Illawarra Flame Tree
Wednesday, 26 December 2018
By Deb Delahunty – Wodonga TAFE
Most of us are familiar with the common name Illawarra Flame Tree. It’s a well know plant thanks in part to the song ‘Flame Trees’ sung by Cold Chisels Jimmy Barnes.
The Illawarra Flame Tree is botanically known as Brachychiton acerifolius – from brachys, (short) and chiton, (tunic). This relates to the coating on the seed. The word ‘tunic’ relates to the papery, thin layer that covers the seed while it’s retained in the fruit. The species name acerifolius means the plant has foliage like an Acer (Maple). Both the Acer and the Brachychiton acerifolius have palmate leaves, like the shape of a hand.
There are quite a number of different species of Brachychiton and they can be found in most parts of Australia. One of the most widely distributed and common species in cultivation is the Brachychiton populneus – the Kurrajong. The Illawarra Flame Tree wins out because of the display of amazing crimson flowers it produces, so vivid they could blind a weary driver.
The Brachychiton acerifolius is a smallish to a medium sized tree. It can grow very tall (over 30 metres) in favourable conditions, but in our region it tends to stay a fair bit smaller and only grow to about 10 metres. This tree often behaves differently to the norm by being deciduous in spring and summer when the plant flowers. This deciduous nature is not set in concrete and the plant may lose all of its leaves before it flowers or it may retain all or part of the foliage. Our specimen in flower near the dam at Wodonga TAFE is showing half and half – the protected side of the tree is in full leaf and the exposed side is deciduous and in full flower.
The crimson bell-shaped flowers are produced in clusters on the ends of the branches, followed by capsules containing seed. When grown by seed, trees can take around 7 years before they flower. This is quite a hardy tree and it will grow in a wide range of soils and climates, from temperate to tropical.
This plant is amazing as a feature tree and a shade tree but it does have one drawback. Take care when opening the seed pods, they are brimming with irritating hairs that can cause issues with your skin and worse if the hairs get into your eyes. This is a truly iconic Australian plant, a stunning feature in any garden.
Diary – The Agriculture/Horticulture Department at Wodonga TAFE has numerous short courses available in 2019 Short courses include the AgVet Chemical Users Course, chainsaw training, quad bike training, pruning and plant propagation. For more information on short course contact 1300 MY TAFE (1300 698 233) or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Photo – The buds and flowers on an Illawarra Flame Tree in the grounds of Wodonga TAFE.