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!