Eucalyptus regnans is the second tallest tree in the world, second only to the insanely huge American Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). That said, it has been suggested that E. regnans could possibly reach if not exceed the Redwood given its history of being logged before it attains full maturity. The tallest American Redwood has been measured at 115.5 metres, while in 1881 the surveyor George Cornthwaite measured a regnans that had been felled in Victoria at 114.3 metres. Found in Victoria in 1871 or 1872 the Ferguson Tree was claimed to be the tallest discovered, at 132.6 though this record is disputed as unreliable. Yet, there can be no doubt that such heights are plausible, given that in 1888 Al Carder offered a 100 pound reward for anyone that discovered a tree measuring more than 122 metres. That the reward was never claimed suggests, however, that such trees were not so easily found. While the American redwoods take thousands of years to reach their height, the Eucalypt lives fast, dies young, with a lifespan of 350-400 years. Tasmania has at least 140 such trees taller than 85m. On the island these giants are known on a first name basis, under such grandiloquent titles as Centurion, Damocles, El Grande, Gandalf’s Staff, Icarus Dream and Medusa.
Known more commonly as Mountain Ash, Swamp Gum, Stringybark, E. regnans prefers high rainfall areas on deep, fertile soils. In Tasmania it can be found in the northeast and the Huon and Derwent Valleys. The most controversial and sensitive areas of its growth are in the highly logged Styx and Florentine Valleys. But it occurs throughout the North of Tasmania, and, as old growth is logged and plantations crop up, its presence, or at least the presence of its fellow pseudonyms is on the increase along with the faster growing E. nitens and E. globulus, taking precedence over the other rainforest trees native to high rainfall areas.
E. regnans is the tallest flowering hardwood in the world and, absurdly given its monstrosity, develops out of a tiny seed no bigger than the following full stop. Its seeds are pyramidal, its buds obovoid, fruit obconical,
operculum rounded, often apiculate, stamens irregularly flexed, anthers reniform to cordate, versatile, dorsifixed, dehiscing by confluent slits (usually), style long, stigma blunt or tapered, locules usually 3, the placentae each with 2 vertical ovule rows.
Its flowers are white. Not that you’d see them, unless, of course, you were practising your skills on the trapeze. Its bark is rough and is shed in long ribbons, often up to ten metres in length. Underneath, the trunk is smooth and white, but up the top it becomes a bright green when it gets wet. According to the poetic license of Murray Bail the term ‘tall timber’ is used locally ‘to render male flesh abstract’ (Murray Bail, Eucalyptus: 73). And truly, there is something about the regnans that is somehow intensely masculine. As if whatever is so tall, so upright can’t help representing the megalomaniacal hyperbole of a phallic protrusion. But more than merely phallic, the tree signifies the phallocracy, the top point of a hierarchy, regnans, the ruling monarch; a hierarchy that doesn’t even exist for the other trees. A singular king, isolated in his grandeur, sticking out all on his own above the forest, like the proliferation of lunatics recorded by doctor Félix Voisin, believing themselves to be napoleon in the mid 19th century.
In unpretentious contrast is the communal Messmate. Common names, Messmate, Stringybark. E. obliqua, also bearing the trade name Tasmanian Oak, nonetheless has its claim to fame. The first eucalypt species described and named, it was among the specimens collected in 1777 by collector David Nelson at Adventure Bay in Bruny Island, Tasmania during Captain James Cook’s third Pacific expedition with the HM Ships Resolution and Discovery. It was subsequently described by the botanist L’Heritier in 1788. L’Heritier (full name, Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle) used the Linnean system of nomenclature and corresponded with the English botanist Joseph Banks, to whose expansive library of botany L’Heritier’s was said to be second in the world. It was L’Heritier who coined the generic term Eucalyptus, combining the two Greek roots eu and kalyptos, meaning ‘well’ and ‘covered’, in reference to the prudishly hidden reproductive structures, covered by an operculum during the development of the flower bud until the pressure of the emerging stamens causes this casing to be shed. Interestingly, the publication of this name coincided with the first official European settlement of Australia, reinforcing the idea that the first step in claiming ownership is the act of naming. According to Genesis man is the namer:
All nature, insofar as it communicates itself, communicates itself in language, and so finally in man. Hence, he is the lord of nature and can give names to things. (Benjamin, On Language as Such and on the Language of Man, 65)
The Judeo-Christian tradition is a massive authority to come up against, and there by the prerogative of His word made flesh, God says ‘Let there be’ and ‘He named’, blasting into later thought not only the creative omnipotence of language as the beginning, and the resolution of what is created into names, but also the authoritative, signatory assumption of the act in writing. This tyranny of language, which is also over language, is passed on to man (‘As man should name all kinds of living creatures, so should they be called.’). Only woman remains to be named, given to man as the object of man’s transferrable skill: his knowledge of His creation. No feminine pronouns in the nominative here. First he calls her woman, then, he names her Eve. Woman and nature thus suggest a similar position in the hierarchy of naming, justifying later practises which simultaneously make woman and nature objects for study as well as accounting to them both an anarchic spirit, in that they are both, from the very first, one step removed from the logos of creation. (see Anne Carson)
God called him Adam, putting Adam in a position of servitude, raising himself to the position of omnipotency. Names belong to God, but for men they are a matter of knowledge without content. Why is a tree called a tree? We can have knowledge of a tree, but any identity between signified and signifier, according to the Biblical tradition is in the mind of God alone. To name is a simultaneously naïve and overweening human project, Babelian. Naming is tyrrany, it is man’s despotic weapon pointed at containing the world around him. By giving it to Adam to name the natural world Adam is put in a similar position of supremacy to God, one rung down the ladder, but still above the objects of his naming game. This is the proper heritage for the phallologocentric orientation of Western Culture; man and word as the origin of all things.
How this act of naming was transferred into the enlightenment project of taxonomy is obvious: naming as creation, as ordering, naming as power. Taxonomic systems, with nomenclature as its strongest cladus, have as their aim the transformation of what is chaotic in nature into a system of control, something that man can get his tongue around.
The fundamental codes of a culture – those governing its language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of practices – establish for every man, from the very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home. (Foucault, The Order of Things, xxii.)
Trees are named and put into relation with one another, where, except for similarity of genus, no relation exists, or they put out of relation where no similarity in genus exists despite their essential symbiosis. Taxonomy severs and divides the relations of nature transforming the world according to a code entirely manufactured by humans, alphabetical, a species based etc. In our minds we are able to peel the moss off the rock, lift the leaves from the ground, consider each item as an independent unit, where no such unit exists. A wilderness is the totality of its forms and species. Perhaps it is our linguistic and mental abstractions that allow us to carve up the land in a more than linguistic way, chopping down the trees, razing the scrub and digging deep into the soil and rocks.
In this sense I can’t help but feel sympathy for poor Regnans, twice, thrice cursed in name. If names do affect the nature of things, this tree must suffer severe alienation; bearing not only the variety of names that mark its taxonomic point of reference, but also its common, trade, and even personal names for the giants. Naming the tall trees means further separating them off from the others, marking them as exceptional and making them the exceptions, those that are named are therefore saved. So that naming is saving, the grace of having a name, bestowing grace as name giving. The ‘Giant Tree Policy’ is Forestry Tasmania’s divine intervention.
In 2016 Forestry Management Plan, the Giant Tree Policy was revised:
Tasmania’s giant trees are among the largest hardwoods in the world and are of national and international significance. Giant trees are not protected by legislation in Tasmania or covered specifically by the Forest Practices Code. However, Forestry Tasmania recognises the cultural value of these trees…
On a more positive note, though in the past tense, there have been exceptions to the rule that size does matter: in a United Kingdom High Court ruling in 2009, relating to a dispute concerning a tree preservation order imposed in 2005 on woodland in Kent, the judge, Mr Justice Cranston declared:
There is no statutory definition of a tree…I conclude that with tree preservation orders there are no limitations in terms of size for what is to be treated as a tree. In other words, saplings are trees.
He went so far as to state that preservation orders extend to all trees, ‘even if not in existence at the time.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the very next year after L’Heritier’s historically consequential and far-reaching act of authoritative nomenclature, the French Revolution broke out, leading to the ultimate execution of the monarch (Regnans), and the subsequent rise of all those short pseudo-Bonapartes.