I have just returned from a trip to Walpole on the south coast, which happened to coincide with the flowering of two iconic Western Australian trees – the red flowering gum, Corymbia ficifolia, and the WA Christmas tree, Nuytsia floribunda. Both are spectacular when in bloom. The red flowering gum has flowers in the red spectrum including vermillion, crimson or cream and shades in between, while the Christmas tree has striking yellowy-orange blossom.
The red flowering gum used to be classified as a Eucalyptus but after a review it and a number of other Eucs were reclassified into the bloodwood family of Corymbia. It only grows in a very limited area from around Walpole, east to around Albany and north to around Mt Frankland but the Nuytsia has a much wider distribution. Nuytsia can be found across the whole triangle of the south west corner of WA from Geraldton, across through Southern Cross and down to Esperance.
Both trees appear quite straggly in the bush where they are subject to bushfires, insect attack and very changeable conditions such as drought and flood but when given the right conditions they are attractive small trees – the red flowering gum to 10m and the Christmas Tree to 8m.
The gum is easily grown from seed so is readily available from garden nurseries but there is no way to predict what colour the flowers will be. It is very difficult to strike from a cutting which would, of course, guarantee that the flower colour was the same as the parent tree. You occasionally see the seed grown trees used as street trees or planted together in a park and in my opinion it isn’t a good look. Street trees look best if there is some uniformity both in the tree shape and flower colour and with the C. ficifolia this can only be achieved by using grafted plants. There are now quite a few named varieties available but unfortunately the rootstock sometimes suckers and can overtake the grafted variety.
The Christmas tree is even more difficult to propagate and as such isn’t generally available from nurseries. It is semi-parasitic and needs a host plant to survive. When they aren’t in flower they are very unremarkable trees and just blend in with the surrounding bush. I took the attached photos of the Christmas trees in January 2004 in a paddock just north of Cranbrook. As we returned home from Walpole on this trip I kept a lookout for the Christmas trees and was stunned to see that the paddock had become a blue gum plantation, with gums as high as the Christmas trees. I have driven past them dozens of times since the photos were taken but presumably they weren’t in flower and I hadn’t registered that they were surrounded by blue gums.
Botanically, Walpole is famous for the giant tingle trees which are only found around Walpole but there are lots of other interesting plants including the beautiful karri trees, the quirky kingias and, of course, the red flowering gums and the Christmas trees.