Forest Friday is looking at the Belah – Causuarina cristata.

“Knowledge is great, understanding is better”

This is a chance for us to explore the different trees we use in our permaculture designs. There is so much to understand about a tree before placing it in a system, and by giving a tree what it needs to thrive, the whole system can benefit from the many design and ecologic functions they provide. Savour Soil uses the Belah – Casuarina cristata in many designs, as a fodder tree, wind break and privacy screen, but there is so much more to this tree.

Habits:
  • Found mainly in Inland Australia, warm temperate + subtropical climates.
  • The Belah can be found anywhere up to 800m evelvation.
  • Its habit is weeping.
  • It responds well to coppicing as it is fast growing.
  • Mainly found in stands, open areas, depressions or flats.
  • It is easily propagated by seed and can be divided from its many suckers.
  • June through to August is time to take cuttings.
  • Seed needs to be inoculated with native soil containing Frankia fungi.
Needs, Tolerances + Susceptibilities:
  • Belah – Casuarina cristata has evolved to survive hot/dry – developing branchlets instead of leaves.
  • It is dioecious, needing both male and female trees, and is wind pollinated.
  • It can be unaffected by frost.
  • Is found in a wide range of soils, but prefers heavy clay, alkaline soils.
  • Does not tolerate deep sandy soil.
  • Tolerates rainfall between 400 +700mm p/a.
  • Belah is prone to poisoning, by accumulating its own nitrogen and phophorous, it does not need feeding.
  • Also prone to inland salinisation.
Charactoristics + Behaviours:
  • Belah – Casuarina cristata is a weeping evergreen.
  • Growing 10-20m tall with an erect trunk.
  • Spring and Autumn it is in flower.
  • Self mulching.
  • It has branchlets instead of leaves for photosynthesis which help to retain water in dry hot conditions.
  • A dense mat of roots fix minerals and atmospheric nitrogenin the soil.
Design Function:
  • The foliage touches the ground creating a fantastic wind break + shelterbelt.
  • Can be grown under large pines and used for coppicing.
  • Animals can use it for shade.
  • In times of drought it can be a fodder tree for animals.
  • Provides eroision control and builds soil.
Products:
  • Seed pods can be used for decoration.
  • Grazing animals can use it as feed.
  • Pole wood for fencing.
  • Its timber has a wide dark grain for small carpentry and wood turning.
  • It provides excellent fuel as it burns very hot.
  • Clubs and boomerangs were made with it by Indigenous Australians.
  • It’s bark is rich in tannin.
Ecological Function:
  • The Belah works with Frankia fungi to accumulate minerals, such as phosphorous and fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil.
  • This fungi is food for bandicoots who spread it via manure to improve soil health.
  • Belah builds and nourishes native soil.
  • Its dense mat of roots prevent erosion and nutrient loss.
  • Supporting a wide range of flora and fauna, for example the Glossy Black Cockatoo who eat the seed pods.
  • Belah forms 1.5% of Australian forest.
  • It’s name is derived from the Malay word for Cassawary whose feathers resemble the drooping foliage

Download PDF

What to read next?