Friday, 3 April 2009

Illawarra Flame Tree

We often hear about Singapore having only two seasons, either wet or dry season. However, this may not be entirely correct. From my own observations, we do appear to have spring. I say this because between the months of February and March this year, many trees around Singapore were in full bloom. This was particularly evident at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. In fact, I had a chance encounter with a fairly rare sight, which was the Illawarra Flame Tree in full bloom!

The Illawarra Flame Tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), is a large tree native to subtropical regions on the east coast of Australia. It is famous for the bright crimson bell-shaped flowers that often cover the whole tree when it is leafless. Along with other members of the Brachychiton genus, it is commonly referred to as a Kurrajong.

This tree is tolerant of temperate climates and is now cultivated world-over for its beauty. However, the maximum height of 40 m is reached only in the original, warmer, habitat. It usually grows to be about 20 m. Similarly to its Kurrajong relatives the leaves are variable, with up to 7 deep lobes. It is deciduous - shedding its leaves after the dry season. The spectacular flowering occurs in late spring and new foliage is ready for the summer rains. In areas where the winter is not particularly dry, this natural rhythm may become somewhat erratic and the tree may flower only partially.

Flowers are scarlet bells with 5 partially fused petals. The pod-like fruits (technically known as follicles) are dark brown, wide, boat-shaped and about 10 cm long. They contain masses of thin bristles that stick in the skin, as well as yellow seeds. These are nutritious and were eaten by Aborigines after toasting.

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