I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of an Illawarra flame tree, with its brilliant red, bell flowers, and the lacy purple of the jacaranda. I had always wanted to have these two trees in my garden and when we moved to this house more than 10 years ago we realised it offered the perfect opportunity. The garden was thick with jacarandas and there was a tree-shaped space next to one of them.
We already had seedling flame trees growing in pots ready for planting. My husband Jim, who loves propagating plants, had grown them from seed I’d collected in Windsor (a nearby town).
So he planted the little tree and we began to look forward to the show of red and purple flowers in the garden in November.
Each year the tree grew as we battled dry times, storms and the annual visit of the kurrajong leaf tier. This is a hairy processionary caterpillar that brings all its friends and relations to skeletonise the leaves on our tree.
The years ticked by and Jim began to feel the tree would never flower, even though he knows that seed-grown plants can take seven or more years to bloom.
For weeks now we’ve been sweeping up the large leaves that have fallen from the tree leaving some bare branches on the otherwise leafy tree. A good sign as it turned out.
Then this morning came an excited whoop from outside and I heard the urgent call to “Come here quickly!”. Sure enough the tree was in bloom. Well, a couple of the upper most branches had flowers on them.
Flame trees (Brachychiton acerifolius) are native Australian trees – kurrajongs – that tend to flower on bare wood – much like jacarandas. Sometimes you’ll see the entire tree covered in flowers and other times it is just an odd branch. There is breeding and selection work going on to develop more reliable flowering trees.
When I posted the celebratory picture of our flowering on Facebook I received lots of comments including this one from Sydney-sider and gardener Wayne Carter who wrote:
“They are a wonder, seed-grown flame trees. Sometimes they flower only on one side. Other years a blaze of colour all over!”.
He then went on to recall the old Hazlewood’s nursery at Epping writing: “In their day, a jacaranda plant (seed grown) would never leave the nursery without a free Illawarra flame – all grown on in old jam tins. There was the ‘trio’ too, a silky oak! Today a walk over the Beecroft Road bridge at Epping spots them all in full bloom. Drive up Pennant Hills Road to Pearces Corner then down the Pacific Highway – what a show! Such wonderful trees and what a legacy! Then there are the oak trees (Quercus robur) – plants given out by the city store Anthony Horden’s.”
Thanks Wayne! I love the corners and paths that Facebook and social media lead you along. All that from a little picture of a few flowers on our tree.