The Turning of the Fagus

Each autumn in Tasmania a unique observance takes place. A marker of the changing seasons assumes an almost pagan mysticism as flocks of goretexed pilgrims make their way to a handful of sub-alpine locations around the state to see the Turning of the Fagus.

Tasmanian deciduous beech, also known as fagus or botanically as Nothofagus cunninghamii
The decidous beech, or Nothofagus gunnii, is normally not the most lovely of trees; infact it is referred to by bushwalkers as ‘tanglefoot’ due to its ability to block their progress in some areas
Cool nights trigger a chemical change in the leaves of Nothofagus gunnii that is familiar in trees of the northern hemisphere but unique in Australian species

Fagus, or to give it its formal introduction, Nothofagus gunnii, or Deciduous Beech, is a Tasmanian native that is Australia’s only native deciduous plant. Each autumn, the cool nights in its natural environments, part way up mountains in central Tasmania, trigger a change in this otherwise unpreposessing species that is common among exotic trees that were introduced along the rivers and around the farming land and towns a little further down the valleys, but that is unique among native species.

Nothofagus gunnii, or deciduous beech, turning from green to gold

Its leaves turn from bright green to various shades of yellow, gold, orange and most rarely and excitingly, bright crimson red, before falling, only to regrow once the winter frosts and snow has given way to warmer weather in the spring. The bright colours are a rarity among the generally muted tones of the Australian flora, particularly in the subalpine areas above 800 meters which the fagus calls home.

Deciduous beech (Nothofagus gunnii)
The fagus is turning at Mount Field National Park
Golden hues of Nothofagus gunnii in autumn
Golden leaves of fagus
Crimson leaves of Nothofagus gunnii, or deciduous beech
Other photographers tell me that images of the red fagus are the most prized

One of the best and most accessible places to see the spectacle is the Mount Field National Park, around an hour north west of Hobart. The road from the park entrance that rises up the side of Mount Field has several spots where the fagus is readlily accessible, including near the dam at Lake Fenton, which still provides Hobart with substantial quantities of its drinking water.

Snow gums and fagus, Mount Field National Park
Lake Fenton

The area is also a wonderful place to see many other endemic subalpine plant species.

To celebrate this uniquely Tasmanian phenomena, Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife service is hosting a Fagus Festival next weekend (23-24 April 2016), with free entry to the park, shuttle buses up to Lake Fenton and more activities to celebrate its annual display.

Mount Field National Park was, along with Freycinet National Park on the east coast, the first national park gazetted in Tasmania, way back in 1916. It remains incredibly popular with both locals and tourists, although the vast majority venture little further than the oft-photographed but no less spectacular Russell Falls, which are an easy ten minute stroll from the Visitor Centre. Indeed, this is one of the most accessible ‘wilderness’ areas in Tasmania; accessible even to my wheelchair bound mother, who I have taken on several occasions to see the cascade. However its accessiblity detracts not at all from its spectacular nature and rainforest setting.

Tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) near Russell Falls, Mount Field National Park
Russell Falls
The path to Russell Falls at Mount Field National Park is accessible even to wheelchairs
My niece, mum and nephew at Russell Falls on a family outing to Mount Field National Park

The drive from Hobart to Mount Field National Park is via the Derwent Valley, which is conveniently one of the finest areas to see exotic deciduous trees that line the River Derwent, act as windbreaks around rich farming land and occupy pride of place in gardens and townships. Poplars, willows, oaks, elms and more all put on a fine show, so at least one day exploring both the native and exotic deciduous plants of Tasmania are understandably a highlight of the autumn in Australia’s island state.

Poplars putting on a good autumn show at Westerway near Mount Field National Park
Poplars are used as windbreaks around hopfields at Bushy Park in southern Tasmania
The River Derwent at Bushy Park in autumn



2 Comments Add yours

  1. lifecatchme says:

    Love the photo with the snow gums and fagus.

  2. RuthsArc says:

    The fagus is stunning. I didn’t realise it was a beech.

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