ClimateWatch

An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

  1. 198 Leaves changing colour by Nick Fitzgerald
  2. 198_0 Leaves changing colour by Nick Fitzgerald
  3. 198_1 Leaves changing colour by Nick Fitzgerald
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Fagus or Deciduous Beech

Nothofagus gunnii

Appearance

  • It is Australia’s only cold-deciduous woody plant.
  • A dense shrub.
  • Size: usually 1 to 3 metres tall and wide, with spreading branches. It sometimes grows as a small tree in rainforest.
  • Bark smooth and grey.
  • Leaves: arranged alternately along stems, on short stalks. Individual leaves are rounded in outline with lobed margins; distinct grooves follow the leaf veins making the veins prominent on the lower side. Leaves are 10 - 20 mm long, bright to mid-green, paler on the under surface, turning yellow then orange or red in Autumn. Leaves are absent during Winter. New leaves unfold from buds in a concertina fashion in Spring.
  • Flowers: separate male and female flowers, small and inconspicuous, and appear in late Summer and early Autumn.
  • Fruit: a small woody capsule around 8 mm long, splitting open into 4 lobes. Large quantities of seed are produced during infrequent ‘mast’ years, with much less seed in regular years.

What to Observe

  • Open seed pods (record all days)
  • First fully open leaf
  • Leaves open (record all days)
  • First leaf to change colour
  • Leaves changing colour (record all days)
  • First leaf to drop this year
  • 50% or more of leaves dropped (record all days)
  • No leaves (record all days)

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

  • Timing of leaf colouration and leaf fall in Autumn may be delayed as the climate warms. Similarly, the appearance of new leaves in Spring will likely occur earlier.
  • Deciduous beech is adapted to cool and wet conditions and is expected to show signs of stress and eventual dieback if the climate becomes warmer and drier.
  • Changes in the timing and duration of snowfall may influence the distribution of this species since it is commonly associated with sites that accumulate snow.

“Long-term studies in the Northern Hemisphere have shown that the growing season has been increasing as Spring growth occurs earlier and Autumn leaf fall occurs later in deciduous trees. We would expect to see a similar pattern in Australia, in fact it may already be occurring in Deciduous beech, but we simply don’t have the records. ClimateWatch provides a great opportunity to gather and store the numerous observations made by bushwalkers, photographers and naturalists.”

When To Look

  • Leaves begin to turn yellow in March with all leaves coloured by the end of April. Leaves fall during April and May.
  • Buds open and new leaves appear in Spring.

Where To Look

  • Deciduous beech is only found at high elevations in Tasmania’s mountains, in the west, south and Central Highlands. It usually grows around lakes or on steep rocky slopes, such as escarpments, cirques and boulder fields.
  • Popular places to view deciduous beech are Tarn Shelf at Mt Field National Park, Hartz Mountains National Park and around Cradle Mountain.

Fagus Occurrence Map ALA

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  1. What Else?

    The related species, myrtle beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii), is a widespread and common evergreen tree or shrub in rainforests and subalpine areas – it has smaller dark green leaves that are more-or-less triangular in outline and flat (i.e. they do not have the distinctive grooves of deciduous beech).

  1. Did You Know?

    Deciduous beech is one of the most cold-tolerant woody plants in Australia. The other deciduous Nothofagus species are all confined to South America.

    The branches of deciduous beech are tough but flexible, allowing them to withstand being buried under snow. The wiry tangled growth of these branches gives this shrub another common name: tanglefoot.