Canberra’s Urban Trees

Did you know that many of our street trees are older than your grandparents?

Click the links below to discover more!

Healthy trees, healthy people

Trees help us in many ways. They give us oxygen to breathe, shade us from heat and help reduce climate change. Trees can connect us with local Indigenous history and culture, with some trees more than a hundred years old.

Trees and plants in cities are important for biodiversity because they provide animals with food and a place to live. Trees are also important for our wellbeing – they improve our health and make us feel happier.

Image: Oak tree, Photo: David Burke

Canberra, the ‘bush capital’

Did you know that in the early 1900s, there were almost no trees in Canberra because they were cleared for farming?

Then, in 1911 when Canberra was established, 2 million trees were planted. This was the beginning of Canberra’s urban forest.

Image: Canberra street, Photo: Prescott Pym

Caring for young and old

We must look after the old and large trees. This is because they are home to many animals, with their sheltered hollows, cradling branches, thick bark and dense leaves.

Without such trees, many animals would have nowhere to live, nor food to eat. It is also important to plant new trees so that when old trees die there are more large trees for animals to live in.

Image: Gum tree, Photo: Mark Jekabsons


Learn the names of some of the critters that live in tree hollows!

Owlet nightjars often roost in tree hollows during the day to stay safe from predators

Superb parrots nest in Canberra tree hollows and use the same tree every time.

Microbats sleep up-side-down in large groups during the day

Sugar gliders sleep in tree hollows during the day

Australian wood ducks lay their eggs in tree hollows and their chicks have to jump down once they hatch!

Bogong moths use tree hollows during the day when traveling south

Images: Owlet nightjars by Helen Cross, Superb parrot by Ryan Colley, Microbat by Matt Clancy, Sugar glider by Damien Esquire, Wood ducks by James Walsh, Bogong moths by CSIRO


In the city there are lots of concrete surfaces that absorb (or take in) heat.

This heat is then released throughout the day and night, warming the surrounding area. This means that on a hot sunny day, the city is usually warmer than other areas such as parks and farming lands which have far less concrete and more vegetation. We call this the urban heat island effect. This is why urban trees and greenery are important – they reduce this heating effect.


Many tree and other plant species in Canberra are at risk of dying because of increased heat and reduced rainfall caused by climate change.

climate change has reduced the health of some of the ACT’s Eucalypt species, as well as large introduced tree species planted across Canberra.

We must think about which trees will be able to survive in a drier, warmer climate so we can start planting them now. Some of the native trees recommended for planting in Canberra include the River She-oak and the Kurrajong.

Image: Kurrajong


When walking to school, or in the playground, do you ever pick up acorns? They come from large oak trees found all around Canberra.

Oaks, and other species such as Elms and Plain Trees, are not native, and some were even planted over 100 years ago as part of Canberra’s urban forest. Although we now know it is better to plant native trees, introduced trees still help cool our city and provide habitat and food for native animals.

Image: Canberra street oak trees, Photo: Prescott Pym

Trees and urban development

With Canberra’s population growing year by year, there is increasing pressure on trees from the building of new houses and expanding suburbs.

When new urban areas are built, trees are cleared to make way for buildings, roads and shops. Although new trees are often planted to replace those removed, it means that old trees – which are important for biodiversity – are lost.

Old trees are important because they are a home for native birds and possums. Any new trees planted will need 20 or more years of growth to replace the benefits provided by the old trees.

What can we all do to help our urban trees?

  • Protect older trees. 
  • Plant more trees, ready to replace the older ones.
  • Plant more shrubs (not just grass) in urban places, as they provide habitat for native species. 
  • Create conservation areas where grasslands and forests are kept natural and are protected from being cleared. These areas care for nature and provide a place for plants to grow and animals to live. 
  • Manage invasive plant and animal species that can damage plants and trees.  
  • Talk to the community (family, friends, teachers) about why it is important to look after our plants and trees. 

You and your family can also join a volunteer group that needs help from the community to plant and look after trees. Search for a volunteer group in your area today!

Here are some to get you started: 

Note that most volunteering opportunities in the ACT will require you to be accompanied by someone over the age of 18.


Visit the Botanic Gardens or the National Arboretum to learn more about native and non-native trees.

Image: Botanic Gardens, Photo: Laurie Wasson


Temperature and trees, detective colours

This activity shows how trees keep the environment cooler on hot days. Look closely at the pictures of the two maps to reveal an environmental pattern.

The map on the left shows how hot the land is (also called surface temperature). Red means warmer temperatures and blue shows cooler temperatures – the darker colour shades show the hottest (dark red) and coolest (dark blue) temperatures.

The second map shows where there are trees and other plants. Green means there are more trees and red or purple shows areas with fewer trees – the darker colour shades show the highest (dark green) and lowest (dark purple) tree cover.

Look at where the blue colours are on the first map. Then look at where the green colours are on the second map. What do you notice? Can you see a pattern?

You should see that the blue and green colours are in similar areas of the ACT.

This shows that temperatures are cooler in areas where there are lots of trees and plants. This is because trees and other plants help to protect the land from the sun’s heat. But where there are no trees, the temperature of the land is warmer.


This activity shows which plants are best for your urban area.

The ACT Government has a list of suitable plants and trees that people can choose from to plant on their property.

Use the Actsmart Canberra Plant Selector Guide to choose plants suitable for the Canberra region. This online guide provides information about the best species to plant.

Recommended native trees for planting in Canberra are the River She-oak and the Kurrajong. Have you seen any of these trees around where you live? Do you have one of these on your house block? If not, you should investigate planting one!

Image: Planting urban Trees, Photo: Joe Crema

Ideas tree – What can you do to help trees and plants?

This activity improves our knowledge of what we can do to help urban trees. 

Draw an ideas tree like the one to the right (or make your own up!). For each leaf on the picture, come up with one action to help Canberra’s urban trees. Write the action next to a leaf.

Talk to your family, friends and teachers about how we can all help care for Canberra’s trees. Draw extra leaves and branches if you come up with more ideas!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Plant more native trees.
  • Remove weeds.
  • Talk to others about how important trees are.

How much do you know about urban trees?

This activity improves our general knowledge about urban trees in the ACT. See if you know the answer to the questions. Hint, the answers are on this website! Once you think you know the answer, click on the card to see if you are right.

True or false: Plants help keep the land cool.

True. The shade provided by trees and other plants makes our land cooler

Name 3 benefits of trees.

Trees give us oxygen. Trees shade us from heat. Trees help reduce climate change. Trees provide habitat for wildlife.

How long does a new tree need to grow before it is as beneficial as an old tree?

20 or more years.

Name two native tree species that are good to plant in Canberra.

The River She-oak and the Kurrajong.

True or false: If we plant new trees, we don’t need to protect older trees.

False. Old trees provide homes for many animals and keep our land cooler.

What can we do to help our urban trees?

Protect older trees and plant more trees!