Angus StewartRed flowering gum

The red flowering gum, Corymbia ficifolia (formerly Eucalyptus ficifolia) is one of those trees that really grabs your attention when it’s in full flower, like very few other flowering trees can, perhaps with the exception of the jacaranda or the Illawarra flame tree.


However, one of the ongoing problems with the red flowering gum has been that it’s always been grown from seed in the nursery industry in the past. When it did flower, after 5 to 10 years, the colour varied enormously as there is a great deal of genetic variability within this species. Not only does the colour vary, but the height of the tree can vary from a 10-15 metre substantial tree to a mallee form that’s no more than a couple of metres in height – a form which does have its advantages in the smaller gardens of today. One of the exciting developments in horticulture in recent years has been the development of the red flowering gum to make it more predictable and amenable to garden culture.

Corymbia-colour-forms-010Before I talk about that, though, I’d like to talk about the botany and the name change from Eucalyptus ficifolia to Corymbia ficifolia. The reason why the group of gums that include the red flowering gum were separated from Eucalyptus were that there are considerable differences. Corymbia are generally known as the bloodwoods and they have a special characteristic of being terminal flowering, with all those big sprays of flowers held on the end of the branches, which can be seen from a very long distance away. Many of what have remained as Eucalyptus flower way back inside the canopy on the axillary buds, unlike the terminal buds of Corymbia. Indeed, many people are surprised to hear that all gums are ‘flowering gums’; the red flowering gum just holds its flowers where they can be easily seen. Corymbia-colour-forms-005Corymbia shares this terminal flowering with Angophora, sometimes known as the apple gums, of which the Sydney red gum, Angophora costata is probably the best known in cultivation. The botanists faced the dilemma that Corymbia gums were more closely related to Angophora, both being terminal flowering and sharing some other characteristics. Being closer to Angophora, it was either include everything within the one genus of Eucalyptus, or split off the bloodwoods and create a separate group for them sitting in between Angophora and Eucalyptus.

Corymbia-colour-forms-003Which brings me to the genetic improvement of the red flowering gum, a brilliant but unreliable species, in the genetic sense that you don’t know what you’re getting! One of the more amazing projects that I’ve seen in my career as a plant breeder happened up in Queensland. A fellow by the name of Stan Henry, a retired horticulturist, wanted to grow a red flowering gum in his home garden but he was in the humid climate of coastal central Queensland. He watched a number of his Corymbia ficifolia die from the heat and humidity, and from the leaf spot that they tend to get when they’re grown in Sydney and further north (you can grow them but they look very ratty and not a good garden specimen).

Corymbia-colour-forms-007The strategy that he then chose was to hybridise Corymbia ficifolia, the red flowering gum from around Albany in south-west Western Australia with the swamp bloodwood, Corymbia ptychocarpa from northern Australia, which has the same spectacular terminal flowers common to all the Corymbias, but is obviously much better equipped to cope with the humidity and heat of northern Australia. By crossing those two species together, we get a group of hybrids which has been marketed as the Summer series – ‘Summer Red’, ‘Summer Beauty’ and ‘Summer Snow’, a white variety. Corymbia-colour-forms-001By and large it’s been quite a successful series when planted in gardens up and down the east coast, from Melbourne through to Queensland. Hybridisation is one way to go, and I like to think of what he’s done as a wonderful reconciliation, a sort of ‘east meets west’, between the swamp bloodwood from the east and north east and, from the other corner of the continent right down in the south-west, the red flowering gum. That’s where I think plant breeding really does have a place in modern horticulture; to combine the outstanding features of two different species to come up with a plant that has all the right attributes to be a successful garden plant.

Corymbia-colour-forms-006One of the issues with all the selections, whether they’re straight selections of Corymbia ficifolia or hybrids like the Summer series, is that they are difficult to propagate by cuttings – too difficult for commercial production. The way that they’re propagated now is by grafting onto the rootstock of a hardy member of the Corymbia group, such as the spotted gum, Corymbia maculata, or the red bloodwood, Corymbia gummifera. Finding the right species to use as a rootstock for different areas has become one of the key challenges for the selection and improvement of the Corymbia group, and in particular the flowering gums.

Corymbia-colour-forms-002The second wave of improvement of the red flowering gum has come about through the selection of different clones of the red flowering gum though the hundred years or so that this plant has been in cultivation. In southern Australia, from Perth across to Melbourne and up the southern coast of NSW, Corymbia ficifolia is quite a reliable species in its own right. Having been grown from seed, there’s all sorts of variation, so various nurseries have selected their outstanding forms of Corymbia ficifolia and we’re now seeing some interesting new cultivars emerge from that work. ‘Wildfire’ is one the oldest selections, and there are new ones called ‘Baby Red’, ‘Baby Orange’ and ‘Calypso’. Corymbia-colour-forms-009They’re all slightly different in both flower colour and plant height, so it’s a matter of going out and finding out what is available from your local garden retailer. There will be a continuing series of new selections in the future as we get more confident with the grafting of red flowering gums in its various colour selections and finding the right rootstock partner.



The red flowering gum is one of our most iconic Australian species in cultivation, and through some judicious genetic selection and breeding work, we’re now starting to see cultivars emerge which are going to be more reliable – as far as knowing what flower colour and height you’re going to get. Hopefully in the future, you’ll be able to find anything from a 2 metre shrub to a 15m tree to match your garden requirements. So if you’ve ever planted a seedling tree and been disappointed, have another look as more new colours and forms emerge.

[You can now see how to prune your flowering gum in the new post by Angus How to prune a flowering gum]

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Angus Stewart

About Angus Stewart

Gardening Australia TV presenter, author of 'Creating an Australian Garden', 'Australian Plants for Year-round Colour' and 'Let's Propagate', garden travel guide, native plant specialist and breeder. Central Coast, NSW. Find out lots more about native plants at Gardening with Angus.

81 thoughts on “Red flowering gum

  1. I would like to be sure just when is the best time to prune red flowering gum after it has flowered. My tree doesn’t bloom in one burst of colour, but just several branches at the one time, over a period of approx 6 weeks.

    • Hi Fran – you don’t really need to prune red flowering gum as it should grow into a naturally bushy shape. When the tree is small, it can be a good idea to prune off the old flower heads so that the tree doesn’t put a lot of effort into the developing those big gumnuts when you want the whole tree to be growing bigger – unless of course you want them!

  2. Hello there – I have 5 beautiful red flowering gums on my property in Melbourne. They are all in great condition and have just turned 100 years. I am wondering what the life span of these trees will be as they greatly enhance the property.

    Thank you……Shane

    • Hi Shane
      I agree with Catherine, the trees can potentially live for hundreds of years. Just try and keep competition in the form of lawn away from the trees and look out for pests such as borers and curl grubs and you should have decades of pleasure to come.

  3. HI Shane – lucky you! They must be spectacular trees. Angus is on tour in Europe so he won’t be able to answer you for a few weeks. But as many Eucs and Corymbia live for hundreds of years, I see no reason why yours shouldn’t keep on going. The only threat would be long term drought. We often forget to water our big old trees, assuming they can cope with anything but the long droughts we’re experiencing in SE Aust could be too much for them. If you can spare the water, I’d give them a long drink if you can.

  4. Hi there, Angus! In our front garden we do have a red flowering gum; only, it has not flowered for some years now. Maybe one or two flowers, one here and one there! There are lots of dead branches on this tree! Should and could I trim this tree, if so what would be the right time to do this? And when I do, will it then benefit from the trimming it will get, and start producing flowers again??
    Regards, Mary.

    • Hi Mary
      The tree can certainly flower again. The best time to prune is around January Feb after its normal flowering time. However, as it is not flowering now I would wait until spring and then prune all the dead wood out and feed it with a native plant fertiliser with the aim of getting some new spring growth that may flower for you in summer. If not then, it should flower the following year. Good luck!

  5. G’day. I have potted 20 red flowering gums that I purchased from a nursery in Dural NSW. I live in Mackay Quensland and the plants have done very well up until now. Suddenly they have been simply dying. The leaves just dry out and the plant dies.
    Any idea what is wong?
    Jim Wright

    • Hi Jim
      How long have you had these trees? Without knowing that it is a bit hard to say whether it is a problem that arrived with the trees from the nursery. If you have had them for quite a while then I suggest it is a soil borne problem. This could be curl grubs eating the roots or perhaps root rot killing the root systems. More information please?

  6. An entire stock of of hybrid Eucalyptus ‘Summer Red’ Corymbia ficifolia x C. ptychocarpa grafted on Corymbia species rootstock arrived at the nursery I work in and all did the same. It is not about water as these plants were watered and in afternoon shade. They were initially pruned and treated and off cuts destroyed. The pots bounced back by late April, but were still decaying from tip to end leaf. I’m only a worker and the whole stock have now disappeared.

  7. Hi, Angus, we are thinking about planting a red flowering gum. How does one check for curl grub and how can it be controlled?

  8. Hello, Could you possibly tell me where I could purchase Corymbia Ficifolia Summer Red, Summer Beauty, Summer Glory and Summer White in Queensland?

    Thank you.

    • Summer Red seems to be constantly available at Neilsens on the Beenleigh-Redland Bay Road (about $60.00). I purchased one from Big W about 2 years ago for $38.00 but Big W (at least at Upper Mt Gravatt) no longer seem to stock them.

  9. Hi Angus
    You may be able to help me, I planted two Summer Red hybrid eucalypts last Spring and we have had a very wet winter, I live South of Adelaide on the coast. The trees are about 180cm tall. They are making plenty of new growth at the moment, but on one of them all the new growth is very yellow. I thought there may have been a lack of iron or similar so gave the tree some chaleted iron. No sign of it working yet. Am I on the right track or have you any other ideas for me. I would appreciate any help you could give me


    • Hi John
      I think you are on the right track. Perhaps try watering on some iron sulphate, say a dessertspoonful to a 10 litre watering can if you are still not getting a response to the iron chelates.

  10. I have a six foot flowering gum in our garden and is not doing so well in the last few years. less flowers and dont seem to be getting any new leaf growth. The ends of the branches where the flowers were are dieing.
    Could the tree be getting to much water. We have it built up on a ground mound about 10 inches above the surrounding ground level. We have cannons planted around the base could this be the problem. Sure hope some one can help.

    Thanks Robert of Tasmania North.

    • Hi Robert
      The tree is under some sort of stress to the roots. Could be root rot or perhaps curl grubs eating the roots. Have a scratch around underneath the tree to see if there are any curl grubs there. If not it could be root rot in which case I would treat with antirot fungicide. Good luck

    • Hi Max and Angus, our 10 yr old, 3m flowering gum is looking like its almost on its death bed too. We are quite sad about this and hope that maybe there might be a solution to help this lovely tree come back to our garden. Regards Chris.

      • Well there could be a couple of causes. One is root rot. You could try treating the healthy ones with antirot.
        The other possibility is that if your trees are grafted then it may be failure of the graft union which you would see at the base of the tree. Inspect the graft union and see if it is healthy. If there is not a good connection or there is sprouting below the graft union from the rootstock then that is the cause

  11. I have a red flowering gum in the front northern facing yard about 25 foot high. It has been doing well until last year when the local possum population decided that it was quite tasty!! However since then (and it is still providing local possum tucker) it has developed a white frothy substance in the end branches which then drips the froth and a clear liquid substance all over the place and is quite unpleasant and unsightly. It looks like someone has spat into the tree branches. I can send a photo if it helps. Any comment would be much appreciated.

  12. I have purchased a grafted summer red a year a go, the tree has not
    grown very much the leaves are green and healthy but now all the buds
    have just fallen off , it is in a pot and the tree is about 900mm tall can you please help

    • Hi George
      There could be a few reasons why this has happened. If the plant has dried right out in the pot with the hotter weather the flower buds would be the first thing to drop off. Also root rot could cause those symptoms in which case I would treat the tree with Antirot. You may be better to put the plant in the ground in a sunny well drained spot.
      Best regards

  13. Hi Angus
    I planted a “Summer Red” about 7 years ago and the plant is doing particularly well, except that the flower buds drop off before they open. The tree currently has a lot of flower buds, but I rarely see an open flower. I live in Sydney’s Inner West, where there are a number of street plantings of the different Summer varieties that all seem to flower better than mine. Do you know what could cause bud drop on these trees?

    • Hi Judy
      Apologies for the late reply. I know it is probably past the time when the advice is relavant but maybe it can help you for next summer.
      Bud drop like this is usually caused by water stress during a dry spell. This is particularly likely in summer..
      Best regards

  14. We have recently moved and have two lovely flowering gums in our front garden. Sadly one of them has developed a sort of rust on the leaves which has spread quickly over the tree. The tree is about 1.5m tall. We have pruned it back hard. What else can we do to fix the problem? We would appreciate any advice.

    • Hi Linda
      Sorry for the delay in replying.
      It is a bit hard to diagnose the problem without seeing it. I have not seen flowering gums afflicted by myrtle rust but it might be worth doing a search and compaing the symptoms. Yates have a fungicide for control of rust called Zaleton if that does prove to be the problem.
      Best regards

  15. Hi and Happy New Year to all.
    November 2012 I planted Corymbia ficifolia Petite Orange as a feature plant in a slightly raised bed among thriving leucospermums and leucadendrons. It flowered last summer and is about to burst into flower again. I had hessian around it for its first winter as we get a few frosts. (I live in NSW on the far south coast, about half an hour inland.) Last year’s leaves look a bit motley (I probably should remove them) but there is plenty of new, healthy growth and the tree is now about 60cm tall. However, there appears to be suckers popping up, up to a meter or so away. I’m assuming they are suckers and not from seeds the tree produced last season. If it is a problem now is it going to be an even bigger problem as the tree gets older and competes with surrounding plants? Can I deal with it by diligently pruning off the suckers!!!? Otherwise, should I remove it now while still small enough to relocate? I am wondering whether the cold might have stressed the plant a bit and be causing this.

    • Hi Sally
      Sorry for the late reply.
      I have never seen Corymbia ficifolia sucker from the roots so I can only imagine they are seedlings coming up somehow. It could certainly sucker from the rootstock below the graft though. Certainly prune off any suckers and pull up the ones from that are away from the trunk as well.
      Best regards

  16. Hi my husband just purchased one of these as I mentioned I would love a small one for our front garden unfortunely the tag on it says 6 – 15 metres is there any way of pruning it so it stays small or did we just buy the wrong one ? Thanks Pamela

    • Hi Pamela
      Yes you can certainly prune the tree to keep it to the height you want. I suggest you prune it every year after flowering to keep it at the height you desire. Don’t be scared to prune it fairly hard if needed.
      Best regards

  17. Hi Angus,
    I want to grow some more red flowering gums from the seed of my tree (I know they may not turn out to be red as there are other gums in the area) When is a good time to sow the seed?

  18. hi. I live in central north island nz. I have a 6ft eucalyptus ficifolia with 50% of its trunked ringed and 10% on tree cut into, unfortunately it was rubbing against metal stakes. can this tree be treated to prevent weakening in its later years. Regards Danny

    • Hi Danny
      The bark will gradually grow back and repair itself if the tree is kept healthy in other respects. You could protect the wound with hessian in the meantime to help it heal.
      Best regards

  19. We are thinking of planting a “Summer Red” in the front yard on the North Coast of NSW. The question we have is how big is the root system? How far from the storm water pipe should we plant it?

  20. I am outside of Phoenix, Arizona, USA, and found a neighbor growing two of these pretty “shrubs”. One day I stopped and grabbed some seeds and went from there. They germanate quick enough, and I put them in dirt and what I need to know is, what do I do from here? It’s way too hot to put them in direct sun, how do I proceed? Please reply at your convenience and thank you for your time.

    • Hi Deana
      They are pretty tough plants once acclimatised to hot conditions. I would plant them and put some temporary shading over the plants during their forst summer and once the roots have established they should be ok in future years.
      Best regards

  21. I have what I think is a Corymbia gummifera Red Bloodwood tree in my suburban backyard. It was already established 5-6 mtrs when we moved in 20 yrs ago. It is now 10-12 mtrs high and rather spread out now, encroaching the yard entirely in winter taking our sun from the yard and is even getting toward the house. I enquired about trimming it back some and was told that this would only encourage multiple new growth and would possibly be bushier than now, so I’ve done nothing for the last few years with this in mind. But I really would like to trim it back, and am open to any advice. Michael, Northern NSW

    • Hi Michael
      You can trim it back. Yes it will shoot back but you just prune that regrowth to keep it to the size you want. Thin out any unwanted extra shoots that may appear after pruning.
      Best regards

  22. I have a red flowering gum in my backyard. It is currently being attacked by some sort of borer insect. I have covered all of the wounds with tree wound dressing. There are now a few new branches growing from the base of the tree. Should I let them grow or cut them off? How do I save my tree?

    • Hi Natalie
      First off, my advice depends on whether this is a grafted tree or a seedling growing on its own roots. If it is a grafted tree it depends wheteher the new shoots are coming from above or below the graft union at the base of the tree. If it is a grafted tree and they are coming from below the union you need to take them off and only allow shoots from above the graft union. If it is a seedling tree then you may need to thin out the number. If you want to put a photo of the tree on my facebook page I am happy to have a look at it for you.

  23. Hi Angus, we have a 5 acre Ashram property in Carrum Downs near Frankston, Vic. It is largely a flood plain, with a clay sub-strate about 60cm -1m below the surface, although we have done a lot of drainage work. We would really like to grow some Corymbias like Summer Red. We had thought to put them on a large mound about 0.5m high. On a very slightly higher area of the property we have successfully grown Eucalyptus caesii.
    Do you think we have a reasonable chance of success? If so, what rootstock should we seek for the grafting?
    Thank you for your assistance, Madhumati

    • Hi Madhumati
      I think you would have a good shot at success in that scenario. Although if you could also consider the various selections of Corymbia ficifolia which should grow well where you are. I would seek out Corymbia maculata (Spotted gum) as your root stock.

  24. I’ve had a giant Strelitzia crash into my red gum..snapping it. Now just a branches or leaves. Will it grow back or should I dig it up?

  25. Goodness Heather. I’m intrigued to know how on earth a Strelitzia could fall over! Usually you need a backhoe to get them out!
    Re your flowering red gum, it depends on whether it’s snapped above or below the graft point. If it’s above, then you’ll get new growth coming back that you could carefully prune into a replacement. If it’s under, then you’ll get regrowth from the understock. You could always coppice that (cut it back a few times a year like a perennial) for it’s pretty foliage but it won’t flower like your original plant.

  26. I sent u a photo of my red gum stump to your FB on messages. No Strelitzia didn’t actually was my ruthless husband trimming it..and crash! Lol

    • Hi Heather
      Yes agree with Cath’s comments. If you did lose the plant below the graft level I would actually remove the rootstock as it is most likely spotted gum which will eventually grow into a monster tree unless you prune it ruthlessly. And it will only ever give you a rather unspectacular flower display.

  27. I have an established red flowing gum in Frankston Victoria in the back yard, it is about 2 mts tall and very healthy. I also have one in the front 150cm that I planted 6 weeks ago. I filled hole with water before planting and then gave a bucket of seaweed mix, and watered it daily for first week, right through root ball and then three times a week for last five weeks. my problem is that both trees are loosing their flower buds. They are in different positions, in full sun. beautiful sandy soil full of compost. do you think they need some sort of minerals?

    Thank you Lorraine

    • Hi Lorraine
      It sounds like you could not have done any more than you have to look after them. If they look very healthy it is hard to imagine a nutrient deficiency. The climate there is also perfect for flowering gums. Could there be anything attacking the roots such as curl grub I wonder. Something like that could cause a temporary moisture stress that could cause bud drop. Without seeing the trees it is hard to be definitive about what is causing it but I would be looking at soil and root issues.

  28. Hi I have a red flowering gum about three metres high that has just had a huge flowering episode and now the trunk is peeling all its bark off. Can you tell me if that is normal? Thanks sue

  29. I have two flowering gums that are being attacked by a leaf eating insect that kills off the leaf and uses bits of the leaf to create its cocoon. Can you tell me what it is and what I can do about it? Thanks

      • Hi – We found out from a native nursery that it was a case moth. Only remedy they could offer was a systemic poison like Rogor or to pick the grubs off one-by-one,

  30. HI Angus, we have a young Summer Beauty and it has been flowering very well. It is now producing a lot of new growth, but something is having a good feed of the leaves. Do I need to do anything about it?

  31. Angus can you advise on a young WA flowering pink gum about 2 yrs old that is in flower but the thin tree trunk bark has started to split? We have clay soil but put in clay breaker when planting out. The tree has tripled in size but still quite spindly. Appreciate any advice and thank you.

  32. i have a summer red grafted and it is growing great, however no flowers since I have put it in. Lots of new leaves. How do I get flowers?

  33. Hello, we planted a grafted summer red in May and it has been doing beautifully, however the buds are not flowering. They have been looking hopeful for a few months but no flowers are blooming. Any suggestions?…Many thanks

  34. Hello. We have a beautiful red flowering gum in our front garden… A few of my neighbours have admired it and so I would like to grow them each a tree. I have collected the gum nuts and waited till they opened and tapped the seeds out. How can I best germinate the seeds and grow the plants.

    • Hi Bobbi Jo, That’s a lovely idea to grow trees for your neighbours, however you need to be sure that the tree you have is not a grafted tree. Most red flowering gums sold on the east coast of Australia are grafted trees, where the red-flowering part is grafted on to the rootstock of a different tree. You can still germinate the seed but the resulting tree is unlikely to grow well. However if you are in southern or western Australian, then try sowing the seed in seed raising mix in shallow containers or tubes, being careful not to put too much mix on top of what is quite fine seed. Eucalypt seed is best germinated in spring but you could still try some now if you can keep it warm enough over the coming winter.

  35. I am very concerned as to the health of one of my two Eucalyptus Ficifolia “Dwarf Orange” gums planted about 8 years ago. They are about 5 meters apart and both have grown very well and are produce great flowers and about 5 meters high as well. This summer I have noticed a big problem with one of the trees = the leaves are a different colour; dull and yellowish, there was limited flowering this season, the tree has not put on any growth this season, this tree is fed and watered the same as the other, there appears to be no problem with the graft or suckers. The trees are in identical situations in full sun. Can anyone advise as what I can do as I will be devastated to lose this tree?

  36. Greetings Angus. I have several healthy young saplings, 1 -2 years old, of orange and red Corymbias, from seeds I planted from the large gumnuts of parent trees~~ , one of which was labelled Summer Glory. To make them stable plants, I wish to graft them onto Spotted Gum or Bloodwood rootstock.. 1. When should I do this (at what age); 2. How do I do this; and 3. How old should the rootstock tree be at the time of grafting; and 4. Should all nurseries stock the required Spotted Gum or Bloodwood?

  37. Hello

    Thank you for the very informative article.
    I live in South Africa, I would like to start planting some eucalyptus species for our honey bees (particularly RFG).

    Can you perhaps add some comments on the nectar production on these hybrids, what type of cultivar will you recommend for the semi-desert South African climate (38’C Summers with 550 mm precipitation)


  38. in my small area Coomalbidgup , Esperance our red flowering gum buds have just started coming out , but some of the buds are shrivelling up, and my tree is looking sad, itseems to have just been a selected few ,, most are not old ,, I did find 1 small bug in a flower , grey small and a beak like nose thing ,, its very disappointing as the trees loaded with blooms to come , thank you for your help,,we are 60 k west of Esperance along the coast rd , few cliks from ocean tho

  39. hello Angus,

    I have a Dwarf flowering red gum just wondering the height and root span will it affect the concrete pathway or the building structure can keep to 5mtrs in height.
    thank you.

  40. We planted a flowering red gum about 9 months ago, it was doing well then suddenly over 2 weeks the leaves dried up and it is dying. We live SE Qld and the soil is rocky and quite a lot of clay. Would this have anything to do with the problem with our tree?

  41. I think we have a red-flowering gum (dwarf variety) grafted onto a spotted gum in our front yard. However, the spotted gum has taken off at the graft point and is now 15 feet high. Meanwhile the RFG behind is doing fine. Should we remove the spotted gum growth or go with it?

  42. We have Flowering red gum in our front garden planted 6 years ago from tube from Bunnings. It has never flowered but grown to healthy looking plant otherwise

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