IN North East Victoria, Brachychiton populneus, the Kurrajong, occurs naturally and it and other Brachychiton species are planted extensively as garden and street trees. There are 31 species of Brachychiton and all except one are native to Australia. Although they are significant trees, Brachychitons are actually succulents. When it rains, the roots transport water to the trunk and it expands. In dry times, the trunk shrinks to conserve precious water. Brachychiton species appear on many lists of fire-retardant plants. The Kurrajong is the only Brachychiton which is evergreen. It can reach around 20 metres, and grows fairly quickly to form a straight, shapely, tree with lustrous green leaves.
It is deep-rooted, but the roots are not invasive. The bell-shaped flowers are pinkish cream, and appear in summer. Brachychitons have been an important indigenous food plant. The young roots are tuber-like and can be eaten fresh. Their high water content is valuable when other sources of water are not available. The hard, boat-shaped seed capsule contains pea-sized seeds which can be roasted and eaten. Kurrajong is derived from the traditional language of the Darug and Eora peoples of the Sydney region - ‘garrajuŋ’ = “fishing line”. Fishing lines and nets were made from Kurrajong bark. Brachychitons are all spectacular trees and many are suitable garden plants for our region. B. discolor (Lacebark Tree) is deciduous, and has masses of pinkish red bell flowers up to 5cm in diameter which smother the tree in summer. A pink carpet of fallen flowers can completely cover the ground below. B. ruprestris (Queensland Bottle Tree) is a curiosity and great garden specimen. The bottle form develops from about 8 years. B. acerifolius (Illawarra Flame Tree) has a spreading crown. Clusters of bell-shaped flowers are bright red. Flowering is variable from season to season, and is best following hot dry periods. In good years, trees completely defoliate. Seedlings make good indoor pot plants. Brachychiton species graft easily, and can also be grown from cuttings. Spectacular, smaller-growing grafted Brachychitons include B. Jerilderie Red, B. Bella Donna, B. Beau Bells, and B. Griffith Pink.
GROWING: An eight year old Brachychiton rupestris, developing a ‘bottle’ trunk.