In his early teenage years, Dr Dean Nicolle OAM had a dream to grow one of every species of eucalypt known on Earth. Now the arborist, botanist and ecologist says he’s living the dream as the owner of the world’s largest and most diverse ‘zoo of trees’.
In 1993 Dean Nicolle (PhD(Biol) ’08) established the Currency Creek Arboretum with just one species of eucalypt. Now in 2020, the arboretum has grown to 32 hectares of 10,000 trees, representing 900 eucalypt species from across Australia. He has named 30 newly discovered species as well as 32 subspecies and 25 other taxa.
Dean grew up on his parents’ four-hectare commercial orchid nursery in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. His love of eucalypts was sparked by being surrounded by trees and nature, and fuelled by enthusiastic and supportive parents who purchased the land at Currency Creek for Dean to create his ‘zoo of trees’.
What began as a dream has turned into a research opportunity.
Following undergraduate studies in science, Dean completed his PhD in Biology at Flinders University, where his concurrent studies, eucalypt related research and consulting in botany, arboriculture and ecology, proved a valuable combination.
‘My studies at Flinders have significantly influence and impacted my current work. It provided me with the knowledge, techniques and ability to do critical thinking and research, as well as to communicate with peers and non-peers,’ says Dean.
Through his work at the arboretum Dean is keen to promote the importance of scientific research, knowledge and critical analysis, especially in the field of climate change and its associated impacts, such as increased drought and wildfire frequency, and the effect on species diversity and distribution.
Importantly, studies at the arboretum have supported the recovery work of the recent bushfires.
‘Ongoing research includes how eucalypts respond to drought and fire, with the examination of the regenerative strategies and generation time of different species,’ says Dean.
His research has also informed the commercial production of timber and biomass products, floriculture and craft products, honey and flavouring products, and products derived from eucalypt leaf oils and tannins.
In 2018 the world-renowned ecologist was recognised for his services to the conservation of eucalypts with a Medal of the Order of Australia.
With an enthusiasm for eucalypts that has earnt him the title of ‘gum nut’, Dean is keen to share his knowledge, research and passion of eucalypts widely, and has published a range of user-friendly books on the topic.
‘I was able to make a career out of my passion, and my work now takes me to amazing places throughout Australia and the world.’
Dr Dean Nicolle OAM was awarded a 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for distinguished leadership in conservation through a dedication to the discovery, research, and preservation of eucalyptus trees at the world-renowned Currency Creek Arboretum. Read more about the Flinders University Alumni Awards