Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Flame Tree - Next time you see a bright red tree good enough to eat, it may be nutritious for you
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 red 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.