Doug Benson is a botanist at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. In this interview he recalls his childhood interest in flora and fauna, his background and training, and the historical records of trees within the Gardens. In the excerpt below he describes remnants and reminders of the original flora of Sydney that survive today in the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The City of Sydney area has pretty well been cleared of trees but there are some remaining trees. There are some forest red gums out on Mrs Macquarie’s Point; there are some casuarinas that remain within the [Royal Botanic] Gardens that are descended from the original plants. Back in the 1890s to 1925, Joseph Henry Maiden was director of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. At that time there was still bushland in the outer Domain, which I think is essentially Mrs Macquarie’s Point. As I say, a few trees did remain; there’s some blackbutt trees, forest red gum trees. Casuarina glauca is a long-lived tree and if you chop it down it will resprout from the roots and so on. It’s reasonable to think that “O.K, those trees that are there now and which in effect are little clumps, have been there since 1788, shall we say”? Port Jackson fig trees further ‘round on sandstone; as I said the [Eucalyptus] tereticornis, we’ve been replanting them over the years using seed from the original trees. And I should also mention there are still surviving, a couple of them, some swamp mahogany trees that were planted within the Gardens, along what was at the time Mrs Macquarie’s Road, during Mrs Macquarie’s time back in the 1820s. A few of those died off in the drought of the 1990s and there have been some replacements. These are tangible links [with the early flora of Sydney].