She-oaks (Allocasuarina sp.) are unique to Australia and the South Pacific. The common name, She-oak, was derived in colonial times when it was recognised that the wood produced an inferior oak-like grain. The scientific name Allocasuarina comes from the word allo meaning like, or similar to, and the Latin word casuarius for cassowary, because the branchlets resemble the quills of a cassowary.
These trees are also called Australian Pines because they superficially look like Pine-trees (Pinus sp.). The photograph (left) shows the clear difference between a pine needle (right) and a she-oak branchlet (left). The she-oak branchlet is segmented and ribbed. Each segment ends with a whorl of teeth-like structures that can be more clearly seen if the segments are twisted apart (pictured right). It is these structures that are the actual leaves of the she-oak. The number of leaf–teeth in the whorl and the length of each segment are diagnostic for determining the she-oak species. Common in our valley, the Drooping She-oak (Allocasuarina verticillata) has 9–12 leaf–teeth per whorl and the Black She-oak (Allocasuarina littoralis) has 6–8 leaf-teeth per whorl.
The trees are either male or female and at our place there are several examples of a female (cone-bearing tree) standing next to a male tree (sometimes called He-oaks), (pictured left).
In today’s politically correct world it is only a matter of time before they are called Person-oaks.