Myrtle Beech – Nothofagus cunninghamii

The Myrtle Beech, Nothofagus cunninghamii is one of the ancient tree species of the cooler parts of Australia that evolved well before Eucalypts. This is but one of a number of Antarctic Beech trees (both evergreen and deciduous) native to Australia, New Zealand and Chile.

Despite its common name, it is not related to the Myrtles at all, but related to the Beech and Birch trees of the Northern Hemisphere and was once included in the Fagaceæ family.

It is not commonly seen outside of Tasmania (where they are used for timber) and the wet sub-alpine forests on the NSW/Victorian border, so it was lovely to stumble on this tall specimen in a park near me (these were taken with my camera phone: sorry about the quality).

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Nothofagus cunninghamii – leaves and trunk

It has beautiful, small glossy green leaves.

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Nothofagus cunninghamii

These trees are evergreen, but are quite hardy – they are grown in Scotland, Ireland and the UK. In Australia easily survive frosts of -15°C/5°F (USDA zone 7). They like deep soils and cool summers with relatively high, evenly distributed rainfall. In the right conditions they can reach 40m, but tend to be a more manageable 15m in cultivation.

They propagate only from seed; cuttings almost always fail to strike, so I will be keeping my eye out for when this tree starts to produce catkins and seed pods.

Happy gardening 🙂

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23 thoughts on “Myrtle Beech – Nothofagus cunninghamii

  1. I am always fascinated by where trees are common. Aust NZ and Chile The question is How? and because Aust and Sth Am were on opposite sides of Gondwana the seed were probably spread by the anti-clockwise rotation of the Pacific currents.What do you think?

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    • Hi Suchled, they know that nothofagus seed degenerates very quickly in water, so they would had to have spread by another means. Antarctica was joined to the great Australian Bight and formed a link across to southern Africa (which was in turn joined to S America). But – they’ve never found fossils of these trees in Africa, so it is likely that, given how closely related they are to the Birches (a very ancient tree species that uses wind – rather than insects – as pollination) as well as true Beeches that they may have been dispersed prior to Gondwana (ie Pangea) which could be possible….

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  2. Tasmania was once tucked into the close proximity of Chile and our flora echoes theirs closely. I love Nothofagus cunninghamii and we bought (a most expensive) one once but it died. Good luck finding seed as they throw seed very rarely. It is a notoriously difficult tree to propagate (thus the heinously expensive price to buy one) and if you do manage to grow one or more from seed you can count yourself both lucky and a good horticulturalist 🙂

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    • Yes, they do have good and bad years for seed production, but at least are monoecious, so that one tree should, in theory give fertile seed. Sorry to hear that your specimen died. I hate it when the most expensive purchases insist on meeting their maker 😦

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  3. We have them growing in secluded valleys in South Gippsland, like Turton’s Creek and Tarra Bulga National Park. Their new growth is exquisite. Thanks for sharing your photos and story (and knowledge about the origins of this fascinating genus).

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    • You’re lucky to have them! I agree, the spring growth is stunning with pinks, whites and oranges. This tree is also growing in a park carved from a gully….as it is quite old, I’m not sure if it is remnant or planted, but they are a beautiful species

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  4. Matt this looks a lovely tree, interesting the birch and small leaves as my downy birches have the smallest leaves of my trees not counting the conifers, the conditions it likes makes it perfect for where I am, wishing you luck with the seeds, Frances

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    • Our climates are indeed fairly similar, and they have been said to grow in Scotland and other parts of Europe adjacent to the North see area. I don’t know if they tolerate salt spray, but it might be worth a try

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