Our nursery – food for our koalas
Friends of the Koala operate a native plant nursery which is open to the community by appointment. The nursery is located behind our Koala Hospital and issues koala food trees for $1 each to landholders with land where koalas reside in the Northern Rivers Region.
Koalas rely exclusively on a small number of Eucalyptus trees for their food. These trees are referred to as their primary browse trees, and these vary from region to region. The species they prefer varies throughout their ranges. They do browse opportunistically on other species of eucalypts, as well as some non-eucalypts that are utilised for other reasons, such as to sit in the shade on a hot day. The major food trees relied on by koalas in the Northern Rivers region are listed below:
Primary browse trees:
- Forest Red Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis)
- Tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys)
- Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta)
Secondary browse trees:
- Flooded Gum (Eucalyptus grandis)
- Grey Gum (Eucalyptus propinqua)
- Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis)
- Sydney Blue Gum (Eucalyptus saligna)
- Scribbly Gum (Eucalyptus signata)
- Grey Ironbark (Eucalyptus siderophloia)
- Forest Oak (Allocasuarina torulosa)
- Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus)
- Paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia)
Following the 2019/2020 bushfires the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife (FNPW) awarded a Bushfire Recovery Nursery grant to Friends of the Koala to grow the tree varieties these lovely marsupials love so much: Forest Red Gum, Tallowwood and Swamp Mahogany as well as other food and shelter trees. The extra funding provided by the FNPW grant combined with the Southern Cross University donation of a plot of land means Friends of the Koala is able to produce 240,000 native seedlings over a three-year period so roughly 80,000 capacity of the nursery per year. The grant is part of FNPW’s mission to plant one million trees in bushfire affected regions around the country.
As well as planting trees as food for koalas, it is important to include a number of non-food trees that will be utilised for shelter and resting. These trees are normally quite bushy and provide a cool spot for koalas to rest, especially during hot weather. The percentage of food trees vs shelter trees can vary at each site but a ratio of 75% food to 25% shelter is a good guide. Examples of shelter trees are Lilly-pilly, Turpentine, Swamp Box, and various rainforest species.
The selection of tree species for particular locations will be dependent on soil type and soil moisture. As an example, species such as Swamp Mahogany, Forest Red Gum and Paperbark prefer wet or moist soils, whereas Tallowwood, Grey Gum and Grey Ironbark prefer drier sites.
Sowing and planting
We start by sowing the seeds which germinate in 10 to 14 days and then generally within about 14 to 16 weeks we can get a koala tree ready to go in the ground. Normally 3 years after a tree has been planted it is big enough for the koala to use – that’s if it hasn’t been ripped out by floods – which we know also happens. Over our entire history, Friends of the Koala have issued and planted over 200,000 koala food trees across the region. If we were to include native rainforest species, the number would be closer to 500,000. Our recent nursery upgrade will deliver capacity for our community nursery to issue a further 240,000 koala food trees in the next three years. That’s double our total number in a tenth of the time!
Our nursery is run by Mark Wilson the Nursery Manager.