Thursday, March 27, 2008

Native Leaf Colour

As a child, I could never understand why anyone would plant a deciduous tree. A fortnight of bright colour seemed to me to be a poor trade-off for the dead look that these trees have for a third of the year.
On moving to Tasmania, I began to understand what the fuss was about. Autumn comes in more gently there, and the period of special leaf colour lasts a month or more. Then the colours of the bare branchlets are brought out by being wet - and it is wet all winter long. Deciduous trees have a soft aura of colour in the rain and the mist. They don’t look dead, there, in winter.
So I have little sympathy any municipal policy to sell Toowoomba to tourists as a place of “four seasons”. Those who want to see autumn leaves can easily find better hunting grounds, and some are a mere few hours’ drive to the south of us. I seems a shame, here, to waste good planting-space on deciduous trees.
Meanwhile, we have plenty of natives which have lovely leaf colour and don’t restrict it to the one time of year. One of them is the bleeding heart tree, Omalanthus nutans. This little pioneer tree of rainforests is evergreen, but each leaf turns brilliant red before falling, so there is a scatter of bright red leaves on it all year round.
It is fast-growing, and a good size for gardens. It can be left to become a small tree, or pruned as a multi-stemmed shrub. A plant grown in the sun can form quite a dense canopy, especially if it is helped along by tip-pruning. In the shade it is more open in habit, drawing attention to itself by its bright leaves.
At this time of year it is producing its purple fruits, which attract birds.
Bleeding heart’s natural habitat in rainforest clearings is frost-free, and it appreciates the same conditions in gardens where a sheltered position near a building or a fence is usually easy to find. Like many fast-growing plants, it’s not long-lived. It is a good one to plant next to those slow-growers we put in for our great-grandchildren to enjoy.

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