Saturday, July 31, 2010

Two of my favourite local native north Australian winter flowering trees.

As it's mid-Winter downunder, I thought I would share two great native northern Oz trees that flower at this time of the year.

In Australia there are two true native Kapoks. There is our local species and the one which is very common in Kakadu National Park, called Cochlospermum fraseri, which looks almost identical except for the leaf shape.

Every winter I am always impressed by the brilliant splashes of golden yellow which our local native Kapok Tree gives to the otherwise drab hillsides around my place.  Cochlospermum gillivraei is  a common sight not only on the rocky slopes here, but also in the vine thicket gullies on the outskirts of my city and they're commonly used in footpath and park plantings in our suburbs.



Our native Kapok loses all its leaves before flowering, which makes the flowering more obvious. The large golden yellow flowers have these beautiful contrasting stamens in the centre.

The flowers themselves are edible and are supposedly quite pleasant, according to indigenous locals. The blooms have been compared to marshmallows!! Although more than 90% water, they are surprisingly high in Vitamin C! The tap root of young Kapok plants is also edible when roasted.

After the yellow flowers are pollinated, large, globular, green, papery fruit develop, which eventually turn brown and split along the seams to reveal two contrasting layers.  This fruit will then release numerous seeds covered by long hairs. The small black seeds are woven in a dense mat of fine silky hairs. This material is known as ‘kapok’.


Well that was the first great native winter bloomer ... now for another.

Meet our native Silk Cotton Tree with its flamboyant scarlet blooms.  This tree is also sometimes known as Red Kapok.  Bombax ceiba leiocarpum, is a type of native cotton tree that is found here in northern Australia. It grows along the northern rivers and streams in the bush and also in coastal vine thickets around the sand dunes near the coast.


It can also be found in many gardens as well as in our local parks and green areas.  I'm lucky enough to have a neighbour who has a magnificent old specimen outside their property.


This tree has a thorny trunk and after shedding its leaves in the dry season, large waxy bright red flowers emerge. These are around 10 cms across and they hang singly or in small clusters at the end of the branches. These flowers are fragrant and in days gone by, the blooms were collected once they had fallen and were used as table decoration.



The bombax fruit is a large, oblong woody capsule that splits when ripe. This allows the seeds to float out in their woolly coats.

The taproot is edible and is an example of Australian indigenous food.  Apparently, the fleshy roots of young Bombax trees can be roasted and eaten like carrots.

Hope you enjoyed this introduction to two of my favourite winter blooming native trees. They provide quite spectacular colour in the middle of our long ‘dry’ season.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Mid-Winter Wander Around my little Courtyard Garden.

The other garden areas on my property are all rather boring and drab ... there's lots of great palms, ferns, hibiscus and duranta repens shrubs, acalyphas and some crotons, but these areas don't change much at all during the year ... remaining, for the most part, green throughout all the seasons. There are no great expanses of lush green lawn ... there are no lovely borders full of stunning perennials.  There are a few trees that bloom at different times of the year ... but that's the full extent of any seasonal change in colour.

The Courtyard Garden is my sanctuary ... it's where I can have other colours beside green.  So here's a look at how all the potted plants are progressing as we approach Spring.  July in this part of the world is mid-Winter ... and my location in Australia means it's always a mild winter (similar to Summer in other parts of the northern hemisphere!)

Just an extra little note:  in order to hear the dulcet tones of my Aussie accent on this video, please remember to turn off the Playlist on the sidebar!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My own native 'Bush Tucker' tree - Sterculia Quadrifida.

The definition of ‘bush tucker’ would be: any edible, native Australian flora and fauna that was present before European colonisation which was harvested or hunted in the bush by our country's original inhabitants ... the Aborigines.

I have a 'Bush Tucker' tree in my courtyard that is native to the eastern coastal strip from northern New South Wales to far north Queensland ... and up into Papua New Guinea.  Not only were the seeds used as food by the Aboriginal people, the bark was used to weave baskets. The inner bark of this tree was also important to them as a source of string, which was used for rope, fishing nets and fishing line. 

This tree is commonly called the 'Peanut Tree' - Sterculia quadrifida.  Not only is the 'Bush Tucker' aspect of this tree interesting, it is also one of our very rare native Winter-deciduous trees.

It grows to a height of 5 -10 metres and has a spreading canopy, dropping it's leaves during Winter and when flowering.  The leaves are dark green and broad egg-shaped or sometimes heart-shaped at the base.  Around my area of north Queensland the Peanut Tree can start to shed leaves in May ... which is the end of Autumn. Leaves will then begin to regrow after the tree has fruited ...  this is usually around August to September, which is the end of Winter into early Spring. 

Here it is in my courtyard garden ... first, when covered in leaves ... and next, when it's beginning to drop it's leaves:

The creamy-white, lemon-scented flowers of this tree are rather inconspicuous. They are borne in small clusters in the upper axils, and occur from November to January (Summer in Australia).

The most distinctive feature of this native tree is the fruit. 

The fruits are clusters of large, leathery, boat-shaped pods up to 8 cm long which, change from green to an eye-catching orangey-red at maturity. 

Stage 1 - Green pods:

Stage 2 - Changing to orangey-red:

At this stage it splits open to reveal black seeds about the size of a peanut. The seeds are edible and are supposed to taste like peanuts ... never tried them myself! ... but for those who do wish to try them, it's recommended that the seed coat or testa should be removed first.  Birds, on the other hand, enjoy them 'au natural'!

Popping open:

The edible seed is called ‘egng edndan’ in Uw Oykangand and Uw Olkola; ‘mayi pinta’ in Pakanh – which are the traditional languages of the Aboriginal people in central Cape York Peninsula. Their colloquial name for this tree is ‘Monkeynut Tree’.  

The pods stay open for quite some time – looking a bit like a flower and then they drop off, littering the pavers in the Courtyard Garden and making a bit of a mess!

This tree, despite being quite messy during the Autumn/early Winter, is a valuable shade tree during Summer ... when it provides lots of cover over the courtyard area ... and then during Winter, when it's deciduous, it allows lots of light onto the courtyard garden for the winter and spring flowering annuals. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Out In The Twilight Zone .... The Great Bulb Experiment!

I've started a new project this year ... and I feel that I'm now another giant step closer to being a bit of a gardening lunatic!   

When I first joined the gardening website world there was one thing that just blew me away.  There are gardeners out there who go to (what I would consider) extraordinary lengths to grow plants not at all suited to their garden's particular location or climate.

When I found out about these gardeners, I honestly thought they were right out there ... in the Twilight Zone.  (Those of us of a certain age will know exactly what that means.  For those who don't ...   it's to do with an old TV Show all about weird stuff! ... and not about vampires or werewolves!)

Now I must admit, I have seen my father ... many, many years ago ... stuffing cotton wool balls between the petals of his roses just before he loaded them into the car to take to a Flower Show ... and as a child I thought he was slightly deranged, but it seems this was nothing compared to some!!!!! 
There are gardeners who plant tree ferns in areas that get inches of snow and lots and lots of frost.

These poor old tree ferns have to be radically trimmed, wear hats and get wrapped in plastic!!! 
These gardeners might also wrap up their plants in fleece or pack them in straw to protect them from the elements.

Their garden must surely look so strange at these times of the year with these freaky caterpillar-looking shapes all over the place!

There are gardeners who grow plants in greenhouses lined in bubble wrap and/or aluminium foil with heaters blazing away for hours on end.  Seeds are raised on heated trays in heated greenhouses ... such vast amounts of energy used just to get seeds to germinate.  I have to admit I was completely unaware that these things happened.

In my part of the world ... and now I'm speaking from my somewhat limited experience as a serious gardener ... most gardeners here grow plants that are fairly well suited to the climate, weather conditions and the type of soil.

Of course we don't get snow, hail or frost here ... although, included in the list of horrid conditions we do get, are the endless days of relentless sun-baking.  But I've never seen a gardener covering their plants with umbrellas or sloshing sunscreen all over them.

Although we do grow some plants in sunshade-covered greenhouses or in pots under patio roofs for protection, I don't consider that very strange ... I would however consider it very odd if we enclosed our greenhouses and added air-conditioning!!!  This would be the comparable action to heating greenhouses ... wouldn't it?

Our approach tends to be - choose plants that are suited to the conditions, prepare the garden bed, fertilize when needed and use pest treatment if necessary.  But aside from watering them and maybe having a general conversation with them, plants don't receive extraordinary, out-of-the-ordinary attention once they're in the ground or pot.   If they die ... oh well ... try something else better suited!  If they thrive ... fantastic ... and we'll water them and feed them to keep them going.

Well ... I've now been infected with the 'let's-try-something-completely-out-there' gardening disease! I completely blame fellow online gardeners and bloggers ... yes it's all your fault!   This year I purchased bulbs that are far more suited to the more temperate/cooler areas of our great country.  They were labelled in the catalogue as 'Hot Climate Bulbs' ... so I ridiculously decided to put MY money where THEIR mouth was!
I am pretty convinced that didn't really mean my particular hot part of Oz ... but muggins here waded in hook, line and sinker.
Yes ... your eyes are not deceiving you!  There's Jonquils ... for heaven sake!!!  Am I completely nuts?  This is the tropics ... with over 300 days of temps that hover around the 30 degrees C mark and humidity levels that are usually up around 80-90% .... hardly every drop below 60%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway ... my bulbs arrived on March 1st, which is the first day of our Autumn, and ... after a rather strange conversation with a person at the online nursery that sent these ... I promptly placed them in my downstairs fridge until our Winter had begun.  Yes ... occasionally I would open the fridge door and have a little chat ... well I had reached the depths of weirdness anyway by purchasing them in the first place, so it didn't seem that out of place!

Strangely, some of the bulbs began to sprout in the fridge by the beginning of June ... our first Winter month ... so I got them out and planted them up.  I had to read instructions about how to plant them ... having had absolutely no experience with these plants whatsoever!!!
This was June 6 ... instructions carefully laid out and a ruler for measuring depths!!!  You can see some of the bulbs that have sprouted sitting on the table.  Well ... nutso here crossed her fingers, toes and eyes (rather like my children when they were very young and naive) hoping all would be well ... and placed all the containers in the greenhouse, except for the container with the Jonquils.  That one went back into the fridge ... until the daytime temps. dropped even more.

OK ... so how has the experiment gone so far? ... I can hear you all asking!

WEEK 1:  we have lift-off!

WEEK 2:  still reaching for the sky!

WEEK 3:  everything's taken off!  Think the poor Hyacinths need staking however!
Now I know you're just as fascinated as I ... but I won't bore you with more collages of the week-by-week growth ... needless to say, I'm astounded that any of them took off, let alone all of them.

Ah ... but what about those Jonquils I hear you ask!  Well the container of Chincherinchees and Jonquils came out of the fridge about a week and a half ago and here they are ..... un-be-liev-able!! 

To top all this off ... before I went off on my visit to see my boys and grandchildren, another package of Asiatic bulbs arrived.  All I had time to do was to open the plastic bags and leave them on a shelf in my Greenhouse Garden.  This is what happened while I was away ...
Now, unfortunately I've had a visit to the hospital since I've been home and I'm still recovering, so these poor things are still out there on the shelf ... and still growing madly.  I desperately needs more pots!!!  I am truly, truly reaching the depths of complete gardening insanity.  Hubbie thinks I need help!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tabebuia impetiginosa - the Dwarf Pink Trumpet Tree

One of the most spectacular trees that blooms during our tropical winter here is the Tabebuia impetiginosa ... previously known as Tabebuia ipe ... or what we commonly call the 'Dwarf Pink Trumpet Tree'.

Now don't be fooled ... even though it's known as a dwarf it can grow to 25 feet with a rather large canopy. It's a beautiful tree in many ways.  First, there's the light grey bark and smooth dark green leaves.

Then there are the 2-3 inch long lavender-pink flowers with yellow centres which appear in clusters in mid-Winter. 

There is such a distinct contrast between the pink of the petal lobes and the yellow throat when the flowers first open ... but then the throat tends to become pink with age. 

Just as these gorgeous blooms start appearing, the tree will start dropping it's leaves ... and then there's the sight of the bare branches completely covered in pretty frilly pink blooms with a carpet of pink on the ground.

The photo below shows my very tall Tabebuia impetiginosa just coming into bloom now ... with the contrasting Bauhinia ... another fabulous winter bloomer ... showing off it's stunning white flowers on almost completely leafless branches.  I love this sight as I drive into the property at this time of year.

The Dwarf Pink Trumpet Tree is just such a fabulous choice for a hot, dry climate as it is not only highly drought tolerant, loves full sun and will thrive in almost any type of soil ... it's also simply gorgeous.

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