Linda GreenLonely trees

Do you ever see a tree and think “Where did you come from, where are your parents, how did you get here?”? I occasionally ponder these questions when I see a tree that seems to be the only one of its kind growing in the area.

Lysiphyllum hookeri 2013 - East Perth

Lysiphyllum hookeri 2013 – East Perth

Lysiphyllum hookeri - c mid 1990's - East Perth

Lysiphyllum hookeri – mid 1990s in East Perth

One such tree that I first saw about 20 years ago was growing on waste land in what is now an inner city suburb of Perth, Western Australia. At the time I was impressed by the gorgeous large white flowers with their showy red stamens and the attractive bi-lobed leaves. The tree itself was a bit straggly but as it had obviously been neglected for many years that was understandable.

Lysiphyllum hookeri flower

Lysiphyllum hookeri flower

I was curious to find out what species it was as I had never seen one before. Using some library books that didn’t have photos I came to the conclusion that it could be a Bauhinia carronii or a Bauhinia hookeri. Eventually I saw some images on line and now believe that it must be a Lysiphyllum hookeri, also known as Bauhinia hookeri.

Lysiphyllum hookeri flower

Lysiphyllum hookeri flower

In the intervening years I have returned many times in December to see it in flower. This year I didn’t get to see it until mid-January so it is little past its prime in the photos. The original tree and an offspring are thriving despite now being surrounded by new high rise apartments.

Lysiphyllum hookeri in tiny triangle of soil - South Fremantle

Lysiphyllum hookeri in tiny triangle of soil – South Fremantle

It is a native of Queensland and northern Australia where it is commonly known as Pegunny or Queensland Ebony. I grew a few plants from seed and distributed them to friends and members of the Gardeners’ Circle so there could be some plants which are getting quite large by now. I kept one in a pot for many years then, but in desperation because I had no space in my garden I planted it in a tiny triangle of soil in South Fremantle. It grew quite well, although the compacted alkaline soil and restricted space weren’t ideal. Lovely coppery coloured new foliage appeared in spring after a brief leafless period. I was very sad when it was blown over one winter before it had produced any flowers.

Bauhinia hookeri - Aswan

Bauhinia hookeri – Aswan

Bauhinia hookeri label

Bauhinia hookeri label

Bauhinia hookeri foliage - 2009 Aswan

Bauhinia hookeri foliage – 2009 Aswan

In hindsight I wonder if I should have planted it in my garden instead of the Poinciana tree – it probably would have rewarded me with some flowers. I’ve never come across another specimen growing in Perth but you can imagine my surprise when I saw another example of it as an extremely lonely tree, growing of all places, in Egypt. Yes there it was, in 2009, growing in the Aswan Botanic Garden on Kitchener’s Island. With lush soft cascading foliage instead of a tough arching canopy it was hardly recognisable except for the tell tail bi-lobed leaves. Without the label it could have any one of hundreds of species of Bauhinia and Lysiphyllum. I guess I’ll never know how it got to Aswan, or to Perth for that matter. It is a pity that these trees aren’t available at local nurseries because apart from being very attractive they are also very hardy and adaptable and I think they make lovely garden trees.

Flowers on the unknown tree

Flowers on the unknown tree

Another lonely tree that I discovered is also growing on vacant land. It flowers in summer from about November to January and as with the Lysiphyllum the photos were taken in mid-January and don’t really show the clusters of pale pink flowers with prominent stamens at their best. As far as I know the tree is evergreen.

Unknown tree foliage

Unknown tree foliage

This tree turned out not to be as lonely as I had thought because instead of it being one large tree it is a clump of trees with a jacaranda growing up through them. Also over the years I have seen as few large shrubs as I have been driving around which look as though they are the same plant but certainly they aren’t as tall as these specimens.

Trunk of the unknown tree growing up through a jacaranda

Trunk of the unknown tree growing up through a jacaranda

Despite the fact that I first saw this clump of trees about 20 years ago I still haven’t identified what they are so if anyone can recognise them I would love to know. They have always seemed familiar and something that I should know but so far their identity has eluded me.

Unknown trees with Jacaranda

Unknown trees with Jacaranda

Chorisia speciosa thorny trunk

Chorisia speciosa thorny trunk

When I first saw a lonely Chorisia speciosa I recognised it immediately even though it wasn’t in flower because it has a very distinctive trunk which is covered in thorns. That specimen was growing in a fairly well tended back garden in a suburb just east of Perth. Probably 10 to 15 years later I saw another one, in a front garden over 30km away, south of Fremantle where the conditions are much harsher and the soil more alkaline. The tree is a native of South America and according to Stirling Macaboy in his book ‘What tree is that’ they rarely set seed away from their natural home and they won’t grow from cuttings so I really am left wondering “Where did you come from?”

Chorisia speciosa flowers

Chorisia speciosa flowers

I have seen one growing in the Sydney Botanic Garden and also in California but certainly no others around Perth, although they could be lurking in back gardens out of sight. They are deciduous and are very attractive trees when in flower. The large unusual flowers are very variable but generally the petals are in various shades of pink. The ones in the photograph were picked in May and look striking in a vase.

Chorisia speciosa

Chorisia speciosa

Some lonely trees are probably growing at the limit of their adaptability, others may be difficult to propagate and yet others may be unappealing to most gardeners and are therefore not grown much but each has managed to survive against the odds. I’ll never know how these trees came to be so far from their natural habitat and all alone in a foreign place but I am glad that I have been able to appreciate their beauty.

UPDATE APRIL 2013

White fruit on the Lonely Tree

White fruit on the Lonely Tree

White fruits closeup

White fruits closeup

The unknown tree mentioned above is now decorated with bunches of shiny white berries. The round berries are about 1cm in diameter and those that I cut through contained two seeds similar to grape seeds. One seed of each pair was much larger than the other. The fruit on the north side of the tree are sunburnt probably due to the fact that we have had unseasonably hot weather this autumn.
I thought the berries were pretty distinctive so I had another look through my books and on line but am no closer to identifying the tree. I’m still hopeful that one of the GardenDrum viewers will recognise it – fingers crossed.

inside the white berries

Inside the white berries

seeds inside the white berries

Seeds inside the white berries

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Linda Green

About Linda Green

Linda is a landscape designer and horticulturist living in Fremantle, Western Australia. In 1988 she established Hidcote Landscapes and she still finds starting a new garden design a thrilling prospect. She loves visiting inspiring gardens overseas and exploring the bush closer to home. For more information visit www.hidcote.com.au.

13 thoughts on “Lonely trees

  1. narf7 on said:

    Most lonely trees have an avid gardener behind them! I wonder what people are going to say long after we are gone and they come to look at our property? 😉

    • Linda on said:

      What a thought provoking question. It has made me consider many issues regarding our current gardening style. One thought that occurred to me is that we may be creating another sort of lonely tree. What about those trees that were at one time common in backyards but because of the shrinking size of gardens the majority are either removed when subdivision occurs or aren’t planted any more because their eventual size is too big. Over time there may be just a few specimens that have avoided being removed.

  2. Arno King on said:

    Hello Linda

    We have a lot of ‘lonely trees’ here in Queensland. Often they can be traced back to one nurseryman or keen gardener who was obsessed with growing unusual plants from seed – and then sharing them with keen gardeners.

    Lysiphyllum (now Bauhinia again!) hookeri is one of my favourite trees, particularly in early summer when the weight of new growth gives the branches a soft weeping character. It is not too common in Brisbane, but you will find plantings in parks gardens and in some streetscapes. I think Harry Oakman is responsible for many of these plantings. He had a major influence on enhancing Brisbane’s image.

    Chorisia (now Ceiba) spectabilis is another of my favourite trees. I love the trunk. These trees are very variable. Every one seems to have differently coloured and shaped flowers. In this region they set seed readily in winter and the white kapok surrounding the seed creates ‘snow’ which children love to play with.

    Your mystery tree has me stumped. I hope someone can identify it.

  3. Linda on said:

    Hi Arno
    Thanks for the update on the names – I admit I have trouble keeping up with the name changes.
    I agree it is a lovely tree – the one in East Perth flowers profusely during the Christmas period which is an added bonus. I’m surprised that it isn’t grown much more – perhaps reverting to the name Bauhinia will help!

  4. Ruth Francis on said:

    Hi Linda,
    I have access to seeds if you would like to plant your own Lysiphylum Hookeri. I have planted 25 of my own and they are amazing.
    Look for Quinn Park Toowong in Brisbane where there are about 20 to 30 of them, planted by Harry Oakman perhaps over 60 years ago . Magnificent. Cheers Ruth

    • Linda on said:

      Thanks Ruth
      Next time I am in Queensland I will definitely seek out the Park.

  5. Pingback: Can you identify this tree? | GardenDrum

  6. AliCat on said:

    Hello Linda
    The flowers are reminiscent of a Viburnum cluster. The leaves are also similar to V japonicum. But the fruit are the wrong colour. The fruit with the, are they sepals?, are similar to Clerodendron, but the leaves are different.
    Have you thought about contacting Peter Teese from Yamina Rare Plants? He may be able to identify for you.
    Good luck with the name. I for one am very interested. It is a beautiful looking plant, and is obviously remarkably hardy.

  7. Linda on said:

    Hi Alison
    Thanks for your suggestions. I haven’t actively tried to identify the plant for years but I will follow up with some experts as it is so much easier with the internet. Yes the fruit do seem to have sepals.
    I will certainly advise the GardenDrum visitors if I have any success

  8. AliCat on said:

    Just a thought Linda, could your unidentified tree be Euscaphis japonica?

    • Linda on said:

      Thanks for your suggestion Alison but I don’t think it is. Although there is a form with white berries the flowers don’t look right. I think you were closer with the viburnum suggestion – they have berries of almost every colour under the sun but I have yet to find a white one. I have been following up various suggestions from people that I have emailed – Moonberries, Waxberries, Beautyberries, Elderberries and Pittosporums but no luck so far. I have also discovered that there are quite a few natives of Australia and New Zealand that have small 5 petalled flowers followed by berries. I am going to revisit the plant to see if the berries have changed colour. In the meantime…..

  9. Jo on said:

    Good morning Linda,
    I have a tree that I need to identify and I would be so grateful for your help. Do you have an email that I could send the pics too? Thank you so much

    Jo Penkin

  10. Linda Green on said:

    Thanks to Ramón Gómez for identifying the unknown lonely tree on August 26, 2014 as:
    Volkameria glabra (E.Mey.) Mabb. Y YWYuan

    See also Can you Identify this tree Garden Drum

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