Thursday, March 13, 2008

Glossy Acronychia

Acronychia laevis
Bushwalking has its seasonal delights, and this week, just north of Toowoomba, we found a cluster of those lovely plants, whose botanical name is Acronychia laevis (pronounce it “Acro-NICK-ee-a”). They are also sometimes called “hard aspen” - one of those exasperating names which were given to Australian plants by the early timbergetters.
Aspen? True aspens are deciduous northern hemisphere plants, quite unrelated to acronychias, they are a kind of poplar noted for the characteristic quivering of their leaves, and their bright orange-yellow display in autumn. The soft timber was used by settlers in North America for building log cabins. Hard Aspen? What were they thinking?
Glossy acronychia has stiff, shiny leaves rather like those of lillypillies, with not a hint of quiver about them. They are firmly evergreen, though no doubt the dense, shady canopy thins a bit at the end of winter as with most dry rainforest trees. They have never been a timber tree of any significance as they are too small. Their timber is white, and there the resemblance to aspens ends.
This is one of those delightful trees which grow quickly at first to encourage the hopeful gardener, and then settle down to slow growth and a probably very long life. They can produce a good flush of their butterfly-attracting flowers, followed by a generous crop of very attractive pink and purple fruits, while less than waist-high. The fruits darken as they ripen, and are eaten by green catbirds and no doubt many other rainforest fruit-eaters.
They are unlikely to ever get a trunk wider than 20cm diameter, or to grow more than 10 metres high, and may well take your lifetime or more to get there. An attractive shrub is probably all you could expect in the first twenty years or so.
Every garden should contain some heirloom trees that future generations will thank you for, and this is a good candidate, suitable for a suburban garden.
It likes well-drained soil, some shade early in its life, and shelter from frost. Being a local, it is fairly good at coping with drought, too.

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