The tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala – also known as the ‘white gum’ because of its pale bark and wood) is only found in Western Australia, along the narrow coastal corridor of the Swan Coastal Plain from Jurien Bay to Busselton. The tuart is a large, magnificent hardwood. The bud cap is shaped like a small ice cream cone and gives rise to the species name of gomphocephala, ‘gompho’ meaning club and ‘cephala’ meaning head.
Isolated pockets of the tuart are found to the north of Yanchep and further inland. The tuart is one of four dominant tree species of Western Australia and is unique to the State. All four species – tuart, karri, jarrah and tingle - belong to the Family Myrtaceae, the myrtles. The tuart is the largest tree on the Swan Coastal Plain. Since European settlement, 65% of tuart forests have been cleared.
The stately tuart may grow to over 35 metres in height and have a girth of 10 metres. They may also live over 500 years. During the 1830s, tuart was the timber of choice for millwrights, wheelwrights and shipwrights as the timber was almost impossible to split or splinter. It was used for whim and wagon wheels, for journals for propeller shafts, decking, telegraph pegs and tool handles. In the mid 1940s, a tuart mill was built at Ludlow for the purpose of constructing railway carriages and rolling stock. It was also popular for furniture manufacture. It has a light yellow colour and very attractive grain when dressed. The tuart is now a protected tree with conditions placed on logging.
The Tuart Forest National Park, situated in the Ludlow locality near Busselton, is the largest area of pure tuart in the world. Tuarts and peppermints intermingle in this area to form an open woodland. The tuart prefers sandy soils in coastal limestone areas. Where it is subjected to salt winds, it may grow multiple stems. These soils may also be porous and alkaline, further causes of stress for the tuart, which is often the only natural eucalypt found in these areas.
The tuart has dense foliage and dull grey bark. The bark is box-like, rough and fibrous. The bark flakes into pieces. The leaves are often curved and measure 90 to 160 mm long. The leaves are a shiny light green on the upper surface and paler underneath. The buds have very little stalk and are grouped in clusters of seven. Cream/white flowers appear in summer and early autumn.
The tuart forest is one of the rarest ecosystems left on Earth. The forest is home to a number of rare and endangered species. The brush-tailed phascogale, chuditch, Carnaby’s black cockatoo, western ring-tailed possum and brush wallaby all make their homes in the tuart forest.