Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lovely Lacebarks

Brachychiton discolor

I photographed this lovely tree in the grounds of the Goombungee town hall last weekend.
This local native species has been planted in a number of sites in our area, notably along the New England Highway at Highfields, and we are now able to appreciate the young trees as they reach flowering age.
Lacebarks (like their relatives the flame trees) tend to have a partial loss of their leaves at flowering time. Trees planted against a background others with dark green canopies are shown off to their best advantage, but the flowers are also quite stunning on a mature tree with fairly complete leaf-drop, against a background of a blue November sky.

As with flame trees, part of their beauty is the scatter of flowers below them.

The colours of the dropped flowers are a stronger shade of pink than the flowers on the tree.

 You'll also notice the rather lovely rusty-hairy buds, and the felty texture of the flowers.

Lacebarks are beautiful in the garden from an early age, because of the attractive shape of their juvenile leaves.  Small trees are sometimes used as potted indoor plants for the beauty of their leaves alone.

As they mature, they develop a trunk which shows their relationship with bottle trees.

This lovely old tree (the one with the white bark)  is a naturally occurring plant, a remnant of long-gone rainforest on Mt. Kynoch.

Lacebarks  get their common name from the attractive bark of the mature trees. In their native rainforest environment (and in gardens on the damp side of town) they attract a garden of beautiful lichens.

See my article, “Beautiful Brachychitons” of December 30, 2008, for more on this outstanding local plant.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Smooth Lolly Bush

Clerodendrum floribundum
I found these plants beside the Acland Silverleigh Road yesterday.
To me, this is a less familiar plant than its hairy cousin Clerodendrum tomentosum, which we see closer to the great Dividing Range. The hairy lolly bush (See article Feb 2009) is not noticeably hairy, but on feeling the leaves you notice the soft, puppy’s ears texture.
The smooth lolly bush, however, has stiff leaves without a hint of hairiness.

The plant has white flowers, followed by these brilliant, showy red calyces. The fruits in them mature from green to red.
Obviously their appearance has reminded someone of lollies, but please don’t eat them.
These fruits are not edible. I can find no record that they are toxic, but given the use of many other Clerodendrum species for medicinal purposes, they are very likely to be. There is a very fine line between drugs which cure and poisons which kill.

The name "Clerodendrum" can be translated as "lottery tree" and they are sometimes called chance trees. They were used as cures for some particularly deadly diseases, so the name is a reference to the chance that they might save a life. (It may also have referred to a chance that the cure was even worse than the disease.)

The fruits ripen from green to black, and were just beginning to turn on these plants.

This would be a very hardy garden plant, tolerating extreme drought and some frost. We can expect them to respond well to pruning, like C. tomentosum.
If you want to grow them, and have young children, you may feel it is better to refer to the plant by the name “chance bush” to discourage unsupervised trialling of the “lollies”.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Acacia irrorata
Just when we think the local wattle season is over, yet another of our many showy local species bursts into bloom. Than we notice that there are hundreds of them on our roadsides and waste bits of land, in the red soil areas around Toowoomba. They're looking lovely at present, and are part of the distinctive summer character of our own patch of the world.
Greenwattle Street, on the western side of town, was named after them.

Where a fast-growing, pretty, small tree is needed to fill a temporary space, this is one of the best. It has almost reached its full size by the age of about five years, and looks wonderful for the next five.
From there, it’s all downhill, however. The canopy thins out and the plant starts to look shabby. It can go on looking increasing scruffy for another ten or more years, but it might be less painful to get rid of it and fill the space with something else. Like all wattles, it has nitrogen-fixing root nodules, so killing it results in a burst of soil nitrogen becoming available to other plants put in immediately afterwards.
It its glory years, however, it is most attractive, with its dark green, shady canopy and its summer flowers.
It is a particularly good plant for wildlife. Birds like the dense foliage for nesting, and find plenty to eat in the unusually large variety of insects (including some lovely butterflies) that live on this tree.
It’s also a very good windbreak for its first ten years, while the foliage is still dense.
Don’t, however, be deceived into thinking that these wattles could be used as “nurse plants”,  sheltering slower-growing plants until they are established. Part of the secret of the cinnamon greenwattle's fast growth is its mat of shallow, greedy roots. Far from being a nurturing neighbour, it retards the growth of any small-rooted plant close by. Use it on its own, or as a very decorative infill between older plants, such as Eucalypts.

 For more on local wattles, search for Mimosaceae or Acacia using the white search box at top left.