Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beautiful Brachychitons


Our neighbour’s flame tree is late.
My camera has spent most of the past week focussing on family faces, but I couldn’t resist letting it peek over the fence at this tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), flowering its little heart out when most of its kind have given up for the year.
Flame trees are a local native species in no danger of disappearing thanks to their popularity in gardens and as street trees.
Two other local Brachychiton species are also familiar to most of us. Bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris) and kurrajongs (B. populneus) are often seen in the bush around the district, as well as in gardens (though kurrajongs are not grown as often as such hardy, shady trees deserve to be).
A less familiar sight is the lacebark tree, Brachychiton discolor. This rainforest species would once have been quite common around Toowoomba, and can still be found in a few scrub remnants at Highfields and Gowrie Junction. Its felt-textured pink flowers are produced during its long summer flowering season, which begins (as with flame trees) with a leaf drop in early summer, and ends with the production of the new year’s leaves.
This photo shows the graceful white trunk, which swells slightly near the base, revealing its relationship to bottle trees. It was taken on the western side of Mt Kynoch, on an exposed knoll in what is now a grassy paddock. For it to have thrived in infancy, this must once have been quite a different environment, with soil covered, in damp leafmould and sheltered by a canopy of similar trees. This tree is doomed to be childless, as there is no chance that its seeds could germinate naturally on that site, nowadays. It stands alone of its species, evidence of the rainforest that must once have clothed the hillsides above Gowrie Creek.

Another rainforest relict on the same hillside is one of Toowoomba’s last naturally-growing treeferns, Cyathea cooperi, looking out of place amongst the privet and lantana that now dominates its little creek-bed.

Here is the view that the lacebark tree has.

It looks west across the width of Toowoomba, all the way to Gowrie Mountain, and must receive the full force of our cold, dry westerly winds in August. Its ability to thrive and flower in this radically altered environment demands our respect - and tells us what an adaptable garden plant it can be.
Lacebarks are fast-growing and long-lived. Smaller than flame trees, they are better suited to suburban gardens. Their old environment has dwindled to vanishing point in this district, but I hope that we will continue to see them here, as gardeners see the value of growing our local natives on the soil where they truly belong.

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