Sunday, May 30, 2010

Native Autumn Colour

Hairy Birds-eye Tree
Alectryon tomentosus
These bright red fruits are one of the natural delights of autumn and winter. A mature birds-eye tree can produce a great show, with its prolific crop.

My little birds-eye tree has been fast-growing. It was 10 years old last year, when it began to fruit. It is now 5 metres high. Its little trunk is about 13 cm diameter, and its shady canopy is approx 3m wide.
As you can see, it has the double seed-capsule which is typical of the Alectryon species. Despite their apparent potential to produce two seeds, it is normal for only one to develop, as seen here. When they are ripe, the red aril swells, splitting open the capsule, and advertising to the birds that here is some tasty tucker. (Birds do love red food!) A shiny and nutritious (to birds) black seed is concealed under the aril, and is appreciated at a time when other rainforest fruits are becoming rare.
Some people eat them too, but they’re not particularly tasty, and the seeds, like apple seeds, contain cyanide - not enough to poison you if you only eat small quantities, but not very good for you either. Leave them for the birds!
The leaves of this alectryon are hairy, as the name suggests, but the hairs are short and fine, and you don’t notice them unless you touch the leaves. They feel like fine, stiff, felt.
The arrangement of the leaflets is also a typical Alectryon feature - with those at the end being much bigger than the ones at the base. You see the same thing with any of the compound-leafed alectryons (such as A. subdentatus, and A. connatus)
This is a lovely little tree, very much at home on our red soil. It has achieved this fast growth without any watering since it was first planted, and despite the drought conditions we’ve had. It is also frost hardy.
It deserves be widely used, in our local gardens.

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