The death of a single tree in Australia hardly seems significant given the plague of deforestation sweeping across the globe. But Australia’s Separation Tree isn’t just any tree. It’s a 400-year-old river red gum with huge historical significance. It served as a towering marker under which the citizens of Melbourne gathered in 1850 to celebrate the news that Victoria had been declared a separate colony from New South Wales (NSW). Its senseless death at the hands of vandals has saddened staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens, where the tree stands.

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According to Professor Tim Entwisle, director and chief executive of the gardens, the Separation Tree has been in decline since 2010 when ringbarking by vandals destroyed 90% of the river red gum’s outer bark tissue. A second vandalism incident in 2013 proved too much, and despite attempts by staff to employ a range of innovative grafting techniques, the condition of the tree continued to deteriorate.

Recent investigations have revealed that the tree’s roots are dying and the canopy will soon follow. With one root in the grave, the canopy will soon be cut back to ensure that the area is safe for visitors (river red gums have earned the nickname 'Widow Makers' for their tendency to drop large boughs without warning).

The core trunk and scaffold limbs will be left as they are to pay some small homage to the great tree that once was, as will the saplings nearby that have been propagated from the seeds of the Separation Tree.

“Our hope is that these ... will in time become alternative places of reflection and celebration. While the tree may die, its lineage and significance should persist,” Entwisle stresses.

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Image: Sues_Pics via Flickr
Header image: Matt via Flickr