Autumn has always been my favourite time of year, and for the last few weeks I have been enjoying watching the changing colours of the trees in the courtyard where I eat my lunch.

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Wandering around the courtyard, I have noticed that many of the trees are labelled with their species name – which got me wondering who planted them, and whether there was any particular reason behind the species that were planted.

The John Banks Courtyard between the Forestry and Geography buildings

It turns out that the trees around the Fenner School and the Forestry building were selected by Lindsay Pryor and John Banks, both former professors at the ANU. Pryor was a botanist and forester who was heavily involved in the founding and landscaping of Canberra’s parks and gardens, including the Australian National Botanic Gardens (which is just across the road from the ANU, for those non-Canberraites). Pryor became the first professor of botany at the ANU in 1958, and taught botany and forestry until his retirement in 1971. The ‘Lindsay Pryor Walk’ was established in memory of Pryor, passing around 30 rare or significant tree specimens around the ANU.

Commemorative marker for the start of the Lindsay Pryor walk, with a Eucalyptus pryori specimen behind

John Banks was one of Pryor’s students in the 1960s, and became a lecturer in 1978. He continued Pryor’s work on Canberra’s urban trees and specialised in dendrochronology – the analysis of tree rings. The courtyard is now named after him, and a Wollemi Pine specimen was planted in his honour (a direct descendant of the wild individual which also bears his name).

The Wollemi Pine specimen in the John Banks courtyard

The trees in the courtyard were intended as a teaching aid, and represent species from around the world. My particular favourite is the Ginkgo biloba, also known as the maidenhair tree. It’s often called a ‘living fossil’ because it is the only living member of a group known otherwise from 270 million year old fossils. Six of these trees were planted in the late 1960s, and every autumn I’ve admired their beautiful foliage as it turns from lime green to butter yellow.

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 The photo on the left was taken in mid April, just as the leaves were starting to turn – I love the quality of the sunlight as it filters through the leaves. By the end of May, the leaves had turned yellow and fallen to the ground, creating a gorgeous golden carpet.

IMAG3015For anyone working at or visiting the ANU, I highly recommend exploring some of the beautiful spaces on campus, and particularly checking out the trees along the Lindsay Pryor walk and in the John Banks courtyard (and if you can, do it in autumn!)