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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

14 comments:

  1. Hello,
    I never see a tree like that, it's really beautiful. I enjoy a lot your post.

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  2. Beautiful flowers on trees. Flowering trees are so rare where I live.

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  3. Ellada ... it's lovely to see you popping by to visit. Both these trees have masses of fluffy white cotton balls lying around underneath when the seed pods burst open ... it's almost like snow in the tropics!

    G'day Aaron ... there are not all that many flowering trees here in my part of the world either. These are lovely exceptions though ... and they're native to my region of Australia.

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  4. Bernie: Both trees look gorgeous! I can imagine how pleasant it will look to use that scarlet blooms as table decoration, especially with the lovely fragrance!

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  5. Such beautiful pics....that one fruit looks fascinating...the one full of Vitamin C:)

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  6. Bernie - it always feels like such an exotic visit when I come by to see what you are up to ... you have the coolest flora in your 'neck of the woods'! Thanks for sharing. :D -Shyrlene

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  7. I love both types of Kapok trees you have pictured. I love the bright yellow and red flowers. I hope that they make their way to the States as have so many of your other native plants :-)

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  8. Thanks for introducing such exceptional native trees. No wonder they are your favourites.

    I love the yellow kapok flowers! They look so pretty... your first picture of the tree is awesome. As for the red one, I can imagine them to look really beautiful all placed in a bowl as house decor.

    Have a pleasant day Bernie!

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  9. Ami ...the flowers of the Silk Cotton Tree or Red Kapok are just stunning when used as table decorations ... and the perfume is indeed delightful!

    Rohrerbot ... I've never tried the fruit so I'm not sure if it's really that tasty!

    Shyrlene ... we do have some interesting plants here, although they don't seem all that exotic to us of course!

    Noelle ... I'm not sure if either of these trees have ever been cultivated for overseas markets. They both would probably be quite suited to hot dry spots over there as well.

    Stephanie ... thanks for your comments. Both trees are great splashes of colour at this rather drab time of year here.

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  10. We have the red -- and pink -- kapok here (Miami), and it is a stunning tree. I've not seen the yellow one, though. It looks gorgeous.

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  11. Hi Bernie, My son is doing a science exploration (he is 6 in Grade 1) and found these seed pods at the local Billabong Sanctuary - the teacher has encouraged him to find out more. Your blog produces the best results for exploring the seed pods a bit further (and identifying the plant - no one at the Sanctuary could identify it). One of the rangers tells us local Aboriginal people used to use the pods for fire torches, do you know much about that and also, do you have any good references you can direct us to to find out more about this tree. Oh, and we think it was the red kapok, not the yellow but can't be sure as the tree was not flowering at the time.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Katherine,
      I'm so glad to hear that this post of mine has been useful for your son. If you wanted to find out more about the Bombax ceiba leiocarpum or Red Kapok, here's a couple of links that might be helpful:

      http://keys.trin.org.au/key-server/data/0e0f0504-0103-430d-8004-060d07080d04/media/Html/taxon/Bombax_ceiba_var._leiocarpum.htm

      http://www.somemagneticislandplants.com.au/index.php/plants/165-bombax-ceiba

      http://www-public.jcu.edu.au/discovernature/sci_p1/jcudev_006030


      There are quite a few rather large mature specimens along Alligator Creek Road, which is where I took these photos. You can tell the Red Kapok by the spiny tree trunk.

      As for local Aborigines using the pods for fire torches, this would be true. The Kapok fibres are highly flammable. If you light them up with a match they will almost explode in flame. The kapok fibres were apparently used as tinder when starting fires by rubbing two sticks together.


      If however the seed pods belong to the native Australian Kapok, Cochlospermum gillivraei, then here are some links:

      http://keys.trin.org.au/key-server/data/0e0f0504-0103-430d-8004-060d07080d04/media/Html/taxon/Cochlospermum_gillivraei.htm

      http://www-public.jcu.edu.au/discovernature/plantscommon/JCUDEV_006021

      http://www.somemagneticislandplants.com.au/index.php/plants/306-cochlospermum-gillivraei

      http://anpsa.org.au/c-gil.html


      I do hope these are useful.


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    2. Wow! yes, your site has been a reference not just on this occasion, you do great work. Thank you for so many links to explore. We are going to do a fireman-supervised fire experiment with one of the pods he collected - then have a look at why the seed is "designed" in the way it is. He is such a delight to watch dissecting his pods with such interest. Just something of interest that we found today - when the red kapok tree is in bloom Aboriginal people know that crocodile eggs can be found in the river see http://freshscience.org.au/2012/indigenousecology and http://www.abc.net.au/rural/nt/content/201211/s3638682.htm This is a northern territory Indigenous Ecology but I wonder if the same applies to our Dry Tropics.

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    3. Ha, love it! I love the idea of the fireman-supervised fire experiment. Here's hoping it actually works. That would be fantastic. Isn't it terrific that the blooming red Kapok tells about the crocodile eggs. It's so good to find out things like that. I wonder if the indigenous here, the Wulgurukaba have similar stories to tell.

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