Colour of early summer: but they’re not all flowers

On 11 November I wrote:

Yesterday I walked down to Figtree, just south of here. It had been a while since I’d done this. I was keeping an eye out for Flame Trees, as I mentioned in the last post that they are all green rather than red this year. The only one I saw in festive mode was a small one in the grounds of Maccas at Figtree, and it was more green than red. But the jacarandas were another matter…

Found one on my way to Yum Yum Cafe in West Wollongong/Mangerton.


And then we have the Christmas Bush, again this year maturing a touch early:


Towards the end of December this hardy and reliable plant puts on a great display of red ‘flowers’ that I admire so much – however all is not what it seems. The true flowers are white in colour and fairly insignificant and are seen in late spring to early November. After pollination by flies and native bees, the sepals, which are the outer series or whorl of flora leaves that protect the flower bud, enlarge and turn deep pink to red in colour enclosing the fruit, a single seed, a nut and the whole fall when ripe. When sowing, the whole fruit with calyx lobes attached should be sown for best results.

That’s the Christmas Bush; on the other hand the Flame Tree has actual flowers, but not every year apparently. See Shirley Stackhouse, My Illawarra flame tree blooms!

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.