History of the Camphor laurel in Australia

Cinnamomum camphora L in Australia; Records of Death, Poisoning and Sterility in species normally unconnected to this tree.

1828 First 'Chinese-type' Camphor laurels arrive in Sydney from London's Kew Gardens. Planted at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the Domain.

1866 First records (Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney) of Camphor laurels (potted) being distributed through inland NSW and the NSW north coast.

1880 Importation of second Japanese subspecies/C.camphora to Sydney, transferred to NSW North Coast.

1900 The Northern Star, Lismore, first reports Camphor laurel as being an invasive weed; new chemotypes evolving, due to Chinese x Japanese subspecies intercrossing.

Different chemotypes of Camphor laurel

1950 Eminent Botanist and Naturalist Floyd (Coffs Harbour Botanic Gardens) first reports Camphor laurel killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of native Pigeons when/after they are first observed feeding on Camphor fruit and seed.

1960-70 Regional free-range poultry growers in Clarence and Richmond River valleys attempt to alert NSW Agriculture to the observation (anecdotal) that free-range poultry becomes sterile, laying sterile eggs, when feeding inter-seasonally on fallen camphor fruit/fruit flesh.

1970-80 Lismore-based ornithologists observe a significant decline in district and regional native Pigeon species makeup, with once high diversities reduced around the city, and only the most well adapted species (two of eight species) able to visibly increase in population numbers - Camphor first suspected of poisoning/causing sterility of other bird species.

1980 ca Coffs Harbour/Orara River graziers notice no significant remaining native fish population in the river waters under or anywhere near dense Camphor infestations overhanging and lining that River's banks (Bishop, 1993*).

1985 The Blue-faced Honeyeater, becoming rare to non-existent in spite of having been the third most common bird species eating Camphor berries in 1970 (Firth, Daryl, Ph.D Thesis, University of New England, Armidale) - Firth is Australia's recognised expert on Camphor Laurel ecology.

1990 (Approx.) Tweed River fishermen collectively decide to refuse to fish commercially upstream, due in part (claim) that Camphor infestations cause fish to be repelled or no longer reside in the river; near where there is Camphor. Mororo River (Iluka) craypot fishers concerned/30ms around/near any Camphors on river banks deter all crays and 50% fish. Tweed River (Tumbulgum) and Mullumbimby Sawmills report acute poisoning and skin sensitivities, leading to staff layoffs of mill workers sawing Camphor.

1993 Bishop (Mitchell, McCotter and Assoc.of Sydney) first publishes results of in-river tests demonstrating that uncrushed or crushed Camphor laurel leaves - falling into the Orara River - kill native Rainbowfish; 100% kill of fish noted in statistically-tested, controlled research.

1997 First observation/s (The Channon-Lismore) that wet-season frog chorus cannot be heard in Camphor infested gullies nearby biodiverse and frog dense gullies with no significant Camphor laurel infestations, on the same geological-soil type, same aspect, same slope and similar R/F - wet scherophyll vegetation. (Friend, 1998).

1998 First observations that frogs common to Northern Rivers roadsides, ditches, drains and swampy edges are neither abundant, nor/never croaking in proximity to (est.>50ms) Camphor laurels, including seedlings as compared to all sites visited in the wet season on a road transect from Rous to The Channon, demonstrating 100% correlation between remnant/viable frog populations and remnant (no camphor) native vegetation.

Tweed River game bird fancier reports that all his birds turned sterile when growing under Camphor laurels; one commercial duck grower reports similarly. (The Advocate, Murwillumbah, 103/98).

1998 Friend (Land and Water Conservation, NSW) first publishes Report indicating that Camphor laurel plant parts, especially roots and berries, are at least as toxic as the distilled Camphor oil from young, local Camphor laurel trees.

1998-99 Hunter reports on years of goose sterility in his free-range Geese, grazing liberally under older Camphor trees. After penning up one even-aged female, this bird begins laying edible Goose eggs again, and is no long egg-sterile, following a month of normal feed. (A. Hunter, Corndale, Lismore)

Monumental Blunders

NSW Agriculture Department imports the Japanese subspecies (according to East Asia's best botanists in 1882, in a glass cabinet on a boat), 1 of which is transported to t;he North Coast and reputedly planted near Burringbar and/or Wollongbar; the two discrete, imported subspecies of Camphor trees readily intercross due to pollination vectors being commonplace in the local native-laurels community; some birds also adapt, new hybrid Camphor chemotypes begin to appear, become more dominant, and commence invasion of areas, slopes, and creeks not previously occupied by the original imported Camphors..

After N.S.W. Agriculture Department dropped its original plans to set-up a Camphor Oil Industry, in this State, so the trees just 'went wild' and began to invade where birds spread them. N.S.W. Forestry (>1916) began to raise the trees and give them away to farmers suffering drought on, by then, excessively cleared dairy properties.

From ca 1935 onwards N.S.W. Education commenced a Policy of distributing 4 - 6 Camphor Laurel seedlings to every school across the entire State (even to Alice Springs), which Policy continued through to approx. 1960 under the guise of "all trees being shade providers, must be good trees" without exception.

N.S.W. Agriculture Department continues (1998 - 2000) to ignore thirty years of community concern and knowledge that free-range poultry, geese and pigeons turn sterile eating Camphor Laurel;