An arboretum is simply a collection of trees, and the Waite Campus at Urrbrae is home to Adelaide's only Arboretum. It is now listed on the National Estate, State Heritage and the National Trust Register of Significant Trees.
A Row of Elms Planted in 1928 Frame the Waite Institute
It has an important purpose: to see how well native and imported trees perform in Adelaide with only natural rainfall. But a fringe benefit for the rest of us is the delightful and pleasant environment created with such a mass planting. The large number of trees also attracts a fantastic range of bird and wildlife, while butterflies and insects love the flowering varieties.
There are more than 2000 trees spread over 30 hectares (74 acres for old schoolers), with some varieties having strong representation - pears, eucalypts, conifers and palms to name a few. These are planted in clusters, making it easy to compare different types within each group.
Scattered randomly among the trees are occasional outdoor sculptures complementing their environment. Their unexpected appearance in the grove of trees makes for an exciting experience.
'Waterbirds' Sculpture by Meliesa Judge, Near Gate 29 on Claremont Ave
Fortunately for those of us with little botanical knowledge, all the trees are labelled with information about their species, origin, and date planted. In a park this size getting perspective can be difficult, but an aerial view map is available which makes it easy to locate an area of interest to you.
Even better, two walks have been mapped out for visitors to follow and experience the highlights of this mass planting.
The easiest walk is the self guided Waite Arboretum Walking Trail which meanders past 28 selected trees that are profiled in some detail in the notes. It is quite simple to follow, as white painted and numbered star droppers are placed near all the trees. The walk notes include a map and directions with a profile on each tree visited. A great way to spend a leisurely hour or two as you peregrinate (wander) the arboretum.
The Aboriginal Plants Trail was potentially even more interesting for me, as it explores trees used by the indigenous people for food, medicine and other purposes. Great for Bush Tucker fans!
The notes for this Trail include delightful illustrations as well as tree profiles and an explanation of how they were used. However be aware that there is only a map in the trail notes but no other directions. Nor are there star droppers to mark the tree locations, so it will test your map skills somewhat more.
I found a couple of the plants tricky to locate, but if you enter via Gate 29 on Claremont Avenue it is quite easy to find the Small-leaved Rock Fig (number 15 in the guide). This large tree produces highly nutritious fruit which are much sought after by desert Aborigines. They contain 4% calcium, far more than any other western food.
From the Small-leaved Rock Fig it is much easier to pick up the trail as the next few plants are all close by. You can see trees that were used for medicine, food, and other utillity purposes
It's a little surprising that the University of Adelaide hasn't utilised modern GPS technology to track stock in the Arboretum, instead relying on old mapping techniques which are hard to maintain and less accurate. Perhaps at some time in the future the Friends of Waite might update these walks so that people with GPS enabled mobile phones can more easily get the full benefit of the trails.
Update 2015 - Adelaide University have now released an app to guide visitors around the Arboretum, available from iTunes and Android Play Store.
You could make a day of it between February and November by doing a free tour of Urrbrae House in the afternoon at 2pm. Perhaps bring a picnic lunch to eat in the Gardens & Labyrinth while waiting for the afternoon tour?
The Labyrinth Adjacent to Waite Arboretum - a Favourite With Children