Urban Koala Project

The Urban Koala Project is a collaborative research project between Council and the University of the Sunshine Coast to deliver a small growing gum tree suitable for use in urban areas.

The Mt Beerwah Mallee (Eucalyptus kabiana) was selected as a candidate for the program. For the last nine years researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast have been trialling the gum tree, with several specimens planted at the university campus.

Researchers initially tested roughly 20 different trees from around South East Queensland for their suitability as urban gum trees. The tests included grafting tall growing koala food trees onto short growing trees, selecting for shorter populations of usually tall gum trees and selecting shorter growing gum trees. All of the trees were tested in garden situations and the only tree that stayed short and survived was the Mt Beerwah Mallee.

The Mt Beerwah Mallee is proving to be an ideal urban koala food tree as it is an attractive low growing tree that is very hardy and suited to a variety of conditions. Initial feeding trials have shown that the tree leaves are palatable to koalas.

To test palatability of the leaves for koalas, branches collected from Mt Beerwah Mallee specimens grown at the university were placed in the enclosures of koalas at the Moggill Fauna Hospital. The koalas ate all of the Mt Beerwah Mallee leaves provided.

As a result of the success of the initial trials of the Mt Beerwah Mallee, Council and the Pine Rivers Koala Care Association have received 350 seedlings to test their suitability in the Region and use by local koalas.

Council planted 95 seedlings in parks across the Region and continue to monitor their growth.

Interesting facts

Mount Beerwah Mallee is a local gum tree (Eucalypt species) that is closely related to blue gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis), a popular koala food tree that grows to more than 20 meters. As young trees, Mt Beerwah Mallee are difficult to distinguish from the blue gum, but as mature trees they exhibit much lower growth, with attractive red colouring to young stem growth and white flowers.

The initial trial plantings of the Mt Beerwah Mallee have grown to approximately six meters in six years. Further research is needed to determine how tall the trees may ultimately grow.

Mt Beerwah Mallee is listed as Vulnerable under both the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth) and the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Queensland) and is only found growing naturally on the rocky slopes of the Glasshouse Mountains.

In order to collect seeds from the trees in the wild and propagate seedlings for use in the trial, the University of the Sunshine Coast had to obtain a permit from the Department of Environment and Science. The tree is now propagated as a ‘captive population’ under permit by the University of the Sunshine Coast. It is not available commercially, and limited propagation material exists.