The House of Possums
October 24, 2012 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Please identify this tree (3 photo imgur album) growing in my backyard in Sydney, Australia.

Some of this tree's branches are now almost touching the roof of my house, and this tree seems to host a wild orgy of possums every night. I was wondering if I can get it trimmed. But before that, I wanted to check that it is not a protected species or on some other kind of list.
posted by vidur to Science & Nature (21 answers total)
Best answer: That's gotta be an oak, I'm thinking English oak. None of them are native so I suspect you don't have to worry about it being protected, but I guess you should check.

Sorry about the possums. At least you don't have to deal with the terrifying night-monsters we call opossums up this way.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:30 PM on October 24, 2012

The trunk of the plant is all wrong for oak, though.
posted by gingerest at 7:37 PM on October 24, 2012

Looks like a white oak to me.
posted by zamboni at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2012

The first thing I thought when I saw the photo is philodendron. It's philodendron-like.
posted by Fairchild at 7:41 PM on October 24, 2012

Almost definitely an oak of some sort, couldn't tell you what though. Something in the white oak group looks about right, they tend to have nice round lobes on the leaves like that, though it's not the same as the white oaks we have back in New England. There are hundreds of species of oaks though, so who knows? None are native to Australia.

Definitely not a philodendron, they look quite different.
posted by Scientist at 7:49 PM on October 24, 2012

Um, does it have acorns? Here in the Northern Hemisphere the oaks are dropping acorns like crazy right now, but even though it's spring where you are you might be able to find acorns underneath the tree from last fall. If you find those then you can be sure it's an oak.

Not sure where gingerest is getting his/her idea about the trunk, I didn't see any trunk in your pictures.
posted by Scientist at 7:52 PM on October 24, 2012

What's bugging me about it is the fruit or whatever the leaves are growing out of. Look at it. It's some kind of freakshow lobed thing, not an acorn.
posted by gingerest at 7:59 PM on October 24, 2012

Response by poster: It doesn't seem to have any acorns, at least as far as I understand what acorns are supposed to look like. I can best describe the dropped fruits (?) as bean-like in shape and size. They are light-brownish and not very hard. I can post some more photos tomorrow (won't be home in time tonight to take a decent shot).
posted by vidur at 8:05 PM on October 24, 2012

Best answer: I'm pretttty confident that's not a native tree, like 90%. Could be an oak, for sure. But either way, be aware that species is not the only determinant of tree removal - I recommend a call to local council.
posted by smoke at 8:23 PM on October 24, 2012

Yeah I guess my eyes kind of tuned that out gingerest, since it's sort of a weird unresolvable mass that kind of hurts my head to look at. I'm not totally convinced that that isn't (dried-up) oak flowers though, which is what you'd expect on an oak in the spring. Can't really tell, would be nice to have a clearer look at it. Any flowers/seeds/fruits that are on the tree would be good to be able to see.
posted by Scientist at 8:49 PM on October 24, 2012

I would take the sample you have in the photo to the Sydney Botanical Garden herbarium, they will have a local horticulturist who can identify it for you. Make sure you take more than just one leave (i.e. a branch)
posted by Under the Sea at 10:54 PM on October 24, 2012

Re your possum orgy, can you decoy them to a different area with a strategically placed possum box? The noise will abate after the food (the flowers and acorns) drop off, but it would be nice to keep them out of your roof - alternative accommodation might be helpful.
posted by ninazer0 at 11:57 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with taking it to the herbarium or a nursery - but could it also be a Stenocarpus (probably S. sinuatus)? The juvenile leaves are a lot like that, and the adult leaves can be highly variable between simple & lobed - some trees here tend towards completely lobed leaves.

The flowers, if you've ever seen them, are a giveaway (& loved by possums). The seeds come in pods, but when released are very bean-like (although most species have noticable wings).
posted by Pinback at 12:05 AM on October 25, 2012

Best answer: I'd check with your local council about trimming the tree, they usually have someone who's job is to know all these sorts of things. I'd ring them up and basically ask I have a tree I need to trim back what do I need to do to be sure it's OK to do this. I can't imagine trimming a tree would be a huge problem even if it was protected if it was only an overhanging branch or two. Now removing the tree completely might be a different kettle of fish (or tree of possums).
posted by wwax at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2012

Best answer: Are you sure whatever bean-like things you're seeing are coming from this tree? Because that looks to me like Quercus robur.

It's some kind of freakshow lobed thing, not an acorn.

Male and female flowers are different on oaks. The male flowers are in racemes, the female flowers are on long stems.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:24 PM on October 25, 2012

Best answer: ... in fact, the thing in the gap between bricks on the top right of the first photo look like a tiny pedunculate acorn. There's an image of how they're arranged at the top of this drawing, and you can also see on the left the brown calyx of the male flowers.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:34 PM on October 25, 2012

Okay, oneirodynia, your presentation of the evidence is winning me over. (I don't know why it's become so important to my happiness that I find out what kind of tree this is. But it has. I am on tenterhooks, here.)
posted by gingerest at 3:02 PM on October 25, 2012

Response by poster: I took some shots of the fruits that fall (hopefully from this tree only) in my backyard. I am mostly convinced that it is an English Oak, except that these acorns are not quite acorn-like.

I'll check with the local council about trimming the tree. I definitely don't want it removed completely, as it is home to quite a few birds.
posted by vidur at 6:44 PM on October 25, 2012

Best answer: Those are the calyx around the male racemes. Pull them apart and there's undeveloped flowers in them, not a seed/seeds. The acorns, when you get them/if they develop, will be a separate structure with a cap. If it's an English oak, they will be on a long stem. Like I said, I'm pretty sure that one thing in the first picture of the first set you took is an undeveloped acorn or at least a female flower bud.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:01 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I should clarify one of my sloppy statements upthread - not all oaks make their acorns on long stems (peduncles). Quercus robur does, and that's what I think I'm seeing. Some acorns have little visible stem at all.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:07 PM on October 25, 2012

Response by poster: UPDATE: Council inspector has also confirmed that it is an English Oak. And the acorns are also developing now. I can see them quite clearly, cap and all. Tree trimming has also been approved finally. Hoping to get it trimmed soon and to possum-free sleeps! Thanks all.
posted by vidur at 10:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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