Belah and Black

Casuarina cristata Miq. and C. pauper F. Muell. ex. L.A.S. Johnson

Belah is typically a medium-sized tree up to 20 m tall and 1 m in diameter, while black oak, which occurs in the drier, inland areas, is decidedly more stunted and only 515 m tall and up to 0.5 m in diameter. The foliage of belah tends to be drooping while it is held somewhat erect in black oak. The species can regenerate by root suckering.

These are widespread species. Belah occurs in a belt from well north of Rockhampton and Emerald, Queensland, to near Griffith in southern New South Wales over the lower slopes and plains west of the Great Dividing Range. Black oak occurs mainly on the plains west of Cobar, Hillston and Balranald, New South Wales, and in north-western Victoria, across southern central South Australia (Flinders Ranges, upper Eyre Peninsula and Maralinga areas) into the central southern parts (Kalgoorlie, Meekathara and the western edge of the Great Victoria desert) of Western Australia. There is also a small extension into far south-western Queensland.

Belah commonly occurs on self-mulching heavy black or grey soils that are more or less alkaline. Common habitats are flats and depressions where it forms dense stands. Black oak more commonly occurs on lighter textured soils than belah such as red-brown sands and sandy loams commonly with calcium carbonate concretions in the lower horizons.

Belah occurs in woodlands or open forests and common associates include whitewood (Atalaya hemiglauca) and inland rosewood (Heterodendrum olei-folium). Black oak occurs in low open woodlands or tall shrublands and common associates are inland rosewood (Heterodendrum oleifolium) in New South Wales and mulga (Acacia aneura) in New South Wales and South Australia and several eucalypts such as gimlet (E. salu-bris) and salmon gum (E. salmonophloia) in Western Australia. It commonly occurs with numerous shrubs such as Myoporum platycarpum, Pittosporum phillyre-oides and Geijeraparvifolia.

Related species: Black oak differs from belah in the usually thicker and more waxy-surfaced branchlets and the shorter fruiting bracteoles (valves) of the cone. The trees are typically smaller and of poorer form. There are intermediates where the two species meet in western New South Wales. Their closest relatives are probably the swamp oaks, C. glauca and C. obesa.

Publication: C. cristata: Rev. Crit. Casuar. 70, t. 10 (1848). Type: At 'Fields Plains', Condobolin district, New South Wales, A. Cunningham. C. pauper: Fl. Austral. 3, 201. Type: Flinders Ranges, South Australia, Oct. 1852, F. von Mueller.

Names: Botanical—Latin cristatus (crested), perhaps alluding to the long pointed bracteoles of the cones; Latin pauper (poor, scanty, meagre) perhaps alluding to the smaller, poorer habit of this species compared to belah. Common—belah is of Aboriginal origin.

Bark: Hard, dark brown to blackish with a tight scaly appearance.

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