Friday, November 12, 2010

Thready-leafed Hopbush

Dodonaea sinuolata
Toowoomba Field Naturalists were privileged to be able to visit the new McEwan State Forest, out near Pittsworth, last weekend. Not yet open to the public, this newly acquired land is expected to become a national park - something we badly need in this area - and to be open to the public in the next year or so.

One of the plants we saw there was this very pretty hop-bush.

Like the other hop-bushes, it flowers inconspicuously, then produces its showy seed capsules in spring each year.
It may be our prettiest local hop-bush, with its frilly-winged pink capsules. Though grown as an ornamental in America, it can be difficult to purchase here in its own country, though I notice it’s available from the Greening Australia nursery in Brisbane. One would need to buy several seedlings to ensure getting hops, as they occur only on the female plants. They could be grown in groups, to make dense clumps. They can be expected to grow to about head-height - but may make a prettier (denser) plant if kept lower by pruning.
There are about 70 species of Dodonaea. Most of them are Australian, but some are found in other tropical or sub-tropical countries - Africa, Asia, and America. They are related to the introduced Koelreuteria (Golden Rain) trees which are used as street trees in toowoomba, and put on such a lovely show every autumn, with their coppery seed capsules. Unlike the Koelreuteria, hop bushes are not environmental weeds!
The name “hop-bush” was given to them by early settlers, who apparently used their seed capsules as substitutes for the completely unrelated true hops (Humulus lupulus) in brewing beer. I have no idea whether they were actually any good for the purpose!

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