Go on a walk through the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and explore our most special trees!
Please be aware that touching natural parts might cause allergic reactions.
Allow approximately 1 hour
1. Bull Bay, Southern Magnolia
Scientific name: Magnolia grandiflora L.
The tree has thick, creamy white, solitary flowers which are very large - up to 30cm in diameter – and have a beautiful lemon scent. The pollen is rich in protein and beetles are the main pollinators.
Activity - Meditation: Smell & touch
Take a long few moments to really examine and soak up the pleasure of the magnolia flower with all your senses.
Take a flower in your hand, examining it with your eyes and fingers, touch the creamy white petals, feel their soft, thick texture with your hands. Notice the pollen and look to see if there are any beetles inside the flower.
Move your face towards the flower and breathe in it’s perfume. Close your eyes and breathe in again deeply.
Allow yourself to pause for a moment, simply enjoying the pleasurable sensation of smelling and touching this beautiful creamy, lemony, very large flower.
2. Maiden Hair Tree
Scientific name: Ginkgo biloba L.
Ginkgo biloba is the only surviving member of an ancient order (Ginkgoales) of seed-bearing plants around 270 million years old. Individual trees and populations of trees are renowned and revered for their longevity, with one bonsai specimen in China said to be over 1,300 years old.
Ginkgo extracts made from the tree’s seeds and leaves are used widely in Traditional Chinese medicine, although the mature seed is reported to have an unpleasant, rancid smell like vomit!
Activity - Conversation with a tree
This is a wise, old tree, whose lineage is millions of years old. It has gathered knowledge over the millennia from all the plants, animals and people it has encountered. It has sheltered them and heard their secrets.
Allow yourself to have a conversation with this tree. Tell it a secret, share a story, ask it a question and listen deeply to hear it’s response. What wisdom do you gain from sitting with and listening deeply to this tree?
3. Macadamia, Rough-shelled Bush Nut
Scientific name: Macadamia tetraphylla
Be careful around this tree if you have a nut allergy!
Macadamia is a genus of four species that grow only in eastern Australia. They were a traditional food of Aboriginal people. All species are now listed as vulnerable or endangered. They are threatened by habitat loss and the fragmentation of isolated small populations, invasive weeds, fire, climate change and genetic pollution by hybridising.
Activity - Australia’s native nut
Nut shells and seed pods are great for making natural ephemeral art. Collect some nut shells that have fallen on the ground.
Notice what stage they are at. Are they green? Brown? Open? Closed?
Use the fallen nut shells and perhaps some fallen leaves or sticks from the macadamia nut tree to make a creative design, piece of ecoart or ephemeral art on the ground under the tree.
4. Klinki Pine
Scientific name: Araucaria hunsteinii
Long lived and large, the Klinki Pine may live to 500 years and attain 90 metres in height. Closely related to the Bunya Pine, this tree has unfortunately been widely exploited for timber for use in the plywood industry.
Activity - Meditation: Touch
Using your sense of touch, explore the rough bark and spikey leaves of the Klinki Pine. Be careful because the leaves are very spikey!
If you’re up for a challenge and would like to take this one step further, start exploring the bark and leaves of trees (Klinki Pines and others) with a blindfold on. This is best done with a partner who acts as a guide, making sure you don’t injure yourself by walking into a tree!
See if you can identify different trees by the texture of their bark and leaves instead of using your eyes. Us humans rely heavily on our eyesight. How does it feel to be blindfolded?
5. Cook Pine, New Caledonia Pine
Scientific name: Araucaria columnaris
These coastal trees from New Caledonia grow up to 60m tall and have a distinct lean. On average these trees lean 8.55 degrees, which is twice the tilt of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Trees in the southern hemisphere lean north and in the northern hemisphere lean south, with the size of the lean being greater the further the tree is from the equator. It is still not fully understood why these trees exhibit this unique characteristic.
Activity - Tree Yoga
Take a moment to move mindfully, inspired by this tall tree.
Breathe in and take both arms out to the sides and up over your head until your palms come together to touch.
As you breathe out lower your arms down back to your sides. Repeat this a few times.
Then, breathe in and take both arms up overhead until your palms come together.
As you breathe out, bend sideways to the right, keeping your palms clasped together overhead.
Breathe in and come back to centre.
Breathe out and bend to sideways to the left, keeping your palms together.
Repeat this a few times, leaning side to side, stretching, inspired by the Cook Pine.
6. Coolamon, Watermelon Tree
Scientific name: Syzygium moorei
Beautiful watermelon pink flowers look like fluffy feathers. Large white round fruit is edible raw and can also be used in preserves or jams like other Lilly Pillies. Flowers and later fruit appear directly out of woody branches or sometimes mature stems. This unusual type of flowering is often found in rainforest trees.
Activity - Mandala
Please only pick up things that are on the ground – if they are still on the plant we leave them there for everyone to enjoy.
Inspired by the beautiful colour and texture of the Coolamon flowers, go on a scavenger hunt and collect leaves and flowers with interesting colours and textures. Use them to make a colourful mandala eco-artwork.
Start by choosing one of the leaves or flowers you have collected for a centrepiece and put it down on the ground.
Then around it, arrange and lay out all the other leaves and flowers you have collected.
You could be inspired by a traditional mandala and try to make geometric repeating patterns, or your mandala could be more organic – let your creativity decide!
7. Silk Floss Tree
Scientific name: Ceiba speciose
Regularly cited as one of the most spectacular trees in the world, the Silk Floss Tree has become a popular ornamental tree in warmer climates. It is in the same family as Hibiscus and Boab trees. Flowers are showy, rich in nectar and as their size and position
on the outside of the canopy suggest, they are pollinated by bats (the grey headed flying fox) at night and birds during the day.
Sit underneath this tree and observe the movements of the birds that come to pollinate it, noticing them first with your eyes. Now close your eyes and listen for bird song.
Listen for the closest bird song to you, then move your awareness out further, listening for bird song sounds in the four directions, N, S, E, W and listening for the quietest bird sound in the distance.
What do you think the birds might be saying to each other with their songs? Did you notice any alarm calls? Mating songs?
Listening to and observing bird language is a great way to learn about what is happening in the natural world around us.
8. Black Bean, Moreton Bay Chestnut
Scientific name: Castanospermum austral
Large cylindrical pods, 12-20 cm long are produced from autumn to winter. These pods split in two, revealing 3-5 cm large bean like seeds weighing about 30 grams. Seeds are poisonous, not eaten by native animals and float.
The chemical compound, Castanospermine was extracted from the seeds and research is ongoing into its use in inhibiting viruses such as HIV and Dengue Fever. Although the seeds are toxic, Aboriginal people, for over 2500 years, have understood how to leach the toxins from the seeds and by subsequent roasting create an edible damper (bread).
Seeds and seedpods can often make interesting musical instruments. Find an empty seedpod on the ground and experiment with how you can use it to make different sounds.
Try clapping the two halves together like clapsticks, dragging or tapping a stick on the outside of the pod, tapping the pod against the tree trunk or a rock… see how creative you can be.
Do it in pairs or a group and make a bush orchestra with seedpod, stick and rock instruments.
9. Ombu, Bella Sombra
Scientific name: Phytolacca dioica L.
The massive swollen trunk and branches are the result of an abnormal thickening of the stem and not true wood. This reflects the Ombu’s evolution from herbaceous relatives. It results in fast growth but soft and spongy wood. You will often find fallen branches on the ground, pick one up and feel how light they are.
The Ombu’s massive spongy trunk contains water storage tissue, providing protection against intense grass fires that occur in its native habitat, the Pampa (Pampas) region of South America (Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil).
Activity - Mindfullness Meditation
The enormous roots and shady canopy of the Ombu tree make it a great place to sit and have a sit spot. In your sit spot, you have full permission to do nothing. Allow yourself 10-20 minutes to simply sit, enjoy the bark of the tree, notice the way the sunlight dapples through the canopy and the leaves sway in the breeze. Notice the birds flying around, their activity and songs.
This is actually a form of mindfulness meditation that relaxes the overworked pre-frontal cortex (the busy, task-orientated, “thinking” part of the brain) and gives your mental and emotional systems time to reboot in a delicious daydreamy sort of way.
Soak it up and trust that its good for you.