― 74 ―

No. 54: Casuarina lepidophloia,


The Belah.

(Natural Order CASUARINACEÆ.)

Botanical deseription.

— Natural Order Casuarinaceæ, Mirbel.

Flowers. — Diœcious or monœcous, diclinous (unisexual), both sexes sessile and solitary in the axils of whorled bracts, the bracts of each whorl united into a toothed sheath enclosing the base of the whorl of flowers.

Staminate Flowers. — In cylindrical terminal spikes; each stamen solitary, surrounded by two perianth leaves consisting of concave or hood-shaped segments, breaking off at their narrow base as they are forced off by the development of the stamen, below which are two persistent bracteoles placed right and left. The anther with 2 large distinct cells, placed back to back; they open laterally, the stamen is exserted, and the filament folded in the bud.

Pistillate Flowers. — In globular or ovid tufts, or dense spikes terminating short lateral branches, naked, but each having two persistent bracteoles as in the staminate ones. Styles with two branches, thread-like, usually red, the stigmas pointed. The ovary 1- (rarely 2-) celled, with 1-2 ascending ovules.

Fruit. — A seed-like compressed nut, smooth and shining, and produced at the apex into a membranous wing; the enlarged and thickened woody bracts and bracteoles forming a compact cone, closing over the unripe nuts and opening (as valves) when ripe. The opaque nerve, often seen running through the wing, is the remains of the style.

Seeds. — Solitary, erect; exalbumitious; with spiral vessels in their outward walls. ("Full of matted spiral vessels — Hooker.) Leafless trees or shrubs with verticillate deciduous branchlets.

Leaves. — Replaced by small verticillate teeth united by the margin into sheathing joints.

The most complete set of drawings of Casuarina known to me form Plate xcvi, C. suberosa, of Hooker's "Flora of Tasmania."

The characters and range of the genus are the same as in the Order.

In Casuarina,note Juglans (the Walnut), and the Order Corylaceæ (or Cupuliferæ, the British Oak Order) the pollen tube does not enter by means of the micropyle, but passing down the ovary wall, and through the placenta, enters at the chalazal end of the ovule. Such a mode of entrance is distinguished as chalazogamic from the ordinary or porogamic method. — (A. B. Rendle.)

When Treub discovered the chalazogamic fertilisation of this Order, he proposed to remove it from its place near the Betulaceæ (a sub-order of the Corylaceæ) where it was formerly placed. It was a later discovery that Juglans and the Corylaceæ are also chalazogamic.

  ― 75 ―

Engler, in his "Syllabus der Pflanzen-familien" (1898), gives the place of Casuarina as follows:—

Embryophyta Siphonogama.

ii. Angiospermæ.

2. Class Dicotyledoneæ.

1. Sub-class Archichlamydeæ.

1. Series Verticillatæ.

The Verticellatæ includes Casuarinaceæ solely. Series 7 is Juglandales, which includes the Juglandaceæ, and consequently Juglans, while Series 8 is Fagales, which includes the family Betulaceæ and the Coryleæ and Betuleæ as sub- families.

The fact is that the precise relationships of some of the primitive Dicotyledons is still not finally settled.

Vernacular Names.

Origin of the term She Oak. Casuarinas are known as "Oaks" or "She Oaks." Various species go under the name of "Forest Oak," "River Oak," " Swamp Oak," "Bull Oak," "Black Oak," "Belah," or "Belar," "Beefwood." These are the principal names, but there are a number of others which will be given as the various species come under review.

The origin of the name "She Oak" has from time to time given rise to discussion, but I think it is quite clear.

The aborigines name the Casuarina She-look, which has probably been corrupted by the early settlers into She Oak. — (George Bennett, Ind. Progress of N.S.W. (1870). Art. Oranges, p. 675.)

I cannot accept this without very strong evidence.

In his "Flora of Tasmania," i, 340, Dr. (now Sir) Joseph Hooker says:—

She Oak, a name I believe adapted from North American "Sheack"; though more nearly allied botanically to the Northern Oaks than any Tasmanian genus except Fagus; they have nothing to do with that genus in habit or appearance, nor with the Canadian "Sheack."

Following are extracts from letters to me concerning the origin of the name "She Oak" from the late Prof. E. E. Morris, of Melbourne, whose too-early death many of us deplore. Unfortunately his notes were not printed:—

I have just received a second letter from Sir Joseph Hooker, in which he abandons any defence of his well-known explanation . . . . . . . I have, as far as one can prove a negative, disproved the existence of the American tree. I am now putting together my notes on the subject, and should they be printed, I will send you a copy.

Personally, I do not think we need look for any far-fetched derivation of the term "She Oak." There is evidence that it reminded the early settlers of oak.

The best kind is a tree with a pine top, but it is very hard, and in grain not unlike the English Oak. — (Letter of Major Ross from Sydney, 10th July, 1788. Hist. Records, N.S.W., Vol. 1, Part 2, p. 172).

See also an even earlier comparison of the wood to English Oak by Governor Phillip, infra, p. 78.

  ― 76 ―
The similarity of the timber of the Sydney species (e.g., C. glauca, suberosa, torulosa) to that of Quercus (Northern Oak) is, of course, obvious. As regards the use of the prefix "she," to denote paleness of colour or inferiority, this is an Australian practice which has long been established, and which is open to no doubt. Bushmen continue to use the term daily, thus we have "She Beech," "She Pine," "She Ironbark."


— The "foliage" consists of long fine apparently leafless verticillate branches. Leaves are really present in Casuarinas, but are reduced to minute whorled teeth or bristles forming the top of a cylindrical joint. These branchlet-joints are fornied by the concrescence of leaves, each tooth being merely the apex of a leaf. The transit of such diminutive or rudimentary leaves to those of more developed form can be traced in the allied Order Coniferæ from Cypresses to Pines.

The branchlet-joints are sometimes more or less furrowed, but, as a rule, the furrows are not evident in living specimens, but become visible on drying.

The stomata lie at the bottom of narrow furrows, which run along the green leafless branches, and peculiar hair structures are present in the furrows to which the hair adheres, forming a barrier against water, exactly as those of Cytisus. The Casuarinæ, which must finish their work for the year during the very short rainy period of their native country, require during this time arrangements providing for unhindered transpiration no less than does the Cytisus in the Southern Alps — (Kerner and Oliver, i, 298)

Casuarinas, of course, grow in the well-watered coastal areas as well as in the coastal tracts; at the same time their structure is essentially xerophilous.

Attention may here be invited to a paper by L. A. Boodle and W. C. Worsdell, "On the comparative anatomy of Casuarinæ, with special reference to the Gnetaceæ and Cupuliferæ."

The weirdness of these apparently leafless switch-like trees has not escaped the notice of our Australian poets, but since they are so common I fully expected they would oftener inspire the burden of their song. They suggest the minor key. They appear to have impressed Harpur more than any of our poets, and one of his poems is entitled "The Voice of the Swamp Oak" —

"Up in its dusk boughs out-tressing,
Like the hair of a giant's head,
Mournful things beyond our guessing
Day and night are uttered.

Even when the waveless air
May only stir the slightest leaf,
A lowly voice keeps moaning there
Wordless oracles of grief.

But when nightly blasts are roaming,
Lowly is that voice no more;
From the streaming branches coming
Elfin shrieks are heard to pour."

He thus compares the branchlets to the human hair, and the sighing of the wind through them to moans and shrieks.

  ― 77 ―
In his "Creek of the Four Graves" he still has this simile of hair in view, but daintily refers to the "sylvan eyelash" in alluding to what most of us know as the "River Oak" (C. Cunninghamiana):—

"From either bank, or duskily befringed
With upward tapering feathery swamp oaks,
The sylvan eyelash always of remote
Australian waters, whether gleaming still
In lake or pool, or bickering along
Between the marges of some eager stream."

To Lawson the She Oaks of the Mudgee district sigh, while the branchlets are grassy:—

"Now still down Reedy River
The grassy she oaks sigh." — (Reedy River.)

and —

"Till I sighed in my heart to the sigh of the Oaks." — (Eurunderee.)

The Belar is the Oak of which I am specially treating in this Part, and Ogilvie in his "The Graves out West," prettily alludes to —

"God's choristers invisible — the winds in the Belars."

So that our oaks form ælian harps. And the soughing or sighing of the wind through them suggests sadness, weirdness, and the moans and shrieks of elves.


— Casuarina timbers vary so much in depth of tint, in the extent and distribution of the blotchy grain (medullary rays) to which the wood owes so much of its beauty, that it is difficult to describe it by any brief general description. Some of the deep-red kinds imported into England at one time very largely, Mr. Holtzapffel, the well-known authority on turnery, describes as -

In general colour resembling a full red mahogany, with darker red veins; the grain is more like the Ever-green Oak (Quercus Ilex, a Mediterranean species), than the other European varieties, as the veins are small, slightly curled, and closely distributed throtighout the whole surface. Some specimens are very pretty.

Most of our She Oaks are very tissile, and show a handsome blotchy oak-like grain, often different, however, in colour. The timber is hard and heavy, and that of some kinds very tough.

The principal use of She Oak timber is for fuel, for which purpose it is excellent. It is also used for shingles, atid at one tinie largely for staves, though far less at the present time. It is excellent for ornamental turnery work generally, and for cabinet work, for which it is generally used in veneers. Then we have such uses as veneer for the backs of brushes, and for what is known as Tunbridge ware. For all the above uses (except shin-jes and staves), I am of opinion that there might be created for various She Oak timbers a very large demand in Great Britain and the continent of Europe. Some of them, e.g., River Oak and Swamp Oak, are much prized for bullock-yokes, as their timber is comparatively light and tough, and the bolts do not work loose. The She Oak timber makes excellent mauls, tool-handles, and very ornamental walking-sticks, good screws of band-screws; in fact, one species or another may be put to very many useful purposes.

  ― 78 ―
This timber was called into requisition early in the history of Australian colonisation, and was beginning to get scarce immediately round the settlement in Sydney Cove only four months after the landing. Governor Millip (quoted by G. B. Barton) at that date says:—

The timber which in its growth resenibles the fir-tree warps less (than gum timher), but we are already obliged to fetch it from some distance, and it will not float.

Two months later Phillip wrote:—

The barracks and all buildings in future will be covered with shingles, which we now tuake from a tree like the pine-tree in appearance, the wood resembling the English Oak — (Barton's History of N.S.W., i, 301)

This is the earliest record of "She Oak" for shingles, a use to which it is extensively put up to the present day.

An officer of marines writing to Sir Joseph Banks a few months after the foundation of New South Wales, did not hesitate thus to dogmatise on its timber trees:—

The only tree fit for building or any other use is the fir-tree, and even that is bad. — (See Barton's History of N.S.W., i, 504)

By "fir-tree," Casuarina was intended. Under the name of Beefwood it was exported to England at least as early as 1806. — (Hist. Records of N.S.W., vi, 101.)

Mueller, speaking of the anatomical structure of the timber, says that it contains many spiral vessels, and that the cells are filled with starch.

We now proceed to consider the species lepidophloia in detail.

Botanical description.

— Species, lepidophloia, F.v.M., in Fragm. x, 115. Arborescent.

Internodes of the Branchlets. — Finely striate, terminating in 9 or 10 very short teeth.

Fruit-cones. — Rather short, brownish silky-tomentose, the bracts obtuse, shortly acumitiate; the fruit-bearing bractioles conspicuously protruding, minutely apiculate, without appendages.

Seeds. — Pale.

In deserts between the Bogan, Darling, and Lachlan Rivers, together with C. glauca (L Morton). Near the Murray River, in low sandy places.

Small or middle-sized tree.

Branchlets. — Nearly always thinner than a line.

Teeth-like foliage. — (Sheath teeth) at first, deltoid-lanceolate, delicately ciliate.

Male and Female flowers. — Not seen.

Cones. — Shorter than an inch, depressed globular, the valve-like bracteoles somewhat turgid, slightly carinate towards the apex.

Seeds. — Not seen quite ripe.

  ― 79 ―
"The species has been till now confounded with C. glauca, but the bark is, according to Morton, scaly and not deeply furrowed, the wood is rather soft, not hard; several trunks often spring up from the same horizontal rhizome, besides the branchlets are often thinner, the teeth in the whorl fewer and shorter, the valves in the fruit less high exserted, thicker, with larger seeds.

"Our new species comes very near C. eqitisetifolia, in the fruits, but differs in foliage, and, perhaps, in bark and wood." — (Mueller, Fragmenta, x. 115.)

Botanical Name.

— Casmarina, owing to tile resemblance of tile branchlets, to the feathers of the Cassowary (Casuarius); lepidophloia, Greek lepis, lepidos (= Latin squama) a scale; phloios, the inner bark or smooth bark of a tree, hence scaly-bark.

Vernacular Names.

— This tree is rarely called by any name other than its aboriginal one (Belah). In some districts e.g. (Grenfell) it is known as "Bull Oak," but this should be reserved for C. Luehmanni.

In Cat. Intercol. Exh. Melb., 1866-7, p. 222, Mueller (under C. glauca) calls it —

The Desert She Oak of Victoria, in the mallee scrub, a middle-sized tree.

The name "Black Oak" is in use at Mount Lyndhurst, S.A. (M. Koeh).

Aboriginal Names.

— "Belah," or "Belar," is the name almost universally in use. At the same time, I am unable to say what tribe in Belah country used it. Mr. Bailey quotes Mr. Watkins as giving "Billa" in use for C. glauca by the Stradbroke Island (Brisbane) aborigines. It is therefore possible that "Billa" or "Belah" is an aboriginal name for Casuarinas in general. Sir Thomas Mitchell gave "Ngeu" as the aboriginal name, in use at "Regent Lake," Lachlan River, for a Casuarina (probably the Belah). "Gooree" was an aboriginal name at Terry-hie-hie, New England, New South Wales; "Alkoo," of Mount Lyndhurst, South Australian blacks (M. Koeh).


— C. Cambagei, R. T. Baker, Proc. Linn. Soc., N.S.W., 1899, p. 605.

I have examined Mueller's type specimens of C. lepidophloia, on the occasions of visits to the National Herbarium, Melbourne, and have also received specimens of the type from Mr. J. G. Luehmann, Curator of that Herbarium, in 1897. These specimens are now in the National Herbarium, Sydney. I have also had the advantage of study of Belah in the field over a large area of its range. On Mr. Baker's description of the Belah as C. Cambagei, in 1900, I accepted the name, and distributed the plant under that name for over two years, when circumstances led me to re-examine the plant, and I found that my earlier determination of C. lepidophloia was correct.

  ― 80 ―
Mr. Baker writes:—

I have been enabled to examine the specimens on which Mueller founded his species (C. lepidophloia), and except in the diameter of the leaflets [slip of the pen for "branchlets," J.H.M.] (in some cases), there is nothing to connect it with this new species (C. Cambagei).

The differences are according to Mr. Baker:—

C. lepidophloia.  C. Cambagei. 
Cortex squamosus. Arbor minor v. mediocris.  Bark certainly not flaky. The tree attaining the height of 70-100 feet. 
Strobilis breviusculis fulvide sericeo-tomen-tellis.  The valves are rarely "fulvous pubescent, but nearly always whitish." 
Lignum molliusculum haud durissimum.  Perhaps the hardest timber in the western area. 

These are all the differences which are pointed out specially. I will deal with them under different headings; and it seems to me there is nothing essential in these differences to justify the setting aside of Mueller's name.

Confusion of the Belah with C. glauca . — The confusion of this species with glauca is one for which Mueller himself is to some extent responsible, he having from time to time named the Belah and Mr. Baker does well to insist that the timbers of the two species (viz., Belah and glauca are quite different, and that the two species differ in other respects.

Mr. Baker draws attention to Mueller's statement that C. lepidophloia, occurs amongst C. glauca, Mueller's words being "una cum C. glauca." Mr. Baker says that "C. glauca is not found in the interior." This is true as far as our knowledge goes at present; at the same time, C. glauca, is found in the interior of Western Australia, and there is nothing inherently improbable in it occurring in South Australia and the extreme west of New South Wales. Mueller's sentence is, however, nothing more or less than an indication that he has mixed up the Belah and glauca, which is evident on other grounds.

There is no question that herbarium specimens of lepidophloia, especially when cones are wanting, very strongly resemble C. glauca.

Leaves (branchlets).

— It has been remarked that this "oak" is of all trees most liable to be struck by lightning, doubtless from its peculiarly formed foliage, which consists of short, wiry leaves standing out like a brush, and presenting so many conductors to attract the electric fluid. — (R. Bennett.)

Mr. F. B. Guthrie, in Agricultural Gazette, October, 1899, has analysed it under Nos. 8 and 15 with respect to its fodder value:—

Water.  Ash.  Fibre.  Ether extract, oil, &c.  Albumenoids.  Carbohydrates.  Nutrient Value  Albumenoid ratio.  Tannin (Oak bark.) 
11.70  5.66  46.86  2.80  9.06  23.92  39 1/4  1:3 1/4  2.5 
19.44  4.01  27.15  3.40  9.75  36.25  53 1/2  1:4 1/2  2.4 

  ― 81 ―
The Belah is sometimes eaten by stock, is very woody and astringent, which is claimed for all the Casuarinas in this (Coolabah) district. If fed to stock for any length of time the results are disastrous. — (R. W. Peacock.) Stock will eat Belah in times of drought if hard pushed, but the settler does not fell Belah for fodder when he has Mulga, Leopardwood, Rosewood, Kurrajong, Supple Jack, etc., of a more nutritious character. — (H.V. Jackson.)

Valuable fodder in SA — (M. Koch.)


— Mueller had not seen the male flowers at the time of describing the species, but those drawn were taken from a type locality "between the Upper Bogan and Lachlan," and, it is presumed, were received at the Melbourne Herbarium from L. Morton after the species was described and in response to Mueller's request.


— I have figured a cone of C. lepidophloia so labelled by Mueller. As a matter of fact it is one of the smallest cones produced by the species, but the identity of it with the Belah is not open to question. So far as our very complete herbarium material goes, Mr. Baker is quite right in saying "the valves are rarely fulvous pubescent, but nearly always whitish"; but cones and nuts agree otherwise well with Mueller's description, and therefore the objection raised is unessential. All other differences are in bark and timber, also size of tree-characters seldom indicated in herbarium material. They are simply collector's notes, and so long as non-botanists collect material, every herbarium will contain specimens and notes less complete than they might have been made.


— The adjective "squamosus" is not specially appropriate to apply to much of the Belah in N.S.W.; but the word might easily have been less appropriate, and does not affect the validity of the description. Mr. Baker says the bark of the Belah is "certainly not flaky." He quotes Mr. R. H. Cambage, who writes (Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. xxiv, p. 609) in comparing the two Casuarinas "Belah" and "Bull Oak" (C. Luehmanni):—

The bark of the Belah is the smoother, while that of the Bull Oak is considerably furrowed and thicker.

This agrees fairly well with what Mueller, perhaps from Morton's notes, writes:—

Bark, according to Morton, scaly, not deeply furrowed.

Morton compares the bark of C. lepidophloia with C. glauca, but as C. glauca has not been found in the western plains, he means in all probability the "Bull Oak," C. Luehmanni, which has a furrowed bark.


— A first-class fuel wood.

It is very easily killed by ringbarking, never suckers, and burns very readily. Timber is rather straight and tough, but most liable to split with the weather. — (R. W. Peacock.) Timber very hard, and if split it makes good rails, but it decays rapidly in contact with the ground. — (R. Kidaton, Condobolin.)

  ― 82 ―
Split Belah makes good posts, and stands fairly well in the ground, but cannot be compared to Mulga and Gidgee. Round sappy posts soon rot in the ground. — (H. V. Jackson.) The timber is excessively hard but brittle; it is much used for fencing posts. — K. H. Bennett, Ivanhoe, viâ Hay.) The tree is a quick-growing, fast-decaying one, and it begins to die frequently before it has ceased growing. It is a rare thing to cut down a tree thoroughly sound throughout. The decay begins at the tap-root in the form of a white mould; this works up into the heart, which becomes dry and hollow, and in course of time the whole tree becomes a pipe. The inside of this is excessively hard, and under the axe flies to pieces like glass. It is useless as a building timber, but the trees being straight, they are much used for log fencing and building rough stockyards. — (Richard Bennett.)

Mr. Baker says:—

The timber of this tree (Belah) is so characteristic that had Baron von Mueller intended his description to apply to this species he would have described or referred to so peculiar a wood.

A priori argument is proverbially full of pitfalls, but as a matter of fact one specimen in the Melbourne Herbarium is labelled by Mueller:—

C. glauca, Sieb., N-W. districts of Victoria. Mr. Morton. Remarkable for the close texture of its wood.

This specimen is a piece of Lockhart Morton's type material of C. lepidophloia. Mueller, like other busy men, did not always label up his material in the herbarium, that is to say, when he described lepidophloia he did not cancel all the glauca labels he had written for it. But such omission, while regrettable, in no way invalidates a species. Mueller's statement that the wood is rather soft, not hard, is not correct in a general way, but the authorities I have quoted show that the timber is sometimes rather soft.

As a very general rule Mueller omitted notes of timbers from descriptions of species, and the writer of the present article, who first gathered together a really comprehensive collection of logs of Australian timbers, accompanied by complete herbarium material, is the first Australian botanist who has insisted on the importance of timbers, kinos, and other natural products, as aids in the diagnosis of species — a modern innovation now generally accepted, at least to the extent that such material may usefully supplement twigs.


— The Belar is the commonest Casuarina of the interior, and it and Pine (Callitris) are almost the only timber trees found there — in depressions of the land or actually moist localities. These big trees require more moisture than shrubby species, because the roots must go down deep to water. In this connection the following reply (based on Schimper) to a correspondent, who wrote to me asking why the great plains of New South Wales are apparently devoid of timber, may be of some interest:—

The great grass-land plains of Australia are, when xerophilous, technically steppes, and xerophilous grass-land containing isolated tress is savannah. I take it that you are referring both to steppe and savannah country, for there is no hard-and-fast line between them.

Now, in a tree, the transpiring surface (the leaves) is at a greater distance from the water supply in the soil than it is in the shrub or herb; besides this, the strata of air surrounding that transpiring

  ― 83 ―
surface have properties different to a certain extent from those nearer the soil — finally, at least in many cases, the transpiring surface of the tree is larger when compared with the corresponding surface of the ground than it is in the shrub or herb.

What is essential to the existence of trees is the continuous presence of a supply of water within reach of the extremities of the roots, and therefore at a considerable depth in the soil. It is immaterial during what season this supply is renewed. In our treeless plains it is (usually) the case that thesupply of water several feet below the surface is wanting, or at all events is too intermittent to permit the continued existence of tree-life. The winds are also an important factor, inasmuch as they agitate the air and greatly increase the transpiration of the leaves. The water transpired can only be drawn up from below, and finally a balance is reached between the efforts of the wind to dissipate the moisture of the leaves and those of the tree roots to keep up the supply. Thus the winds may result in the death of trees and of the tendency of the country to form plains or savannahs or steppes.

The Belah prefers fairly good, slightly undulating, or rather flat land, liable to inundations. Following are notes by various observers, given in their own words:—

The Belar chooses a red clayey loam, usually a flat covered with depressions known as crab-holes. — (Mr. Richard Bennett.)

Mr. Baker, in contrasting "Belah and Bull Oak," quotes Mr. Cambage:—

Belah is usually considered as an indication of dampness, probably low land subject to water in wet weather, and known as "gilgai country," from the numerous natural water basins which bear that name.

Mueller writes about the habitat of C. lepidophloia:—

Prope flumen, Murray River, in depressis locis aridioribus.

These "depressis locis" are "gilgais."

Mr. R. W. Peacock, writing in the Agricultural Gazette for 1899, p. 267, says:—

It grows principally in wet country, surrounding gilgais, &c.,

which, indeed, has been a matter of common knowledge for many years.

You will find Belah not only on the edges of plains but on flat, slightly undulating, country, covered with west country forest flora, such as Dogwood, Whitewood, Wilga, Mallee, Quandong, Mulga, Beefwood, Sandal-wood, &c. — (H. V. Jackson.)

Following are some localities for Belah, represented in the National Herbarium, Sydney:—


Deniliquin (District Forester O. Wilshire); Balranald; Gunbar, 50 miles from Bay, "Belah or Scrub Oak"; none within 20 or 30 miles from Hay (D. A. Wilson, Acting Forester); common near Moama (District Forester O. Wilshire) ; Wagga Wagga; Cootamundra; West of Grenfell (District Forester Osborn; J.H.M.); Cowra; Forbes district (J. B. Donkin, R. H. Cambage); Condobolin (J.H.M.); on rich, dark, loamy soil, in the immediate neighbourhood of Myall and Salt-bush plains (R. Kidston, Condobolin); "between the Upper Bogan and Lachlan" (Mr. L. Morton); Dandaloo, Bogan River (R. H. Cambage). This

  ― 84 ―
is near the place where Richard Cunningham, the Botanist and Superintendent of the Botanic Gardens, lost his life in 1835. The Belah is —

"The gloomy Casuarina trees that witnessed the bloody deed"

of Richard Cunningham's murder (Mitchell, Trop. Aust., 24); Coolabah and the Bogan generally (J.H.M.); East Nymagee (R. H. Cambage); Bourke (J.H.M.); also on the Hungerford Road (see photo.); Nyngan (J.H.M.); Dubbo (District Forester Marriott); Coonamble; Curlewis; Moree (W.S. Campbell); Narrabri (J.H.M.); Porcupine Ridge, Gunnedah (W. W. Froggatt); Warrah, on sandy ridges (Jesse Gregson).


Mildura, Murray River.


"Scrub Oak," 230 miles north of Adelaide, a tree of 15–20 feet (W. Gill); Mount Lyndhurst, a tree of 20 feet (M. Koeh).


— One of the largest of all western trees; attains a height of 40 or 50 feet (K. H. Bennett).

Two feet in diameter, Condobolin district (Kidston) ; 70 feet high, 18 inches diameter, in Grenfell district (F. R. Postlethwaite).


Plate 51: The Bellah (Casuarina lepidophloia, F.v.M.) Lithograph by M. Flockton.

  • A. Type specimen (fruit). 1, Young cone . 2, Ripe cone; 3, Winged nut, containing seed. "Between the Began and Lachlan Rivers."
  • B. Type specimens (staminiferous flowers). "Between the Upper Bogan and Lachlan,"
  • C. Branch with ripe and unripe fruit.
  • D. Part of branch showing portions of two joints.
  • E. Whorled bracts rep~esenting leaves, opened out.
  • F. Portion of joint of hranchlet showing point of insertion into whorl.
  • G. Staminiferous flowers.
  • H. Part of the same opened out.
  • J. A single staminiferous flower, consisting of a single stamen between two floral bracts.
  • J1. A single staminiferous flower showing floral bracts.
  • K. Ripe cone.
  • L. Winged nut, containing seed, much enlarged.

(The photo. of the Belah tree, facing p. 83, is from the Bourke-Hungerford road.)

Belah Tree (Bourke Hungerford Road)

Footnotes Issue No. 54

Supplementary Material Added at the End of Volume 2

No. 54. Part XIII.

Casuarina lebidophloia, F.v.M.


(Natural Order CASUARINACEÆ.)

Leaves (Branchlets). — See vol. ii, p. 8O.

Chiefly used for feeding stock in dry times, and is considered one of the best Oaks for this purpose. — (District Forester C. Marriott, Dubbo.)

Timber. — See vol. ii, p. 81.

The timber has been incidentally, though not formally, described by me. The character of this timber is its absence of figure, most remarkable for a She-oak. The outer portion (not the sap-wood, which is very narrow) is pale-coloured, while the inner portion is of a rich, reddish brown, or even chocolate colour.

Hard to cut or saw, but splits freely with the grain. — (District Forester C. Marriott.)

Habitat. — See vol. ii, p. 82.

Generally found in gilgai country. Plentiful in this district. — (District Forester Marriott, Dubbo.)

Acacia Creek, Macpherson Range. — (Forest Guard W. Dunn.)

Supplementary Material Added to Volume 3.

No. 54. Part XIII. Casuarina lepidophloia, F.v.M. THE BELAH. (Family CASUARINACEAE.)

Vernacular Names. - See vol. ii, p79. Following is confirmation of the statement that the "Belah" is also known as " Bull Oak " by some people: -

In pointing out that "Belah" and "Bull Oak" are really different trees, Mr. Dalton states: "The Belah is always called about Wanaaring by the name of Belah, and the only time I have heard it called ' Bull Oak ' is by people coining from inside districts."

Timber. - See vol. ii, p.81; also p.206. Good for firewood; sometimes used for bullock-yokes, but liable to split. No use for post or outside work. - (R. J. Dalton, Wanaaring.)

Supplementary Material Added To Volume 4

No. 54. Part XIII. See also vols. ii, p. 206; iii, p. 167.

Casuarina lepidophloia, F.v.M. THE BELAH. (Family CASUARINACEÆ. )


Belah Forest, Bourke District. - (A. W. Mullen, photo.)

Supplementary Material Added With Volume 6.

No. 54. Part XIII.See also vols. ii, p. 206; iii, p. 167; iv, p. 165.

Casuarina lepidophloia F.v.M.



False spellings of "She-Oak" (Casuarina). See vol. ii, p. 75.

Thus we have:- Shiack, e.g., vol. i, p. 11; and Shioc,.e.g., vol. i, p. indiscriminately used for She-Oak (Casuarina) in Howitt's "Land of Labour and Gold" (1855).

We have also the spelling "Sheoke," by people who cannot think that anything so simple as "She Oak" can be correct. And yet She Oak, and nothing else, is the correct thing, as already explained in Part xiii, p. 75, of the present work.

The following notes on "Belah" are by Mr. Gordon Burrow, acting District Forester, Narrabri:-

Foremost among the timbers of the north-west I would place Belah (Casuarina lepidophloia). Its range in the drier north-west and west is very extensive, though the quantity, unfortunately, diminishes from year to year from various causes as I shall show.

Belah chooses generally a low-lying swampy ground, frequently land subject to periodical inundation and covered with depressions known as "gilgais" or "melon-holes," and on the edges of plains. This is not invariably the case, however, as it is also to be found growing- in sandy and even hilly or mountainous country, in close conjunction with pine, ironbark and other timbers. Where pine and ironbark are plentiful, it is considered, and perhaps reasonably so, an inferior species, and meets with no consideration at the hands of the ring-barker, but as one gets further out, it assumes a value proportionate to the scarcity of timber for fencing, building and other purposes. Its uses are varied; mature, it is extensively utilised for fencing posts, well slabs, for building, and even sawn into flooring, and weather-boards. The saplings are used for rough building and for drop fences, usually with buddha (Eremophila Mitchelli) or coolibah (Eucalyptus microtheca, see Part lii), posts, for immature belah will not stand in the ground.

In time of drought the foliage is invaluable as fodder for starving stock, and the dry wood burns freely, leaving nothing but an ash. Belah is practically the only timber out west that can be split into posts. The bark is left on for preference, and the posts have a fairly long life when split from mature trees. I have seen fences still in use that have been erected for over twenty-five years. Alternately round posts of buddha, coolibah, box (various species) and, in some localities, yarran (Acacia homalophylla) are used for fencing posts.

Under cover, for slabs, belah is practically everlasting; with the bark left on, the effect is not unpleasing, but after a few vears, it falls off and creates a nuisance. An additional disadvantage is its liability to shrink. It is largely used for well slabs, for which purpose it is admirably adapted. When a well is unused for some time, an unpleasant odour and taste is imparted to the water, which disappears as the well is used.

Belah is not generally milled, but I have had the opportunity of observing its use also in this capacity. Some twenty or twenty-five years ago, my uncles, then owners of Bunna Bunna Station, some 60 miles north-west of Narrabri, put in a sawing plant and sawed all the timber necessary for a large wool-shed and men's huts. Belah was the timber used. It was sawn green and the timber went straight into the buildings; it was at once painted. It warped and cracked a little when first put up, but to have allowed it to have seasoned would have been fatal.

Belah is a moderately soft timber and easily worked whilst it is green, but it becomes as hard as iron and as brittle as glass if it is allowed to dry. A nail would bend or break before it had been driven half an inch into a belah board, and a bit or auger used on dry belah has but a short life; fencing posts are invariably bored whilst green for that reason.

Buildings were also erected on an adjoining property then owned by Mr. A.S.0. Reid, now known as Eurimbla.

About two years ago, in 1913, I was in the locality and took the opportunity of inspecting the Bunna Bunna sheds. They are still in use and good repair, and look as solid as when first erected. The shed is fitted with (I think sixteen) sheep-shearing machines, but the vibration was practically nil. The manager of the station assured me that the sheds were as good as they looked. I was also informed that some of the buildings at Eurimbla are still in use and good order, though others had been pulled down to make room for alterations. So much for the lasting qualities of this timber. As a fodder in drought time, belah is invaluable. I note that you quote Mr. R.W. Peacock - "If fed to stock for any length of time the results are disastrous." (See p. 81, Part xiii.) Quite true; but the same is true with respect to almost any scrub. The best of them will only serve to keep stock alive for a limited period - a strictly limited period unless there is at least a little grass or herbage to eke out the supply.

Also - "Stock will eat belah in time of drought if hard pushed, but the settler does not fall belah for fodder when he has Mulga, Leopardwood, Rosewood, Kurrajong, Supplejack, &c., of a more nutritious character." (H.V. Jackson.)

Again granted, though I must acknowledge that I know little of Mulga. The supply of the other timbers, however, on the average holding, large or small, is limited, and is usually found scattered throughout the belah scrubs on the sand-ridges, and is fallen as fodder in conjunction with belah and wilga. I have had, unfortunately, some considerable experience in the use of belah as fodder for starving, stock in time of drought, and do not speak of a matter of which I know nothing. I may also quote the opinion of Mr. Robert Cameron, of Pidgee, who has had twenty-five years or more experience in the north-west. He told me that when he first went on to his property, "Pidgee," he proceeded to ring out the belah to increase the pasture land. He let a contract to ring some thick belah country. At that time he was very busy and could not give the work as strict supervision as he could have wished. After the contract was completed and the men paid off, in going through the country, he found that the work had not been faithfully done, and in many of the trees ringbarked the bark was growing over the cut. "I considered," said Mr. Cameron, "that I had been defrauded, but it was too late, and I could only make the best of it, resolving to have it gone through again at a later stage. Then the drought set in and I was compelled to fall scrub to keep my sheep alive. The trees which had escaped the ringbarker were worth five shillings each to me." Mr. Cameron, in the light of his extensive experience, strongly deprecates the wholesale ringbarking of belah, and contends that even if it were valueless from every other point of view, its value as a fodder tree would warrant its protection, in which opinion I quite agree. Unfortunately, the average settler lacks either the foresight or the experience to take this view. Belah country on the plains, when ringbarked and cleared, after a few years usually develops into excellent herbage country, though, as Mr. Cameron remarks, it is always tender country and the first to feel the effect of dry weather conditions. Belah is very easily killed by ringbarking and rarely or never suckers; also, when dry, it is easily burnt. A log when lit will burn out to the smallest branches, and if a fire once gets into a standing forest of dry belah, there is no knowing where or when it will stop.

Regrowth of belah on stocked country is exceptionally unusual. All stock will eat the young seedlings as soon as they make their appearance above the ground. In addition, the bigger trees are trimmed up as high as the animals can reach; this also in seasons when there is an abundance of herbage and grass. So that, at any rate, in the more closely settled country, it appears that it can only be a question of time before belah must become practically extinct, unless means are taken to protect it. In my opinion, the only way to do this is to reserve suitable areas, and to either prohibit or carefully regulate grazing thereon, so as to give the young growths a chance to become established.


"Belah," Collarenebri District, N.S.W. The dead trees alongside are White Pine (Callitris robusta). (photo, S.W. Jackson.)