ClimateWatch

An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

Appreciating the history of the WA Christmas Tree while recording for ClimateWatch

The WA Christmas Tree (Nuytsia floribunda) is a popular species that ClimateWatchers record on. It’s a very distinct tree with abundant, bright orange flowers that typically appear between October and January. Two mature age students from the University of Western Australia (UWA) developed an appreciation for the WA Christmas Trees historic and cultural value as part of their first year biology unit, proving it’s not just about the science. Ben Quaife and Paul Ashbolt searched through scientific journals as well as old newspaper and magazine articles to try and gain a greater understanding of the Christmas Tree’s history in Western Australia. 

Ben Quaife and Paul Ashbolt from the University of Western Australia 

Ben and Paul noted the significance of the WA Christmas Tree for Noongar Aborigines in Perth and it’s captivation of early settlers that came to WA. “When we looked at the literature and the commentary of the Christmas tree, it’s been held in really high esteem for aborigines and early settlers,” says Paul. “The first settler’s notes and aboriginal folk lore were absolutely fascinating. The aboriginal people used to say the trees were a transit point for dead spirits. It was very sacred to them.”  

Although Ben and Paul tried to record observations of the WA Christmas tree whilst doing their research, they are not as common as they once were. “Most of the Christmas Trees around Perth have been taken out due to development,” says Ben. The hemiparasitic nature of these trees with a diverse range of hosts has seen them removed from many areas. However, when they are in flower they are a lot easier to find. The image below is an old image of a Christmas tree on the UWA campus. Paul was able to combine his interest in arts with science as he editted the image to add some colour.

An old image of a WA Christmas Tree at UWA found by 
the students formed the cover for the journal. 

Ben and Paul have young families making it extra hard to find time to record observations for the ClimateWatch program. Ben says, “my time is all allocated right up until the minute I go to bed. Everything I do is planned for!” Paul adds, “I really love my university life so it’s a real priority for me.” They managed to incorporate their observations into their daily activities. Most observations of plants and animals were made at the UWA Crawley campus as they were moving between classes. 

Now is the perfect time of year to be on the lookout for the WA Christmas Tree, New South Wales Christmas Bush, and the Victorian Christmas Bush in full flower!