A brilliant spectacle

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Jacaranda tree frames an Illawarra flame tree - view from my back verandah

This year everywhere in Sydney seems to have a pairing of those two stunning trees the jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) and the Australian native Illawarra flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius, sometimes known as the flame kurrawong). I don't have an Illawarra flame tree in my garden but I can see one from my back verandah in an adjoining property, framed by my own jacaranda tree. I have always loved this combination from my very youngest years, as we had both trees in my childhood garden in the Blue Mountains of NSW, planted by my mother, who explained to me that they would always bloom together in the years that the flame tree actually did bloom, in late spring.

Fallen flowers of the Illawarra flame tree

For some reason, it does not do so every year. Whether this is due to its natural pattern or due to some seasonal variations, I do not know, but when one flowers they all seem to do so. Everywhere I have been over the last few weeks I have seen them - and almost invariably next to a jacaranda. Perhaps it was the advice of some long-gone gardening guru many years ago that this would be a fab colour scheme - and indeed it is. The vibrant orange-scarlet of the flame tree is somehow even more thrilling when viewed next to the soft mauve of the jacaranda flowers. It is not a pairing for the faint-hearted or those more enamoured of quiet pastel schemes, but my mother loved it and so do I! The sight of these trees flowering together was probably the first time I ever was aware of the potential of the colour of flowers to create an amazing spectacle, so they have a special place in my affections.

Jacaranda flowers

Interestingly enough, the two trees - one an exotic and one a native - are similar in that they both lose their leaves at the end of the dry season in their natural habitats then flower, fruit and grow new foliage. In these natural habitats, they both set seed at the time when more rain is likely, improving the chance of their seeds germinating. The flowers of both eventually drop to form a pretty carpet on the ground beneath them. The flame tree is native to the warm coastal rainforests of NSW and Queensland. In cultivation grows to 12 to 15 m tall, though will grow much higher in their native habitat (to 30 m). The shiny, bell-shaped flowers are borne on leafless branches - as with the jacaranda - adding to the wow factor of the blooming. When backlit by the sun, the flame tree really does look like it is on fire. The flame tree's foliage is often attractively lobed, especially in its juvenile form. It grows best in a sunny spot, with good soil and protection from frost. The jacaranda comes from Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina and can reach about 15 m in cultivation. It thrives in a similar situation as the flame tree. Both are propagated from seed, and both trees have interesting large, woody seedpods - I recall seeing them used to create some weird and wonderful craftwork in the 1970s!

Both trees grow extremely well in the Sydney climate and seeing the two in bloom together is a very 'Sydney' experience!

Two inspiring inner-city Sydney gardens will be open for Open Gardens Australia next Sunday 25 November from 10 am to 4.30 pm. Ian McMaugh's garden is at 8 Pitt Street, Redfern, and Peter Nixon's garden is at 52 Lander St, Darlington, where Ian Percy from Florez Nursery will be selling interesting and unusual plants. Entry per garden $6. Click here for more information and to see pictures of the gardens

Reader Comments

  • By Jill 5158 Monday, 19 November 2012

    Adelaide"s Government house HAD the 2 together and then last year the Flame tree was GONE...shock, horror...Jill Interesting to know that the two trees also do well in SA. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 19 November 2012

    Both the flame trees and the jacarandas seemed to have been esp good this year. Another tree planted close by which gives a striking effect esp along the area surrounding Victoria Road is the Silky Oak. that is a childhood memory for me as we left Sydney heading for the Blue Mtns. A lot of the Silky Oaks seemed to have gone - no doubt because of the grevilleas sticky nectar. Every now and then you still get that fantastic effect of purplish blue, brilliant red and the orange.That sounds a fab combination, Anne. Deirdre

  • By Kate 2070 Monday, 19 November 2012

    We used to go to a certain street in Chatswood where alternating flame and jackaranda were planted - they made a spectacular display, now no longer healthy. My Mum used to tell me that Alan Searle, a gardening guru from 60s and 70s, had in his garden, jackaranda with coreopsis flowers blooming below. Coreopsis at the time was considered by many to be a weed as it was apparently sown along the railway lines by avid fans of beauty over rail side function.I always loved seeing those coreopsis along the railways! They are out in full force at the moment. There is a double form which I grow in my garden that doesn"t self-seed and still has that same wonderful colour. Alan Searle was my absolute hero and I hung onto his every word in my early gardening days! Deirdre

  • By Gil 2037 Monday, 19 November 2012

    The Flame Trees are not blooming in the lowlands of Glebe this year, apart from the occasional one. Last year was great though. Interesting that they are not flowering in your area, as so many of them elsewhere are in full bloom! Deirdre

  • By Melissa 2120 Monday, 19 November 2012

    Just the other day my husband and I were discussing the prevalence of Jacarandas located closely to Flame trees. Though my first thought was of some garden guru type (or many gardeners themselves) suggesting the colour combination as they flowered at the same time, he thought it may be to do with the seed pods releasing their bounty to birds and furthering the trees" proliferation close to each other (?) Whatever the cause, they are certainly a stunning contrast at this time of year. Definitely could be due to proliferation by birds. The jacaranda certainly seeds abundantly in my garden! It seems so perfectly adapted to our climate. Deirdre

  • By beverley 2113 Monday, 19 November 2012

    I love the Jacarandas just on their own, I have always loved all shades of purple, even as a child. I don"t have one of my own, but my neighbours all around have them. Just driving around the suburbs they are a joy to see. Beverley 2113. They seem to be particularly good this year. I have heard there is a street in Kirribilli where rows of them grow on either side of street like a wonderful tunnel of bloom. Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 Monday, 19 November 2012

    My Flame tree in Carlingford is resplendent in its glory this year, being thoroughly enjoyed by native birds and walkersby taking the odd photo! How I wish it was not so sporadic in habit - only hope I am around in 3 years for next time it puts on a show. M Interesting that it seems to be on a time cycle of when it flowers - I wondered if it was reacting to seasonal conditions. Deirdre

  • By Lyn 4570 Monday, 19 November 2012

    In our area we have the same combination,and in progression, the gold of Cassia brewsterii, Silky Oak, purple and white Jacaranda, and Poinciana. This year the Flame trees are fully clothed in their glorious scarlet bells - just too soon to be a "Christmas Tree". Lyn I love the poinciana trees in Queensland. Glad to hear the flame trees are also doing well this year there. Deirdre

  • By Richard 2112 Monday, 19 November 2012

    This is a very traditional and very effective combination often seen in Sydney, however I was really taken the other day by the sight of a jacaranda tree in a nearby street entwined with a bougainvillea, both in full bloom. I have seen a jacaranda with that cerise-magenta bouganvillea - it looked fantastic! Deirdre

  • By maree 2118 Monday, 19 November 2012

    I too have both trees in my yard at the back borrowed from my back neighbour, the Illawarra Flame Tree, and from my side neighbour the Jacaranda . As they both reach over together they create a breathtaking picture- a great combination. Nothing looks better than catching a train into the city during November with the site of blue/purple Jacarandas in the back yards, great Australian site! Maree I agree, the train ride into the city is great at the moment, especially when going over the Harbour Bridge with all the jacarandas in the Kirribilli/Milsons Point area in full bloom. Deirdre

  • By Marinka 2041 Monday, 19 November 2012

    It"s definitely the best display of these two iconic flowering trees I"ve seen in many years...I was only recently admiring them in my street at Balmain, & also out in the southern suburbs near my mother"s house. After last year"s poor jacaranda display due to the wet weather, it"s great to see them back in top form! I do think the dry weather since August has probably aided the flowering of both trees this year. Deirdre

  • By Juliet 2070 Monday, 19 November 2012

    In our street we have the combination of dusty pink flowers of the Blueberry Ash next to the mauve of the Jacaranda. Juliet That sounds a lovely combination! Deirdre

  • By Krysta 0 Wednesday, 21 November 2012

    auj ogromnie,e nie mog uczestniczy w zwiedzaniu tych ogrodw Sydney. Jakarand mam od 3 lat ale z koniecznoci uprawiam j w donicy. Nie mam szans raczej na kwiaty ale sam pokrj jak i licie czyni ja wyjtkowym okazem w mojej kolekcji... szkoda,e nie mam szns na zdobycie chociaby nasion Brachychiton acerifolius. Ekscytujcey widok jak ono kwitnie...cudowny.Czy mog liczy na foto relacj ze zwiedzania tych ogrodw? Przedstawi nam ja kto? Bardzo prosz..

  • By Sue T. 2566 Thursday, 22 November 2012

    I"ve just come home from Darwin. No Jacarandas but the Poincianas are making their lovely red umbrellas everywhere. I always admire those Poincianas in Queensland - so majestic. Hope you had a great trip. Deirdre

  • By Mary 2031 Sunday, 25 November 2012

    I live in the large grounds of what was once a Catholic girls boarding school - now a girls day school. At the top of our drive there were two small jacarandas - until last week. Now trashed to make way for a piece of very mediocre landscaping, so called. Am grieving and very angry. So easily, they could have been included in the changes. The manager owns to knowing nothing of gardens, and has proved it, dismissing any history by "making new history". Mary Sorry to hear about that, Mary. It is terrible when trees get cut down for no reason. Deirdre

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