Brush box, or Lophostemon Confertus, make up the bulk of trees at Olvar Wood. Most people would be more likely to recognise its timber’s detailed grain, popular for polished floorboards.
Brush box usually have a single trunk and dense dome-headed crown. Their limbs grow crooked and at low angles, tending to horizontal. The leaves are a dark glossy green, large and flattish and new shoots begin as a pale green bud, growing vertically like a flower before opening up into a hand of leaves, giving the trees the look of a sculpted bonsai species. When the sunlight hits those leaves, especially when new, they are as luminous as lanterns.
The real flowers are a miniature work of art, a star of stalky white stamens, with a sweet perfume, but they hide high up, among the leaves. After flowering, the trees produce heavy wooden seed capsules, rather like a gum nut, which had me assuming, wrongly, that brush box was a eucalypt.
Rather, Lophostemon is a genus of 4 species of evergreen tree in the myrtle family Myrtaceae. All four species are native to Australia, with one extending to New Guinea. The genus is a relatively recent creation; all 4 species were previously included in the related genus Tristania.
Although from a small family, brush box are an adaptable lot, growing anywhere from open forest to rainforest, specialising in the transition areas between the two. They are shape shifters, too. Out in the open, they spread out into a large, open tree. In the wet of the rainforest they grow fat and gnarly. Here, set close together, they are tall, thin and collegial, the heart of our wet sclerophyll forest, where the transition is seasonal and dramatic: ranging from crispy dry in winter to flooding in summer.
Of all our trees, brush box are the most entish. Their trunk grows rough and hairy at the base, peeling back in flaky ribbons from knots and crooked elbows. Higher up, the trees’ limbs are smooth, tapering to a thin wrist and long arthritic fingers. In summer, the bark peels away, revealing pinkish-tan skin.
There’s a brush box right outside my studio, its trunk pale green with lichen. It harbours no end of chatty birds, to distract me while I should be working. The cheerful yellow-breasted robins, scarlet honeyeaters, red-browed finches, pardalotes, kingfishers and fairy wrens all dance on the tree’s stage, as if for me. Sometimes they flit down to the window sill, or hook onto the fine screens and peer in as if seeing me, bespectacled, as a fellow creature.
Each year, the bearded brush box becomes more and more entish, its branches reach closer to the glass, towards the collection of Lord of the Rings books behind me. It filters my light green. I imagine a branch stretching towards me, kinking down through the open window in summer, and exploring my wooden desk, searching for what it is I do here all day, as slow moving as a tree. I would like to touch fingers with it for a moment, to hear what it would say, and relate my own gentle intent.
There is another, younger, brush box by the door of my studio, its arm about a slender rose gum. I hear their trunks squeaking together in the night and wonder what will be borne of their love.