While much has been said about the so-called ‘disco dong’at the new Bayshore Drive roundabout, the humble Bangalow palms at the entrance to Ewingsdale Road are dead and dying following the driest January on record.
Not the most propitious welcome for visitors to the Shire, or residents either for that matter.
But a spokesperson for Byron Shire Council says there are no plans to water the established palms, which were planted by RMS but are Council’s responsibility to maintain.
‘We’re hoping the rain we’ve had over the last couple of days will cheer them up a bit and might be followed up with more,’ the spokesperson said.
Gardening Australia presenter Jerry Coleby-Williams said the situation was an ‘all-too common sight right now all along eastern Australia following the latest unprecedented drought’.
‘Most roundabout plantings [have] shallow soil mixed with residue from excavation and construction work,’ he said.
‘Hard surfaces, like bitumen and concrete, reflect more than half the UV that falls on them. They also soak up the heat.
‘Over a decade ago the CSIRO warned that Australia’s heat island effect would double by mid-century. That heat increases evaporation, further stressing urban forests during drought.
‘Turf is a preferable surface to concrete, even in drought it significantly reduces the heat island effect. But when used to underplant an island of palms isolated in a road, turf can outcompete the palms, robbing them of light falls of rain and whatever nutrients are to be found.
‘Both palms and turfgrasses have surface feeding roots, so they’re in direct competition. But grasses are faster to respond to rainfall and harvest nutrients quicker,’ he said.
This is the case with the Ewingsdale roundabout planting, which may be part of the reason why the trees are looking so sad.
Despite its reluctance to instigate a watering regime, Jerry said Byron Shire Council ‘stands tall compared to many local governments in its endeavours to nurture rain sensitive landscaping,’ but adds, ‘this image illustrates how one of Australia’s most popular palms can suffer’.
And he has some advice to offer.
‘In this instance, a more sustainable solution would be to encourage road runoff water to percolate into the roundabout and for surplus stormwater water drained from within,’ he said.
‘To solve the root competition problem, replace the turf with something compact and durable, such as the dwarf Lomandra “Tanika”, a native. This retrofit helps council to reduce the volume of stormwater flows whilst slowing floodwater.
‘One excellent, functional combination uses sweet potato “Marguerite”, a cheery, lush survivor with tasty tubers, and other non-competitive, water-wise species in this roundabout maintained by Cairns City Council,’ Jerry said. (See image below.)