Plant Collector – Brachychiton

Brachychiton - a showy Australian native

Brachychiton – a showy Australian native

Across the road from our daughter’s Sydney apartment was this eyecatching tree that I had never seen before. Being a better plantsperson than I am, Mark immediately identified it as a brachychiton. Common names are kurrajong and bottletree.

This one is summer deciduous, dropping its leaves before flowering. We are used to magnolias and flowering cherries blooming on bare wood in spring but I can’t think we have any fully summer deciduous trees here. From looking at the internet, I am putting my money on it being B. discolor rather than B. bidwillii. If I am right, it places its natural habitat amongst the eastern rain forests. There are 31 different brachychiton species, 30 from Australia and a solitary specimen from New Guinea. The Illawarra flame tree is perhaps the best known variety (B. acerifolius) but as these are large trees (anything up to 40 metres in their natural habitat although they won’t get that big in less than ideal conditions), these highly ornamental trees are not much favoured in suburban gardens in this country, even in areas where they could be grown. Some can also be very prickly.

The showy brachychiton does at least give lie to the idea that all Australian native trees are either gum trees or something with greyish foliage and bottlebrush flowers.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.