By Kirsten Coates
After months of deliberation and soul searching, we came to very sad decision last week. At the rear of our house stands an old pear tree, estimated to be at least 100 years old, gnarled, wizened and full of character. We have often mused at what that old pear tree has seen. Certainly, it has seen houses built up around it and the nearby road has transformed from dirt to bitumen. This tree has sheltered sheep then chooks then guinea pigs and its flowers have fed our bees. Over the years its fruit has been bottled and preserved and, in later years left to rot on the ground as the ability of it to grow large fruit has diminished over time. Drought and Pear Slug, frost and fire smoke have contributed to its demise.
But despite age and infirmary, there is such life beneath the wrinkled bark! The totally hollow lower trunk provides perfect small animal habitat while the higher and smaller cavities are perfect nesting spots for birds and smaller mammals. Under the bark are abundant insects and around the base live lizards and millipedes.
So, what is to be done with an old tree that drops its fruit and limbs and is at risk of falling over at any time? The initial thought was to fell it, chop it up for firewood and mulch, and quickly plant another tree to replace it.
While researching who to get to chop our tree down, we heard about “habitat pruning”. This method of pruning is undertaken by specially qualified arborists who understand the function an old tree serves as a home to hundreds of Australian wildlife species that use tree hollows for nesting sites, shelters and safe refuges. At the same time the arborist knows that the existing tree can be unsafe to people or property and so makes informed decisions to safely turn a near dead tree into a safe and valuable habitat.
So, sadly, the bulk of the tree came down. But not all of it. We now have a natural, sculptural habitat in our backyard. We notice parrots nesting in the higher hollows and new grasses and planting around the base attracting numerous lizards.
The old tree still sustains life, while wood from the larger limbs has been put aside to make furniture and spoons. In one way or another, the old pear tree lives on.