The best trees to plant for koalas in Victoria are the trees that naturally grow there. Koalas are supposed to be fussy eaters, but the idea that they only eat one species of eucalypt is a myth. In our experience, koalas eat most of the gum-trees that live in an area, to a lesser or greater degree.
In and around the You Yangs, where we’ve been conducting research since 2006, we’ve discovered that koalas’ favourite eucalypt is the River Red Gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis. 34 to 36% of sightings of wild koalas are in this species of tree.
In western and northern Victoria, River Red Gum naturally grows beside rivers, around damp places, and on the granite hills and slopes where there is water deep down in the root zone. In eastern Victoria River Red Gum only occurs in a narrow strip in the Latrobe Valley. Forest Red Gum E. tereticornis also occurs here, also a tree highly-preferred by koalas.
Manna Gum E. viminalis is believed to be the perfect koala tree, but not always. In the You Yangs it grows on rocky places, and koalas hardly use it at all. In the Brisbane Ranges nearby, koalas prefer it to all others. Along the Victorian coast Coast Manna Gum E. pryoriana is koala’s favourite.
In the You Yangs Yellow Gum E. leucoxyon is always second or third favourite tree for koalas, but in the Brisbane Ranges it was less preferred. Closely-related Red Ironbark E. tricarpa is also preferred by koalas in the You Yangs.
Blue Gums are known favourites for koalas. Southern Blue Gum E. globulus naturally grows in the Otways and on the eastern coast of Victoria near Wilsons Promontory. It is also widely planted. Koalas in the You Yangs use it, even though it’s not native there. Victorian Eurabbie/Gippsland Blue Gum E. pseudoglobulus naturally grows throughout coastal East Gippsland, and also in the You Yangs high in the hills. Koalas use it, but not as much as the planted E. globulus.
Grey Box E microcarpa Yellow Box E. melliodora and Red Box E polyanthemos are all native in the You Yangs region, and all eaten by koalas.
Bundy/Long-leaf Box E. goniocalyx, Narrow-leaved & Broad-leaved Peppermint E. radiata & E. dives, Messmate E obliqua, Red Stringybark E macrorhyncha, Swamp Gum E ovata & Yarra Gum E yarraensis are native in the Brisbane Ranges and all are eaten by koalas.
So, there’s no simple answer for what trees are best to plant for koalas. Every region is different. The best thing you can do is plant what used to grow there. Or get an expert to advise you. Koala Clancy Foundation welcomes landowners to register interest in having koala trees planted.
You can also consult the EVCs (Ecological Vegetation Classes) for your region, but it’s fairly general, and a bit complicated.
- Go to NatureKit and get the map view https://maps2.biodiversity.vic.gov.au/Html5viewer/index.html?viewer=NatureKit
- Click on the layers for Vegetation >> Pre-1750 Ecological Vegetation Classes (its easiest if you click off all the other layers except Reference Maps). Zoom in to your site, and you will get a number, eg EVC 132 Plains Grassland.
- Then just google search for that EVC. You’ll probably find a collection of EVCs for your region, eg https://www.environment.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0029/48755/VVP_EVCs_combined.pdf
- When you finally have that, it will list some of the main native plant species for your site. It won’t list them all, so it is sometimes good to look at the closest neighbouring EVCs as well. Good expert local knowledge, or a check of the species in remnant patches nearby is a better source of information.
Consider the health of the whole ecosystem
Koalas benefit from a healthy natural ecosystem. If you find that your site was naturally open grassland, please don’t cover it in trees to “attract koalas”. (It probably won’t work anyway). Native grasslands are critically endangered ecosystems – retaining and protecting them is the best thing you can do. Come out with us and plant native eucalyptus trees on a site that koalas will use!
Any tree is a good tree!
Finally, don’t cut down a tree just because it’s not on this list. Koalas eat introduced species as well, just not as much as the native trees. They have been recorded eating Sugar Gum E cladocalyx, Swamp Yate E occidentalis, Brown Mallett E astringens, Bushy Yate E. lehmannii, Lemon-scented Gum Corymbia citriodora, and Spotted Gum Corymbia maculata in the You Yangs. I wouldn’t rush out and plant them, but I wouldn’t cut them down either, unless I was replacing them with native trees.
Koalas also use non-food trees for shelter. Large native wattles Acacia dealbata, A. melanoxylon, A. mearnsii, A pycnantha, A. implexa & probably others, and Cherry Ballart Exocarpos cupressiformis are particularly important shade trees for koalas. They will also sit in Melaleuca Paperbarks M. lanceolata, M. ericifolia & M. armillaris, She-oaks Allocasuarina verticillata & A. luehmannii, Silver, Coast & Saw Banksia B. marginata, B. integrifolia, B. serrata, planted Pincushion Hakea Hakea laurina, and planted Radiata/Monterey Pine Pinus radiata.
You Yangs Granite (Zone 15) Indigenous Plants of Geelong Region: https://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/community/environment/article/item/8ce6c2bba8e0804.aspx
You Yangs Plains (Zone 14) Indigenous Plants of Geelong Region: https://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/community/environment/article/item/8ce6c26076ee004.aspx
Werribee Plains (Zone 16) Indigenous Plants of Geelong Region: https://www.geelongaustralia.com.au/community/environment/article/item/8ce6c2f6e8061ce.aspx
Australian Government report Nationally Threatened Ecological Communities of the Victorian Volcanic Plain: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/e97c2d51-08f2-45e0-9d2f-f0d277c836fa/files/grasslands-victoria.pdf
Koala Clancy Foundation/Echidna Walkabout Koala Research: https://www.koalaclancyfoundation.org.au/learn-about-koalas/koala-research/