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Distribution of Callitris intratropica (Bowman and Harris 1995). Basemap from Expedia Maps. You can also create a highly detailed map, and access specimen data, using the "search" function at the Australia Virtual Herbarium.

 

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Conservation status

Callitris intratropica

R.T. Baker et H.G. Smith 1910

Common names

English: northern cypress pine (Bowman 1994); Wagiman: lagumin (Wilson 1999); Tiwi: Karntirrikani (McGilvray 1998).

Taxonomic notes

Syn: C. columellaris var. intratropica.

Description

"Tree to 30 m tall. Branches spreading to somewhat erect. Leaves c. 2 mm long on ultimate branchlets, dark green or grey-green; dorsal surface rounded. Male cones solitary or in small clusters at tips of branchlets, elongate-ovoid, to 3 mm long. Female cones solitary on slender fruiting branchlets, usually depressed-globular, 12-18 mm diam., shedding seeds and deciduous shortly after maturity; cone scales 6, thin, separating almost to the base and spreading widely after opening, with a small dorsal point below the apex; alternate scales reduced; larger scales apically sharply inturned; columella variable, usually simple and 3-angled, 3-5 mm high. Seeds numerous, chestnut-colored; wings 2 or 3, c. 4 mm wide" (Hill 1998).

Distribution and Ecology

Australia: Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. Locally abundant on sandy soils (Hill 1998). An interesting dependence on aboriginal fire is described by Bowman (1998). Since aboriginal burning has greatly declined in the species' range, the effects have been dramatic:

"Both field research and mathematical modelling have shown that on sites without topographic fire protection, healthy populations (that is forests with a balance of seedlings, saplings and trees) of northern cypress pines (Callitris intratropica) can develop only under a very specific fire regime of frequent mild fires. Infrequent fires result in cypress pine forests that are densely stocked with juveniles. This situation has occurred in an area in western Arnhem Land where a forestry program stopped all fires in an area dominated by Callitris intratropica, and in southern Australia where grazing has resulted in a cessation of wildfires.

"Conversely very frequent burning ultimately eliminates all size classes and results in the local extinction of Callitris. The very specific fire regimes required to support healthy populations of cypress pines would not occur under natural conditions. Lightning strikes at the end of the dry season are a common cause of intense bushfires which are highly destructive of cypress pine forests.

"The local extinction of Callitris is currently occurring in vast areas throughout the Top End. The decline of the cypress pines is occurring on all land tenures: Aboriginal land, pastoral land and national parks. This tree species is most probably like the miners' canary, signalling that fundamental ecological changes are occurring in response to the breakdown of traditional Aboriginal land management and a shift to intense fires, many of which are deliberately lit. If this conclusion is correct then the conservation of biodiversity in Northern Australia will hinge on land managers returning to fire regimes that approximate those used by Aboriginal people" (Bowman 1994).

Zone 10 (cold hardiness limit between -1°C and +4.4°C) (Bannister and Neuner 2001).

Big tree

Oldest

Dendrochronology

Ethnobotany

An essential oil is extracted from this species. Called "Australian blue cypress" oil in the trade, it is used in perfumery, cosmetics and aromatherapy. The oil has been much promoted by Bill McGilvray, who (McGilvray 1998) reports that it is and has long been used for medical purposes by the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands, north-east of Darwin. He also states:

"The Tiwis and some mainland aboriginal groups use Callitris intratropica in very specific ways:

"As a wash: To relieve abdominal cramps. Also applied to sores and cuts. Occasionally used internally to treat abdominal pain and discomfort. About a handful of freshly gathered inner bark is pounded and heated in about 500mls of water. The cooled liquid is spread over the body, and a long strand of inner bark is wrapped around the abdomen (to relieve abdominal cramps).

"As an insect repellent: The bark is thrown into the camp fire to drive off mosquitoes and midges.

"As an analgesic: To relieve minor aches and pains. The wood ashes are mixed with water and smeared over the affected part of the body...

"First used by Europeans in Australia in 1905, the timber was then milled for building. Being tough and exceptionally resistant to termites and severe climatic conditions, initially,it seemed a good choice for a plantation timber resource. Large scale plantations were established in the 1960s and 70s on Melville Island and near Darwin, with the aim of producing timber for construction.

"However, Callitris intratropica grows very slowly, and the prospect of reasonably quick plantation returns appeared much less certain after 10 years of slow growth. Then, after a severe cyclone devastated Darwin in 1974, building codes were changed to replace timber house frames with steel. The plantations were officially abandoned in 1978 as a source of building material..."

McGilvray (1998, citing the the Tiwi Land Council Fifteenth Annual Report) also tells us that the Tiwi people, whose word for Blue Cypress is Karntirrikani, recount this legend describing its origin:

"And then Mudangkala, the old blind woman, arose from the ground carrying three babies in her arms. As she crawled in darkness across the featureless landscape, sea water followed and filled the imprints left by her body. Eventually pools became one, and formed a channel. The old woman continued her journey overland, and again the moulded earth filled with the flow of water. Before she left, Mudangkala covered the islands she had created with plants - Karntirrikani - and filled the land and sea with living creatures. Finally the land was prepared for her three babies, and for the generations of Tiwi who followed."

The tree is also used by the Wagiman people, who use the wood to make spear shafts. It is also good firewood as it burns quite well even when it is wet, and the pleasant-smelling smoke keeps away mosquitoes. In the past this tree was cut down for building houses. This logging, in conjunction with recent more widespread hotter fires, has much reduced the number of mature trees in Wagiman country.

In about 1995, it was discovered that an essential oil could be extracted from the tree. The oil is potentially quite valuable and was the subject of a protracted legal dispute, as recounted by Daly (2004), but development of this resource is now moving ahead. Vince Collins, entrepreneur in the essential oil business, reports that harvest of plantations in the Darwin area is now occurring (V. Collins email 2009.11.09). For more information on this oil see Burfield (2004).

Observations

It seems to be abundant on the Bathurst and Melville Islands, 80 km N of Darwin in the Northern Territory (McGilvray 1998).

Hill (1998) cites collections at the south base of Mt. King in Western Australia (approx. 17.222°S, 127.333°E), at Mt. Gilruth in the Northern Territory (near 13°S, 133°E), and on upper Lankelly Creek, east of Coen, Queensland (approx. 14.083°S, 143.333°E).

Remarks

Citations

Baker, R.T. and H.G. Smith. 1910. A Research on the Pines of Australia, p.172.

Bowman, David. 1994. Why the skillful use of fire is critical for the management of biodiversity in Northern Australia. In Rose, Deborah Bird (ed.). Country in Flames: Proceedings of the 1994 symposium on biodiversity and fire in North Australia. http://www.ea.gov.au/biodiversity/publications/series/paper3/fire19.html, accessed 2002.01.18, now defunct.

Burfield, Tony. 2004.05. Cropwatch Issue 3. http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/intratropicanodice/new/magazine/cropwatch3/cropwatch3.htm, accessed 2009.11.10, now defunct.

Daly, Martin. 2004.04.21. Bitter blue. www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/04/20/1082395850945.html, accessed 2009.11.09.

McGilvray, Bill. 1998. The birth of the blue from plantation to perfume: the history, development and marketing of an indigenous Australian essential oil. From a presentation given by Bill McGilvray at the 1998 Australian Aromatherapy Conference held in Sydney, Australia. Available online at http://www.australessence.com/blue.htm, accessed 2002.01.18.

Munson, Christobel. [no date]. Australian Blue Cypress, A New Oil for a New Millennium. http://www.bluecypress.com/, accessed 2002.01.18, now defunct.

Wilson, Stephen. 1999. Wagiman online dictionary. http://www.sultry.arts.usyd.edu.au/swilson/wagiman/dict/dict.html, accessed 2002.01.18, now defunct.

See also

Bowman, D. M. J. S. and W. J. Panton. 1993. Decline of Callitris intratropica R.T. Baker & H.G. Smith in the Northern Territory: implications for pre- and post-European colonisation fire regimes. Journal of Biogeography 20:373-381.

The Callitris Project Newsletter, http://www.utas.edu.au/docs/plantsci/fe/newsletters/callitris_oct_09_low_res.pdf, accessed 2009.11.10, now defunct.

Last Modified 2012-11-25