Brachychiton acerifolius, commonly known as the Illawarra flame tree, is a large tree of the family Malvaceae[a] 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 genus Brachychiton, it is commonly referred to as a Kurrajong.
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 of humans, as well as yellow seeds. These are nutritious and are traditionally eaten by Indigenous Australians after toasting.
Brachychiton acerifolius was first described in 1855 by W. Macarthur and C. Moore. It is sometimes spelled as Brachychiton acerifolium, under the assumption that the genus name Brachychiton is (Greek) neuter. In fact, Brachychiton is masculine (it is a bahuvrihi, and its first component is the descriptive component), and hence the correct species epithet is acerifolius. The name Brachychiton is derived from the Greek brachys, meaning short, and chiton, a type of tunic, as a reference to the coating on the seed. The specific epithet acerifolius suggests the appearance of the foliage is similar to that of the genus Acer, the maples.
In his landmark Flora Australiensis, English botanist George Bentham published the first key for the nine described species of Brachychiton, and relegated them to a section of Sterculia. Hence the Illawarra flame tree became Sterculia acerifolia. Von Mueller maintained his recognition of Brachychiton as a separate genus. German botanist Otto Kuntze challenged the generic name Sterculia in 1891, on the grounds that the name Clompanus took precedence. He republished the Illawarra flame tree as Clompanus Haenkeana.
Brachychiton acerifolius is found in coastal rainforests from central New South Wales to far north Queensland. However, it is included on the Northern Beaches Council list of trees suitable for removal without consent.
This tree is tolerant of temperate climates and is now cultivated world-over for its beauty. However, the maximum height of 40 metres (130 ft) is reached only in the original, warmer, habitat. It usually grows to be about 20 metres (66 ft).
- Stevens, Peter F. (29 January 2015). "Angiosperm Phylogeny Website". Retrieved 6 February 2015.
- "Full beauty of flame tree enjoyed for first time". The Leader. 8 December 2011. p. 8.
- "Brachychiton acerifolius (A.Cunn. ex G.Don) Macarthur & C.Moore". Australian Plant Name Index (APNI), IBIS database. Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Australian Government.
- Guymer, Gordon Paul (1988). "A taxonomic revision of Brachychiton (Sterculiaceae)". Australian Systematic Botany. 1 (3): 199–323. doi:10.1071/SB9880199.
- Bentham, George (1863). "Sterculia". Flora Australiensis: Volume 1: Ranunculaceae to Anacardiaceae. London, United Kingdom: L. Reeve & Co. p. 229.
- Kuntze, Otto (1891). Revisio generum plantarum:vascularium omnium atque cellularium multarum secundum leges nomenclaturae internationales cum enumeratione plantarum exoticarum in itinere mundi collectarum. Leipzig, Germany: A. Felix. p. 78.
- Holliday, I. A field guide to Australian trees (3rd edition), Reed New Holland, 2002
- The University of Sydney: Our Indigenous garden