Seedling Life

Our Wonderful Native Cabinet Timbers

We have a range of the world's best cabinet timbers. Our rainforests were once rich in these wonderful timbers, many of which were world renowned.

But unfortunately few have been developed to take their rightful place in plantations for the future of our plantation industry, as so many early attempts to grow these timbers have failed. This has been found to be entirely due to the lack of understanding of the needs of our tropical and sub-tropical rainforest species. Most early attempts to grow these species in plantations was in single species plantings, which invariably failed for several reasons.

The Mitchell System due to intensive field research since 1980 has produced amazing results by introducing designed mixed species plantings. We have been able to progressively improve our planting and weed control equipment and management technology to enable private plantation establishment.

The designed mix of species is based on the forest species to suit a particular location and compatibility of species. The design also enables selective harvesting based on the differing maturity age of species within the planting.

My greatest discovery was of silver quandong in 1955 while engaged in contract building. One job I had was the replacement of the roof and extensions to a house in Samford. The house had been an original pioneer cottage built in about the 1860s at Mount O'Reilly and then relocated to Samford in the early 1930s. The original roof would have been shingles but when shifted into Samford was replaced with second hand iron. When I took off the roof I was amazed that all of the interior framing was in perfect condition including the roof framing.

The hoop pine roof battens were replaced with hardwood but the quandong roof framing was in perfect condition. I realised that this wonderful timber was something special as I knew that quandong was fast growing and fast maturing so I knew that if this species could be grown in timber plantations we could have a wonderful timber for our timber industry in the future.

At the time I was banana growing and trialling native timbers species in old banana patches so I tried many nurseries to get plants of quandong but always I was unsuccessful. They all said that the seed wouldn't strike so would not be bothered with them. At this time the species was considered rare in the wild as most had been taken out. No one had bothered replanting any. I however knew from experience with the wonderful timber that there had to be a way to grow quandong which was superior to pine and 3 times faster maturing than pine.

I approached the Forestry to investigate the possibility of trialling this native timber species but had no response. It wasn't until my retirement from banana growing in 1982 that I had time to investigate the possibility of growing this tree. I couldn't get seedlings so I decided to research their propagation. At this time I also researched the propagation of white beech and other valuable timber species. My son Ron was studying agricultural science at Queensland University and was assisting me with the propagation research on which he based his thesis for his Agricultural Science degree.

From our field trials we have selected ten species that could be used in private plantations. Our aim is to make the plantings of these wonderful timbers viable for private growers. From the ten species we use a designed mix of 5 or 6 species to suit the location, soil, rainfall and likelihood of frost. The mix is based on inter-species compatibility.

Quandong requires rainfall of 1000 mm or more and a frost free environment. When these conditions are met, the growth rates are spectacular providing that weed control management and pruning technology is used. When seasonal conditions are relatively normal the first thinning and milling is at 8 to 10 years. Extensive tests on the timber at this stage have indicated that the timber quality is equal to old growth timber and far superior to pine or other timbers. This timber will be a major boost to the timber industry when grown according to the Mitchell Method.

All rainforest species require total weed control for the first two to three years. Form pruning for quandong is very important. Quandong is an upright growing species with distinctive layers of branches. Of these layers of branches three fully formed layers must be retained on the trees at all times to enable enough leaf mass to allow strong health growth of the tree. Quandong can never be grown in a single species planting as the nature of the tree requires a spreading crown when it reaches its maximum height. When they are grown in close proximity to each other the crowns lock in at 8 to 10 years and growth rate ceases. This is at the time that thinning must occur. These trees must be thinned to allow the wide spreading branches to form the crown. In our mixed species planting design we cater for this by thinning and milling of quandong at 8 to 10 years.

Quandong has other very important advantages to the environment. It is a very regular and heavy producer of fruit which is sought after by all wildlife. Its flowers are very high in nectar which provides food for nectar feeding birds including lorikeets. This tree will be a tremendous advantage to our wildlife while also providing a huge valuable timber resource.

Silver ash (Flindersia schottiana) will be another major timber for the future. Although taking longer to mature it is nevertheless a timber much sought after by the industry. This is also an upright growing species which requires special pruning methods. The branches form in clusters, the first when the tree reaches about 1 1/2 to two metres in height. These branches must be retained on the tree until another cluster is formed higher up the tree. Once a leaf mass is formed the lower branches can be removed. This species will grow well in lower rainforest areas and will withstand some light frost.

Silky oak (Grevillia robusta) is an excellent timber and will grow well in most locations and can tolerate low to medium frosts in lower rainfall areas. This is a wonderful durable timber and was used extensively in window frames before the introduction of metal frames and has also been used extensively as a furniture timber.

Prune with care only removing lower branches as they become shaded out. As with all of our rainforest species 4/5 of the leaf mass must be retained at all times.

Queensland maple (Flindersia brayleyana) is also a very valuable timber. This species is a little more subject to frost and needs similar rainfall conditions to quandong. When grown in a mixed species plantation this is a fast grower and needs very little pruning.

White beech (Gmelia leichardtii) has been developed by us as a fast growing and high value timber. This timber is much sought after in the boat building industry. It will withstand light frosts and can be grown in a lower rainfall area. Pruning is carried out by only taking off the lower branches as they are shaded out. It grows well in mixed species plantings.

Yellow ash (Flindersia zanthoxyla) is closely related to the crows ash and has a very durable and dense timber, yellow in colour. It is much sought after for outdoor furniture etc. We only use this species in lower rainfall areas as it is slow growing and would be shaded out by the faster growing species. They will withstand light frosts. Prune with care and only take the lower branches off when shaded out.

Crows ash (Flindersia australis) is also a very valuable and durable timber which is slow growing and will withstand light frosts growing well in lower rainfall areas. Prune with care and only take the lower branches off when shaded out.

White cedar (Melia acedarach) is also an excellent furniture timber. This species is fast growing but requires a lot of pruning as they sprout side shoots from above every leaf which must be broken off regularly with care taken not to damage the large leaves. When the trunk reaches three to four metres allow the tree to crown. We only grow these species as a valuable early maturing timber and a height promoter for the other plantation species.

Red cedar (Toona ciliata) is a very well known and valuable timber but is highly subject to tip moth and can only be grown when the tip is sprayed with residual insecticide at about ten day intervals. When the tip moth is controlled red cedar can be one of the faster growing of all our species except for the silver quandong. The caterpillars of this moth do not eat the leaves but burrow into the stem eating the pith in the centre. These trees cannot be grown without tip moth control for twelve months when a three metre trunk should be attained. As with the white cedar they send out side shoots above every leaf. These side shoots must be regularly broken off until a three metre trunk is reached when the tree should be allowed to crown with no more insect control needed. This species grows well in a range of areas including low rainfall and light frost.

Our plantation design is based on providing the private and investment grower with the most economical method of establishing successful plantations. These sub-tropical and tropical rainforest species need specialized methods to establish successful plantations. We have been able to progressively refine methods of management of plantations with the object of providing the required management necessary as economically viable as possible. We run instruction courses and have follow-up on site advice when necessary following planting so that our growers can get the assistance and advice of our approved contractors for ongoing plantations needs such as advanced pruning and necessary culling at out approved costings. Our plantations have built-in design features to make all of these management practices economically viable. We therefore strongly advise our growers to contact us so that contractors of Mitchell Forest Farming can be sent to advise you. People without full knowledge of our system could cause unnecessary costs. Please contact Mitchells Forest Farming so that we can arrange one of our contractors to visit you if necessary.

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