Wide view of a blackwood seed tree reserve
Blackwood seed can lay dormant in the ground for decades until a regenerating fire comes though. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Tasmanian blackwood – a prized ‘fancy’ hardwood

Writing anything positive about sustainable forestry in Tasmania is fraught with danger.

Not because we fear attack from the island’s army of notoriously uncompromising environmental activists.

But because of the precariousness of virtually everything about the wood business in Tassie, so volatile is the political sentiment there.

So we apologise in advance for any dated references in the following piece about a wonderfully rich native Australian timber species sometimes known as the ‘music tree’.

Blackwood log being broken down in the sawmill
Chocolate growth rings and straw-coloured sapwood give Tasmanian blackwood exceptional figure. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Poisonous plant list

Tasmanian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is native to eastern Australia and is also referred to as: black wattle, blackwood, hickory, mudgerabah and sally wattle, among others. Interestingly, it also appears on the International Poisonous Plants Checklist by D Jesse Wagstaff, CRC Press.

Blackwood is one of the best-known and most widely used Tasmanian specialty timbers. It is produced in moderate commercial volumes and grows across a broad range of forest types.

Sawn and stacked timber drying outdoors
Air-drying sawn blackwood – popular with Tasmanian boat-builders for internal fit-outs. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

The biggest, straightest and tallest trees come from the wet forest and swamps of northwest Tasmania. These almost pure stands in the Smithton area have been the primary source of sustainably harvested blackwood for well over a century.

Awaken the ‘sleeper’

The tree thrives in a moist atmosphere but is generally short-lived. It regenerates easily from seeds that can lay dormant in the soil for decades until after they are activated by fire. Perhaps it should be called ‘the sleeper’?

Nearly 40% of Tasmania’s blackwood forest types are reserved. Around 8000 ha of swamp forest is harvested on a sustained yield basis – generally at 70-year rotations.

After harvest, regeneration treatment involves burning to encourage germination, and fencing to protect seedlings from browsing wildlife.

Rear view of blackwood back on Taylor Guitar
Tasmanian blackwood is favoured by Taylor Guitars for its 300 Series

Beautifully figured

Blackwood is almost always beautifully figured and is a prized ‘fancy’ hardwood for furniture, decorative veneers and flooring.

Sapwood can range in colour from straw to grey-white, with clear demarcation from the heartwood. Heartwood is golden to dark brown, with chocolate growth rings.

Applications include: flooring, lining and cladding, furniture, windows, doors and stairs, fittings and trim, bench tops and joinery, musical instruments, craft items and turnery.

REFERENCES: Tasmanian Timber Promotion Board (TTPB), Wikipedia, Island Specialty Timbers and A Field Guide to Australian Trees by Ivan Holiday.)

(Editor: This item is in keeping with the raison d’etre of Natural Images – ‘Thinking about Sustainability’. It is not an advertorial.)

©Natural Images 2017

©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

3 thoughts on “SUSTAINING ‘THE SLEEPER’

  1. John Halkett

    Great article Tony – very balanced. Was in Tassie a couple of weeks ago and the feeling around the traps was very positive. Much talk about the specialist timber industry, including blackwood being central to traditional woodcraft and to the emerging push to make Tassie the foodie and wood art and craft capital of Australia.

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